The recent sweeping changes at Facebook have stirred up users who have boldly posted about their displeasure with the massive modifications to the site. But the social networking website is getting some positive attention from addiction specialists and recovery experts nationwide due to a potential for helping to identify problem drinkers. It’s not an application to download; it starts with the power of observation.

Research published in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine shares some insight about the messages social and problem drinkers are sending through their Facebook status and photo posts. The study of college students examines their behavior through the content they post and draws some conclusions based on the 307 public profiles of underage college students at two public universities.

The lead researcher developed a coding system for students to categorize drinking habits of students. “Non-displayers” did not mention alcohol use; “alcohol displayers” made comments or posted photos showing alcohol use; “intoxication or problem drinking displayers” admitted in posts that they had been seriously drunk. Review of these profiles was followed up by a survey to assess alcohol use. Of the 224 who agreed to complete the survey, 35% finished with a score deemed high enough to be considered part of an at-risk group.

During the comparison of the surveys to the Facebook profiles, the research showed a high percentage of students who openly posted about being drunk were also part of the at-risk group determined by the survey. In fact, the research results showed that students who bragged about  being drunk or posted other evidence were 1.5 times more likely to be part of the at-risk problem drinking group. Another compelling result was the odds that a student who posted about drunkenness also suffered an alcohol-related injury in the past year. The research done shows those students were six times more likely to have been injured.

As other evidence also suggests an increasing threat of overdose on alcohol and drugs among college students, monitoring content posted on Facebook, without responding to it on the page itself, is a prime way to collect information about a college student’s drinking habits. As a parent, seeing this evidence can prompt a personal, one-on-one conversation to address any perceived issues. Keep in mind, a college student considered a “non-displayer” can also make unhealthy choices regarding alcohol consumption without posting references to it.  Web-savvy students can also choose to restrict access so an unsuspecting parent doesn’t get to see comments and photos about potential problem drinking.

Rather than relying solely on Facebook updates for information, parents of college-age students are better served by maintaining communication by phone and in person regularly during semesters. If a drinking problem is detected early, serious school and behavior problems may be avoided. Once it’s habitual and the pattern of alcohol abuse is established, counseling and treatment may be necessary.

When your college-age student is locked in a pattern of alcohol abuse, Burning Tree can help. Burning Tree operates two long-term drug and alcohol rehabilitation facilities in Texas, outside of Dallas and Austin, and treats people from all over the United States. Learn more about the programs at Burning Tree by visiting www.burningtree.com or calling 866-287-2877.