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Party Culture and Substance Use

Three out of five college students actively drink alcohol, and more than half of them practice binge drinking – or drinking enough to significantly raise blood alcohol content (BAC) levels in a short span of time. Typically, this means four drinks for women and five drinks for men in about two hours.

Nearly six percent of fatalities around the world, and 88,000 annual deaths in the United States, can be attributed to alcohol consumption, which is responsible for more than 200 diseases and is the fifth leading factor for premature death and disability worldwide.

Is America’s party culture to blame? To find out more, we searched Instagram for a better understanding of how its 500 million users socialize their partying activities. The result? More than 100,000 social media posts that gave us insight into the relationship between substance use and partying. The outcome might involve less fun than you think.

#Party Picks for Top Substances

Which substance is most commonly associated with #party?  The generic term “drinks” was mentioned more than all of the other terms combined, overshadowing specific mentions of drugs and alcohol with a whopping 52 percent of all terms examined. It seems there is a fairly strong relationship between partying and alcohol consumption.

“Beer,” “champagne,” “shots,” “wine,” and “liquor” also made the cut, as did “marijuana” with 6 percent. Some partiers even risked mentioning other illicit substances – including heroin, cocaine, ecstasy, MDMA, oxycodone, hydrocodone, and methamphetamine. Drug use is on the rise, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, which reported an estimated 24.6 Americans age 12 and up – or 9.4 percent of the United States population – had used an illicit substance in the past month, a figure that is up from 8.3 percent 11 years prior. While it’s not clear from our social media analysis, America’s party culture may be a contributing factor to the rise in drug use.

Breaking Down Social Substance Mentions

To better understand the correlation between substance use and partying at a state level, we took a look at the top states mentioning alcohol and other drugs when publicizing their #party activities. The results indicate that drinking is a top party activity across the United States; however, some state’s residents also participate in illegal drug use when socializing.

Of the terms we examined, “drinks” comprised 64 percent of Georgia’s total, suggesting the state closely associates parties with an alcoholic beverage. Since 2005, heavy drinking has increased 17.2 percent nationally. In Georgia, it has increased 18.8 percent – with Baker County experiencing the fastest rise at nearly 61 percent.

New Jersey hovers nearby at 60 percent of posts with the word “drinks,” and the remaining states decrease from there, down to 44 percent in Louisiana and 42 percent in Arizona, which each prefer the word “beer” more than anywhere else.

Washington displayed the highest proportion of “other” illicit substance terms. Louisiana also holds the most mentions of “marijuana” at 14 percent. Partiers in these states risk mentioning these substances, indicating a possible trend toward drug use when partying.

The States Talking About #Party the Most

The top three states in our study – Nevada, Florida, and New York – are commonly associated with party culture. And four of the top 10 states — New York, Nevada, New Jersey and Louisiana — had binge drinking rates above the national average. The connection between partying and binge drinking is hard to miss.

Nevada features nearly 17 #party posts per 10,000 people and a binge drinking rate of 26.3 percent. Home to Las Vegas, a place of bright lights, endless casinos, and a notorious party culture, a quick turn of a card or a roll of the dice and the addictive pathology that can come with it isn’t much different from the physiology of heavy drinking.

It is a pattern that even trickles down into the school system, though perhaps for different reasons, such as ease of access. According to the CDC, 65% of Nevada youths report having ever drank alcohol (third in the nation). Of those youths, nearly 36% indicate that they were given alcohol from another individual.

The number of #party hashtags per 10,000 people significantly drops following the Sunshine State. There were 7.4 in Florida, which is still a famous haven for party schools, though the state’s 22.3 percent binge drinking rate falls below the national average. New York, which has a 25.4 percent binge drinking rate, was next with 6.7 mentions per 10,000 people. Perhaps Manhattan’s glitz and glamor change standard social norms and toss a blanket over addiction.

Binge Drinking Finds Its Home

When we break down mentions of #party by city, we see Las Vegas, followed by other havens of party culture, including Miami, Honolulu, and New Orleans. The majority of these party cities (seven out of the ten top cities) also have a higher than average binge drinking rate; however, a few of the top contenders sit below the national average.

Mardi Gras draws 1.4 million revelers to New Orleans every year. In 2015, the city responded to 2,367 emergency calls during the festival, a 10 percent increase from the year prior. These startling statistics are reflected in the city’s binge drinking rates which sit above the national average.

According to the most recent data available, another party haven, Las Vegas, reported a near 27 percent binge drinking rate, which is slightly higher than the national average of 24.5 percent. Again, it seems the party culture may have an influence on the higher drinking rates in the city where social activity revolves around club and bar scenes where alcohol is prevalent.

Held up next to cities like Las Vegas, New Orleans, and New York City, Providence’s problem is a bit unexpected – coming from a place located in the smallest state in the nation. While the city has 1.1 #party mentions per 10,000 people, the state of Rhode Island held an average 9.8% rate of alcohol dependence or abuse from 2010 to 2012 (second only to the District of Columbia).  

Other disturbing figures can be seen across the country – especially in the homes to the top party cities. From 2006 to 2010, 950 deaths were attributed to excessive alcohol use in Nevada, 6,669 in Florida, and 1,478 in Louisiana — to name a few.

DUI and #Party Correlation Seen Coast to Coast

Our analysis of #party and substance use indicates a clear trend toward alcohol use, but how does this affect drunk driving rates? We took a look at the correlation between #party and drunk driving rates and found some distressing results. Many of the top party states also had high rates of drunk driving incidents.

It’s simple: alcohol, drugs, and driving do not mix. Approximately 32 percent of all fatal car crashes involve an intoxicated driver or pedestrian. Alcohol slows reaction time, and drugs can impair judgment, perception, and motor skills, which can be a deadly combination.

When it comes to DUI arrests, Nevada is a major offender – 8,072. It also has 4,808 #party mentions, or 60 posts per 100 DUIs. While Hawaii has significantly fewer DUI arrests, the rate of party mentions per DUI arrests is distinct...

Illinois, which was one of the first states to implement the all-offender ignition interlock law, which requires all convicted drunk drivers to install an ignition interlock devices in every car they drive, reported 3,653 DUI arrests, with 2,018 #party mentions and 55 posts per 100 incidents.

It’s Not Too Late to Find Help

For many, the party doesn’t stop with a DUI arrest or conviction. The long-term effects of excessive alcohol and drug consumption can be devastating – including, but not limited to, high blood pressure, stroke, liver disease, neurological damage, and sexual dysfunction.

And it doesn’t just affect one person. In 2010, the United States lost $249 billion due to crime, health care, losses in productivity, and other expenses attributed to excessive drinking. Binge drinking alone accounted for $191 billion.

If you, or someone you know, suffers from a drug or alcohol addiction, it is time to seek help. For more information, visit


We reviewed Instagram for mentions of #party. City-level binge drinking prevalence was limited to people 18 years of age and older who reported drinking five or more alcoholic beverages for men and four or more alcoholic beverages for women on a single occasion in the month before being surveyed.

City-level binge drinking prevalence reflects substate regions as defined by SAMHSA. DUI data reflect annual state totals provided by Social data reflect 102,000 Instagram posts containing #party.

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