Facebook posts may show who is at risk for alcoholism

Credit: CC0 Public Domain.

Scientists from Stony Brook University found that the language people used in Facebook posts can identify those at risk for hazardous drinking habits and alcohol use disorders.

The research is published in Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research and was conducted by H. Andrew Schwartz et al.

Alcoholism can be a difficult condition to diagnose, especially in cases where individuals’ drinking habits are not noticed and physical symptoms have not yet manifested.

In the study, the team used a new AI application to interpret language in context.

They used data from more than 3,600 adults recruited online—average age 43, mostly White—who consented to share their Facebook data.

Researchers then used a diagnostic scale to organize participants, based on their self-reported alcohol use, into high-risk drinkers (27 percent) and low-risk drinkers (73 percent).

The Facebook language and topics linked to high-risk drinking included more frequent references to going out and/or drinking (e.g., “party,” “beer”), more swearing, more informality and slang (“lmao”), and more references to negative emotions (“miss,” “hate,” “lost,” and “hell”).

These may reflect factors associated with high-risk drinking, including neighborhood access to bars, and personality traits such as impulsivity.

Low-risk drinking status was linked to religious language (“prayer,” “Jesus”), references to relationships (“family,” “those who”), and future-oriented verbs (“will,” “hope”).

These may reflect meaningful support networks that encourage drinking moderation and the presence of future goals, both of which are protective against dangerous drinking.

The team found the new AI had a 75 percent chance of correctly identifying individuals as high- or low-risk drinkers from their Facebook posts.

This rate of identifying at-risk people for excessive drinking is higher than other more traditional models that identify high-risk drinkers and those vulnerable to alcoholism.

What people write on social media and online offers a window into psychological mechanisms that are difficult to capture in research or medicine otherwise.

These findings imply that drinking is not only an individually motivated behavior but a contextual one; with social activities and group membership helping set the tone when it comes to encouraging or discouraging drinking.

The study supports the use of Facebook language to help identify probable alcohol vulnerable populations in need of follow-up assessments or interventions and note multiple language markers that describe individuals in high/low alcohol risk groups.

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