A Descriptive Study of the Prevalence and Typology of Alcohol-related Posts in an Online Social Network for Smoking Cessation

Research Summary:

Alcohol use and problem drinking are associated with smoking relapse and poor smoking-cessation success. User-generated content in online social networks for smoking cessation provides an opportunity to understand the challenges and treatment needs of smokers. This study used machine-learning text classification to identify the prevalence, sentiment, and social network correlates of alcohol-related content in the social network of a large online smoking-cessation program,

Data were analyzed from 814,258 posts (January 2012 to May 2015). Posts containing alcohol keywords were coded via supervised machine-learning text classification for information about the user’s personal experience with drinking, whether the user self-identified as a problem drinker or indicated problem drinking, and negative sentiment about drinking in the context of a quit attempt (i.e., alcohol should be avoided during a quit attempt).

Less than 1% of posts were related to alcohol, contributed by 13% of users. Roughly a third of alcohol posts described a personal experience with drinking; very few (3%) indicated “problem drinking.” The majority (70%) of alcohol posts did not express negative sentiment about drinking alcohol during a quit attempt. Users who did express negative sentiment about drinking were more centrally located within the network compared with those who did not.

Discussion of alcohol was rare, and most posts did not signal the need to quit or abstain from drinking during a quit attempt. Featuring expert information or highlighting discussions that are consistent with treatment guidelines may be important steps to ensure smokers are educated about drinking risks.

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