Online Searching and Social Media to Detect Alcohol Use Risk at Population Scale

Published:December 01, 2019DOI:


      Harnessing engagement in online searching and social media may provide complementary information for monitoring alcohol use, informing prevention and policy evaluation, and extending knowledge available from national surveys.


      Relative search volumes for 7 alcohol-related keywords were estimated from Google Trends (data, 2014–2017), and the proportion of alcohol use–related Twitter posts (data, 2014–2015) was estimated using natural language processing. Searching/posting measures were created for all 50 U.S. states plus Washington, D.C. Survey reports of alcohol use and summaries of state alcohol policies were obtained from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (data, 2014–2016) and the Alcohol Policy Scale. In 2018–2019, associations among searching/posting measures and same state/year Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System reports of recent (past-30-day) alcohol use and maximum number of drinks consumed on an occasion were estimated using logistic and linear regression, adjusting for sociodemographics and Internet use, with moderation tested in regressions that included interactions of select searching/posting measures and the Alcohol Policy Scale.


      Recent alcohol use was reported by 52.93% of 1,297,168 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System respondents, which was associated with all state-level searching/posting measures in unadjusted and adjusted models (p<0.0001). Among drinkers, most searching/posting measures were associated with maximum number of drinks consumed (p<0.0001). Associations varied with exposure to high versus low levels of state policy controls on alcohol.


      Strong associations were found among individual alcohol use and state-level alcohol-related searching/posting measures, which were moderated by the strength of state alcohol policies. Findings support using novel personally generated data to monitor alcohol use and possibly evaluate effects of alcohol control policies.
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