140 Characters or Less: Social Media’s Role in Substance Abuse

Worried about your teen's social media use? Turns out you should be!

Before starting his homework, Nick checked the latest posts from his friends. Among the many new messages were several pictures of his classmates drinking at a party and a couple more of them passed out afterwards.

Another friend posted a selfie that showed him holding a pill. The caption read: “About to have a great time! See you after the trip!” Nick suddenly felt like he was missing out. His weekends were usually drug and alcohol-free, but maybe he should find one of these parties next Saturday so he doesn’t miss the fun.

How it Hurts

  • Before they reach the tender age of 15, 90 percent of teens are exposed to pictures of their peers drinking, using drugs or passing out on social media. 75 percent of teens report that seeing these types of pictures on social media motivates them to copy their peers’ behavior. Teens who see these images are three times likelier to consume alcohol and four times likelier to use marijuana.
  • Teens who spend time on social media every day are more likely to consume alcohol and take drugs compared to those who don’t use social media daily. Since eight out of ten adolescents aged 12 to 17 use social media, that’s a lot of kids at risk.
  • Social media can be used to bully teens into using drugs. Based on Columbia University’s National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse findings, 19 percent of teens are the victims of cyberbullying. These teens are more likely to use alcohol and marijuana.

How it Helps

  • Social media can be used to spread messages of sobriety and recovery. Campaigns such as Above the Influence share posts that encourage teens to not use drugs and alcohol. Their Facebook page has over 1.5 million likes.
  • Social media can also be used during recovery. One study of teens who were enrolled in substance abuse treatment found that 22 percent posted or viewed recovery-related content on social media.
  • Researchers are excited about the potential social media holds to gain a better understanding of substance use. They claim social media posts and interactions can provide great insights into prevention and intervention methods and increase the effectiveness of treatment efforts.

The Bottom Line

The current stats seem to point to a negative trend with social media. With so many teens being influenced to use drugs and alcohol through sites like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, it’s hard to see a positive side. However, it is possible to make use of social media for their good. Peer support, education and other positive messages could also have a huge impact. Since teens already use these sites, they can be a great tool to reach teens where they are. We just need to get the right messages out there.

Image Source: iStock

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