Teenagers who spend hours trawling social media are more likely to drink alcohol, a new study suggests.
Negative experiences online or exposure to alcohol ads could be behind the link, researchers suggested.
But the new study took place a number of years ago and did not examine all social media channels which are widely used today.
The study, published in the journal Addiction, examined data on 6,700 participants aged 10 to 19 between 2011 and 2013.
And 3,600 of these adolescents were then followed up between 2014 and 2016.
Teenagers were asked about how many hours they spent chatting or interacting on social media sites including Facebook, MySpace and Bebo.
They were also asked about their alcohol consumption.
The study found that 18% of participants aged 10-15 years drank at least monthly, with a greater risk of more frequent drinking for each additional hour of social media use.
Those who spent less time on social media were less likely to drink at least monthly compared to those with more than three hours’ social media use each day.
Among older teens, 30% said they drank at least weekly.
And those aged 16-19 who spent more than an hour on social media each day were more likely to binge drink – deemed as such when more than five drinks were consumed in one sitting.
Study lead author, Dr Linda Ng Fat, from University College London (UCL), said: “With a decline in alcohol consumption and a rise in social media use amongst young people around the world, we wanted to understand if and how social media use might be influencing how frequently young people drink.
“Our results indicate that social media is not directly behind this decline in alcohol consumption, and in fact highlights the positive link between social media use and drinking for both age groups in the study.
“However, the exact reasoning behind the association is not yet known.
“Given the recent rise in the number of social media platforms such as Snapchat, Instagram and TikTok – which weren’t included in this study – it’s vital that greater attention is paid to this issue so we can better understand the intricacies of this relationship.”
Study co-author Professor Yvonne Kelly, from UCL, added: “Experimentation with drinking during adolescence is all part and parcel of growing up.
“However, the pattern between time spent online and drinking among 10 to 15-year-olds in our study is particularly striking, given that the purchase of alcohol for this group is illegal, coupled with the potential problems associated with the introduction to alcohol from an earlier age.
“The reasons why time spent online could link to drinking behaviours are not clear but could include having negative experiences in online spaces, as well as to exposure to advertising.
“Further research that builds on our study findings is key to understanding how time spent on social media platforms could be influencing the drinking habits of young people – either directly through alcohol advertising or indirectly through the normalisation of drinking and being drunk.”