Capturing the bigger picture: A gestalt of general and alcohol-specific social media usage during the transition to college as a predictor of first-year alcohol use and consequences
Previous research has shown a reliable association between social media (SM) use and drinking among college students. However, most studies have investigated SM behaviors (e.g., time spent on a platform, posting frequency) in isolation and on a single site. While some have studied multiple SM behaviors across platforms using person-centered approaches (e.g., latent profile analysis [LPA]), these studies have failed to take alcohol-related SM behaviors into account. This longitudinal study addressed this gap in the literature by using LPA to identify subpopulations of SM users during the college transition (N = 319; 62.1% female) using general (frequency of checking, time spent on, and frequency of posting to Instagram/Facebook/Snapchat; Finstagram ownership) and alcohol-related SM behaviors (posting alcohol, partying, and marijuana content). LPA results revealed three SM user profiles at baseline: low general use with low alcohol-related posting (LGU + LAP), high general use with low alcohol-related posting (HGU + LAP), and high general use with high alcohol-related posting (HGU + HAP). Prospective analyses revealed that HGU + HAP membership was associated with greater descriptive peer drinking norms, alcohol use, and consequences relative to HGU + LAP and LGU + LAP membership. Results suggest that there are distinct patterns of general and alcohol-related SM use during the college transition associated with risky drinking that can inform interventions combating SM-related alcohol risks. These findings illustrate the importance of investigating SM use holistically and suggests studying alcohol-related SM behaviors may reveal differences in individuals’ alcohol risk that general SM behaviors might not capture.