The results of a study presented at the APSAD Scientific Alcohol and Drugs Conference have led to calls from public health experts for a re-evaluation of alcohol and social media regulations in Australia.
“Australian teens are clearly being reached and influenced by alcohol campaigns, despite current restrictions and regulations in place by advertising boards and social media platforms,” said Dr Megan Lim, the head of sexual health and young people research at the Burnet Institute.
A survey of 1,000 young Australians aged 15-29 found 22 per cent “followed” at least one type of alcohol marketing campaign on social media, including Facebook and Twitter. Teens aged 15-17 were equally as likely to like or follow alcohol pages as the adults. Liking a page was also associated with risky alcohol consumption behaviour.
“People who followed the page were almost twice as likely to be in the group of high-risk drinkers,” Dr Lim said.
That is, those who drank often and more than five drinks in a single session. There are voluntary rules on Facebook that are designed to prevent alcohol advertising being shown to people under 18, but Dr Lim says they are clearly not working and “need to be enforced better”.
“When you like something, the page can then constantly bombard you with advertisements and once you like it, then all of your friends can get exposed through you commenting or sharing a particular post,” Dr Lim said.
She says social media moderators and alcohol regulation bodies need to ensure these pages are not accessible to or target underage social media users. Additional research presented at the conference shows a majority of Australian teens are drinking alcohol by year 11.
A study that followed 2,000 students from year 7 to year 12 found one-third had consumed a full standard drink of alcohol by the age of 14. By year 11, more than a half of the students had initiated alcohol consumption, and one-third of those students reported binge drinking.
Lead researcher Alexandra Aiken, of the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre, says the high number of underage teens at harm from binge drinking cannot be ignored.
“It’s still so important to prevent early binge drinking and to delay initiation just to avoid those short-term harms,” she said.