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College students who post photos to Facebook showing themselves getting drunk are at higher risk of alcohol dependence and abuse, compared with their classmates with no references to drinking on their pages.

The findings, from a new study of students at two universities, suggest schools might be able to use Facebook to determine which students should be assessed for alcohol-related problems, the researchers say. They acknowledge this raises privacy and ethical issues, according to Reuters.

The study included Facebook pages of 224 undergraduate students at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the University of Washington in Seattle. About two-thirds did not have references to alcohol on their pages. All of the students answered a 10-question screening test, to determine if they were at risk for problem drinking.

Almost 60 percent of students who posted references to drunkenness and other dangerous drinking behaviors showed a risk for alcohol abuse and dependence on the screening test, compared with 38 percent of students with more minor drinking references, and 23 percent of those with no drinking references at all.

The study was supported by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). “Our study suggests that parents and college health care providers who note references to problem drinking on the Facebook profiles of adolescents should consider discussing drinking habits with their children and patients,” lead researcher Megan A. Moreno, MD, said in an NIAAA news release.

The study appears in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine.

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