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Identifying Distinct Patterns of Social Media Usage During the Transition into College as Predictors of First-Year Alcohol Use and Consequences: A Latent Profile Analysis

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Abstract

Social media (SM) users are a combination of several behaviors across platforms. Patterns of SM use across platforms may be a better indicator of risky drinking than individual behaviors or sets of behaviors examined previously. This longitudinal study addressed this gap in the literature using latent profile analysis (LPA) to identify subpopulations of SM users during the college transition (N=319). Indicators included in the LPA were general SM (checking, time spent, and posting to Instagram/Facebook/Snapchat; Finstagram ownership) and alcohol-related posting (alcohol, partying, and marijuana content) behaviors. LPA results revealed three SM user subpopulations at baseline: low general use with low alcohol-related posting (LGU+LAP), and high general use with low alcohol-related posting (HGU+LAP) or high alcohol-related posting (HGU+HAP). Baseline drinking, injunctive norms, and alcohol beliefs were associated with greater odds of HGU+HAP membership. Prospective analyses revealed that HGU+HAP was associated with greater alcohol use and consequences relative to HGU+LAP and LGU+LAP. Results suggest that there are distinct patterns of SM use during the college transition associated with risky drinking that can inform interventions combating SM-related alcohol risks. These findings also illustrate the importance of analyzing multiple SM user behaviors across multiple platforms simultaneously in future studies.

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Individual drinking patterns and the perceived typical drinking patterns of close friends and reference groups were assessed in two different studies with college students. In both studies virtually all students reported that their friends drank more than they did. These effects were found across different levels of individual drinking, within different types of samples, across gender of subjects and with different types of questionnaire assessment. In addition, students' estimates of typical or average drinking within their own social living groups were significantly higher than average drinking within the group estimated from self-reports. Because of the consistent, asymmetrical pattern of reports of self and other drinking, it was interpreted that reports of others' drinking were exaggerated. These biases were particularly evident within organized social groups (i.e., fraternities and sororities) but were minimal in reference to "students in general" or "people in general." Results are discussed in terms of cognitive and motivational factors that potentially could promote or excuse excessive drinking practices among college students.
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