Social Media & Alcohol Use Explained

Social media has a profound impact on our lives, and can affect every aspect of how we think and act – even our drinking habits. Like many things in life, there are pros and cons to the influence of social media. Whether you’re on a sobriety journey, or just re-evaluating your relationship with alcohol, you might start to notice how social media can act as a drinking trigger, and also provide encouragement for cutting back on alcohol. Let’s dive into the complex ways that social media can influence your alcohol consumption, and discuss how to set boundaries that support your wellness. 

How Does Social Media Influence Drinking?

Social media has played a large role in our culture’s ‘love affair’ with alcohol and binge drinking. There are many social media accounts that glorify unhealthy alcohol use. From alcohol-related meme accounts, to ‘wine mom culture’, to pages with millions of followers sharing videos of ‘drunk people’ – alcohol is everywhere we look on social media. It can be surprising to learn that pages like these can actually cause viewers to drink more as a result.  

In fact, a study conducted in 2016 out of Michigan State University finds that alcohol-related messaging on social media sets people up to think more about drinking, and consequently consume more.¹ This study also showed that participants exposed to beer advertisements on Facebook were more likely to consider drinking than those who were shown advertisements for bottled water. This emphasizes how the messages we’re exposed to on social media can make a real difference in our drinking habits, whether we realize it or not.

Social Media and “Wine Mom” Culture

“Wine mom culture” is a pop culture phenomenon that has emerged over the last decade, predominantly through social media. The movement started around 2009 with a Facebook group centered around the theme of moms needing wine to get through the day. As a mom who previously bought into “wine mom” culture,” I believe many moms are drawn in by the false promise that alcohol can make parenting easier. “Wine mom culture” promises relief and camaraderie through alcohol, but doesn’t mention the negative consequences or address the underlying causes of stress. It reinforces the idea that drinking is normal and harmless, causing those who are truly struggling to feel isolated and full of self-blame. 

We see the effects of this culture in rising rates of alcohol use disorder amongst women. According to a 2017 study sponsored by NIAAA, alcohol use disorder in women increased by 83.7% in the U.S. between 2002 and 2013.² And Covid-related stress has only added to the situation; there’s been a 41% increase in heavy drinking days among women since the pandemic started.

Moms deserve real relief and community, not false promises. 

The good news is, you have the power to change your relationship with alcohol for yourself and your family. You can decide how you navigate ‘wine mom culture’ with your own set of tools. While the internet may have contributed to this culture, it also offers many support resources, such as sober mom facebook groups or virtual alcohol support groups for parents. 

person holding a phone

Effects of Social Media on Alcohol Use in Young People

As a mother of two teenage boys, I can attest to the impact social media has on their lives. It can influence their social lives, self-esteem, and even their likelihood to consume alcohol.  

The aforementioned study from Michigan State also highlights social media’s impact on the younger generation. It found that 75% of teens aged 12 to 17 were more motivated to consume alcohol after seeing pictures on social media of friends and classmates drinking. In stark contrast, it found that 87% percent of parents don’t believe social media will increase the likelihood that their kid will drink.”¹ 

Similarly, a 2011 survey by researchers at the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse found that teens who regularly use social media are three times more likely to drink alcohol compared to teens who don’t use social media. These statistics may be shocking, especially to parents. Educating yourself and your child on the effects of drinking, social media, and the connection between the two can help everyone make more informed choices. 

Depictions of Drinking on Social Media

The way alcohol use is represented on social media is very different to what it looks like in real life. Social media activity on platforms such as Instagram and Snapchat tend to depict a ‘highlight reel’ of our lives, and rarely shines a light on the challenges of being a human in this day and age.  For example, I often see posts on my feed that romanticize binge drinking, but what we don’t see are the 3am spells of anxiety and shame, or the crushing hangovers that negatively impacted the rest of the weekend. 

Here’s another example of how social media can be misleading. On any given weekend, my feed is filled with posts that present drinking as an opportunity to connect with friends or enjoy a romantic evening with our partners. In my experience with clients, however, most people spend their time drinking alone, or in less glamorized settings. This misrepresentation can be harmful in many ways. It can create a strong sense of peer pressure, even over the internet, and it can make people feel like something is “wrong with them” for struggling with their alcohol intake. In reality, many people are going through similar challenges, and they deserve to feel supported in making healthy changes.

Free Support Group: How to navigate moderation or sobriety as a parent

Caring for kids while caring for ourselves is hard. And changing your drinking habits on top of it presents its own set of challenges. Join other parents in an honest conversation about how to moderate or abstain from drinking while raising a family.
Check out the Schedule

Alcohol Advertising on Social Media

On top of romanticized photos from our peers, we’re also seeing posts from alcohol companies who spend billions of dollars annually on advertising, and in recent years, have shifted much of this budget to social media ads. Contests, giveaways, and games make these ads more engaging than ever. Ads for alcoholic beverages can create strong subliminal messages telling us to drink more, which can be especially triggering for those of us navigating sobriety or moderation.

Alcohol and Social Media Statistics

There are many staggering statistics about the connection between alcohol and social media. Here are a few recent data points that may surprise you:

  • A marketing company called Izea published a study that showed those who engaged with social media were five times more likely to buy alcohol compared to those who did not engage in social media.
  • A study done by University College London showed that participants aged 16-19 who spent four hours or more per day on social media were at a higher risk of binge drinking compared to those of the same age who spent less than an hour per day on social media. 
  • A study done by Loyola Marymount University on college first-year students showed that exposure to alcohol posts on Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat predicted more alcohol consumption 6 months later.

If you’re anything like me, most of the people you know use social media in some form. The challenge might not be to stop using it all together, but to create healthy boundaries. For anyone beginning a sobriety or moderation journey, it can be especially helpful to be mindful of how you use social media so that you can stay encouraged and focused on your goal.

"Alcohol will become less important to you" Diagram of a brain, with a portion labeled "thoughts about alcohol" getting smaller over time

How to Distance Yourself From Alcohol on Social Media

Fortunately, getting space from alcohol on your feed might be easier than you think. All social media platforms have a settings option that allows people to block alcohol-related advertisements from their feeds. Some platforms, like Twitter and Instagram, also allow you to block certain terms from appearing in comments and posts. Another tip is to re-evaluate who you follow on social media. If someone often posts about drinking, it might be time to unfollow or unfriend. There is also an option to “mute” certain accounts. 

Whatever distance from alcohol you implement on social media, it’s important to remember this is a decision that you are making for your physical, emotional, and spiritual wellbeing. People may not understand your decision to examine your relationship with alcohol, and that’s okay. Getting comfortable with people not “getting it” is not an easy part of this journey, however, it has been my experience that most people care a lot less about our drinking than we think they do. Working with a therapist in alcohol therapy is a great way to identify where you might need to establish boundaries, and get guidance on how to implement them. 

How to Use Social Media When Quitting or Reducing Alcohol Use

There’s a beautiful flipside to all of this, which is that social media can also be a very helpful tool when changing your relationship with alcohol. There is a huge community of sober influencers, mental health pages, and other recovery-related pages that can help give you a daily source of encouragement, insight, and camaraderie. 

Try to follow accounts that feel aligned with who you are, what your goals are, and how you would like your alcohol-free life to feel. Look for people or groups who are willing to share their challenges and ups and downs, who embrace missteps, and create a judgment-free environment. If you’re looking for a place to begin, Monument shares expert insights and words of encouragement over on their Instagram @joinmonument

By learning more about this topic today, you may naturally become more conscious about how social media influences your drinking habits. Changing your relationship with alcohol often requires other lifestyle changes, such as following inspiration accounts and distancing yourself from alcohol-centric social media. Remember that listening to our own needs can go a long way as we navigate new ways to show up in our big, beautiful, and bold lives. 

Sources:

  1. Michigan State University “Saw It on Facebook, Drank It at the Bar! Effects of Exposure to Facebook Alcohol Ads on Alcohol-Related Behaviors, https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/15252019.2016.1160330.” Accessed Oct 1st, 2022. 
  2. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. “Prevalence of 12-Month Alcohol Use, High-Risk Drinking, and DSM-IV Alcohol Use Disorder in the United States, 2001-2002 to 2012-2013, https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamapsychiatry/fullarticle/2647079.” Accessed Oct 1st, 2022. 
  3. Texas A&M University. “Alcohol Marketing on Twitter and Instagram: Evidence of Directly Advertising to Youth/Adolescents, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26597794/.” Accessed Oct 1st, 2022. 
  4. Partnership to End Addiction. “Survey of American Attitudes on Substance Abuse 2011, https://drugfree.org/reports/national-survey-of-american-attitudes-on-substance-abuse-xvi-teens-and-parents/.” Accessed Oct 1st, 2022. 
  5. BBC. “Social media ‘saturated’ with alcohol advertising, https://www.bbc.com/news/av/technology-41332083.” Accessed Oct 1st, 2022. 
  6. Izea. Coronavirus Impacts on Alcohol & Social Media Consumption, https://izea.com/resources/covid19/alcohol/.” Accessed Oct 1st, 2022.
  7. Loyola Marymount University. “Different digital paths to the keg? How exposure to peers’ alcohol-related social media content influences drinking among male and female first-year college students, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26835604/.” Accessed Oct 1st, 2022.  
  8. JAMA network. “Changes in Adult Alcohol Use and Consequences During the COVID-19 Pandemic in the US, https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamanetworkopen/fullarticle/2770975.” Accessed Oct 1st, 2022.  
Disclaimer: Our articles and resources do not constitute clinical or licensed therapy or other health care services. If you need counseling or therapy services please contact a licensed provider. If this is a medical emergency, call 911.

About the Author

Jenn PayneI am a Registered Holistic Nutritionist, a designation I received through the Canadian School of Natural Nutrition. I attended the Tempest Sobriety School in the summer of 2019 and have been a Recovery Coach with Tempest since September 2020. I am skilled at helping those in recovery in navigating parenting and intimate partner relationships. Additionally, through my own personal journey, I am able to provide support and perspective to people navigating disordered eating and perfectionism with compassion and empathy. I am passionate about dismantling the culturally normalized views around alcohol and nutrition and countering their invasive and damaging effects.