Teens who drink alcohol spend more time using the computer for activities such as social networking than do those who don't drink alcohol, according to a new study.
The study found a link between recreational use of the computer (for non-school related activities) and teen drinking.
The finding suggests certain online activities may influence teen drinking. For instance, it's possible references to alcohol on social networking sites or online advertisements may encourage teenagers to drink, the researchers say.
However, the study found only an association, and not a direct cause-effect link. This means it's impossible to tell which happened first: the computer use or the drinking. It could also be that teens who drink are prone to using the computer for longer periods of time.
More research over longer periods of time is needed to better understand the relationship between computer and alcohol use, the researchers say.
"Children are being exposed to computers and the Internet at younger ages," said study researcher Jennifer Epstein, a public health researcher at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York. "For this reason it's important that parents are actively involved in monitoring their children's computer usage, as well as alcohol use.”
The study is published in the journal Addictive Behaviors.
Epstein and colleagues surveyed more than 200 adolescents between the ages of 13 and 17 about their online activity and alcohol use.
Teens who drank alcohol in the last month spent, on average, 16 hours online per week excluding schoolwork activities. Those who didn't drink alcohol in the last month spent 12.7 hours online per week excluding schoolwork.
No link was found between playing online video games or shopping online and drinking.
It's important that parents realize their children face enticements online that may encourage underage drinking, the researchers say.
Pros and cons of the Internet
The study adds to a growing body of research that has found both pros and cons to teen Internet use. A recent report from the American Academy of Pediatrics described a new phenomenon known as "Facebook depression," in which children and teenagers spend too much time on social networking sites, then develop symptoms of depression. And other studies have linked Internet use in general to an increased risk of depression and loneliness among teens.
But Internet use can benefit adolescents as well. In addition to helping with homework, studies have found online activities help teens maintain ties with friends. And one study found those who did not spend time online were also at an increased risk for depression.
"The Internet offers a wealth of information and opportunities for intellectual and social enrichment," Gil Botvin, a professor of public health at Weill Cornell Medical College, said in a statement. "However, it is becoming clear that there may also be a downside to Internet use.”
More research is needed to understand these potential dangers and combat them, he added.
Pass it on: Some online activities, such as social networking, may encourage drinking in teens, a study suggests.
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