Date of Award

Spring 2024

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)



Committee Director

Abby L. Braitman

Committee Member

James M. Henson

Committee Member

Cathy Lau-Barraco


Young adult college students are one of the greatest at-risk populations for problematic alcohol-related behaviors (e.g., excessive use). Experiencing greater emotional distress (i.e., depression, anxiety, and stress) has been linked to problematic drinking, and rates of college students struggling with their mental health is higher than other populations. Social media has proliferated in recent years, potentially increasing the risk of experiencing negative emotional effects for avid users like college students. Literature is mixed regarding social media’s impact on emotional well-being and scant studies have investigated how motives of social media use (i.e., why people are using social media) may be related to drinking behaviors via emotional distress. Additionally, findings are inconsistent examining how internal drinking motives (i.e., drinking to cope or enhance) may impact the relationship between emotional distress and drinking behaviors. Therefore, the current study examined how maladaptive social media use motives (SMUM) relate to drinking behaviors via consequences of social media use and emotional distress, respectively (Aim 1), and identified if internal drinking motives moderate the relationship between emotional distress and drinking behaviors (Aim 2) among college students (N=369; 82% female; 53% White). There was partial support for Aim 1 as avoidance SMUM was positively related to negative emotional consequences, which was then related to greater emotional distress. However, emotional distress was only significantly linked to greater alcohol-related consequences and not consumption. Although drinking to cope and drinking to enhance were independently associated with greater alcohol-related consequences and consumption, neither drinking motive moderated the association between emotional distress and alcohol outcomes, contrary to hypotheses of Aim 2. Implications suggest SMUM may be a potential explanatory factor for why users (e.g., college students) are afflicted emotionally by their social media use and could be considered when addressing problematic health behaviors related to emotional distress such as alcohol use.


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