Since the launch of Reddit.com in 2005, the social news–sharing website that calls itself “the front page of the internet,” has grown to become a platform for thousands of distinct communities. Reddit is home to millions of users who contribute their thoughts on nearly any topic imaginable, and it consists almost entirely of user-submitted content.
Readers cast upvotes or downvotes on each submission, collectively deciding which material rises and falls on a daily basis. The site has often gained attention due to the personal stories shared on community discussion boards such as AskReddit, where users solicit the opinions and advice of others, and IAmA, where individuals offer their own life experience and expertise on a given subject.
At times, the diversity of material on Reddit has led to controversy, and site administrators were forced to make difficult decisions, balancing their broad support for free expression yet managing the presence of potentially objectionable content.
As a whole, the site’s community has not shied away from forthright discussions of challenging topics and even illegal activities. In a place where users are willing to open up about almost anything, we decided to find out how they talk about one of the most widespread issues facing society today: the use of drugs and alcohol.
A Look at Substances on Reddit
We analyzed posts submitted to Reddit throughout 2015, and evaluated three areas: what keywords relate to substance use, which substances are most discussed on the site, and which communities talk about drugs and alcohol the most. Read on to see how one of the world’s most popular sites approaches the topic of substance use and abuse.
The Timing of Drug-Related Posts
We first examined how drug-related posts on Reddit fluctuate in their prevalence over the course of the year. While the changes are dramatic, one overarching trend is clear: Hundreds of thousands of posts regarding drugs and/or alcohol are made yearly on the site.
Mentions of drugs and alcohol peaked in the month of June with nearly 80,000 instances counted, and a second smaller peak – nearly 50,000 – was seen in January. Some of the lowest levels of drug and alcohol mentions occur in August and September, with each month showing fewer than 2,000 posts containing substance-related terms. May represented a low point as well, with fewer than 10,000 such posts. Given the sharp increase of posts at the start of summer in June and a substantial drop in August and September, it’s possible the posts could correlate with the U.S. school year. Surveys on the demographics of Reddit have found that users aged 18 to 29 are the largest age group using the site.
Drug-Related Reddit Communities
Next, we looked at which communities, known as “subreddits,” were host to the greatest proportion of the overall posts about drug-related content. Ranking at the top, with more than a quarter of total drug posts, the AskReddit section contained 27.8% of submissions about substances and substance use. This community, with over 10.7 million subscribers at the time of this writing, often receives questions about drugs and their effects on society. Posts include questions such as, “People who have tried Marijuana for the first time due to recent legalizations, how has your opinion on Marijuana been affected?”, and “People of reddit who do hard drugs (cocaine, heroine [sic], meth) what made you choose to try these drugs for the first time?”
In second place was the Trees subreddit, a section whose name is a slang term on Reddit for marijuana. With nearly 800,000 subscribers, this community is focused exclusively on cannabis-related material. It includes news stories such as “Supreme Court turns down case that challenges Colorado marijuana law” and personal experiences such as “3 Grandmas Smoking Weed for the 1st Time.” The Trees community even eclipsed the general Drugs subreddit, which was the source of about 10% of overall posts related to drugs and alcohol. Posts in the Drugs subreddit included content such as, “Stopped myself from IV using Heroin. Very glad I did so.” and “How to go to prison in 1 easy step. Cocaine.”
More general-purpose communities also appeared among the top 10 subreddits responsible for the most substance-related posts. The News section, in fourth place with 6.8% of drug-related submissions, serves as an outlet for newsworthy stories such as “U.S. meth labs are on the decline—not because of law enforcement, but because cheaper Mexican meth is putting them out of business.” Conversely, the TodayILearned (or TIL) subreddit solicits content of a more niche interest, such as “TIL a Redditor and former heroin addict named Tracey Helton has saved the lives of over 110 Redditors by mailing out an opiate overdose antidote named naloxone.”
Mentions of Specific Drug Terms
We also tallied the number of drug-related posts by the specific substance that was mentioned. Overall, marijuana was the most mentioned substance in 2015, with 173,615 posts making reference to the drug. Alcohol placed second with fewer than half as many mentions as cannabis – it was mentioned a total of 77,901 times throughout the year. Interestingly, the Alcohol-specific subreddit boasts only about 19,000 subscribers, and posts about drinking throughout Reddit vary in their tone, such as:
- “Why isn’t alcohol as condemned as tobacco currently?”
- “Can I be an adult without drinking alcohol, please?”
- “Best method to quit alcohol”
- In third place was heroin with 60,211 mentions in all, many of which recount negative experiences, as seen in submissions such as, “Scared of getting addicted to heroin” and “I kicked heroin Oct 30, I’m having bad cravings and don’t know what to do.” Other drugs were less commonly mentioned: MDMA (ecstasy) was last of all the substances we analyzed, with 13,336 mentions throughout the year, and the anti-anxiety drug Xanax was second to last with 19,640 posts mentioning this medication.
Co-Occurring Drug Terms
Many of the substances we studied were also mentioned in conjunction with one another. Not only were marijuana and alcohol the two substances most frequently referred to on Reddit, but they were also most frequently referred to together. The combination of the two words was mentioned in nearly 10,000 posts across Reddit. These posts often made direct comparisons between the two substances, as seen in submissions such as, “UK Government: ‘No comment’ on alcohol being more harmful than marijuana after petition” and “Colorado Just Became the First State Ever to Generate More Taxes from Marijuana than Alcohol.” Mentions of marijuana alongside heroin, with fewer than a third as many instances (3,027), frequently made similar comparisons, such as, “New DEA Chief: ‘Heroin Is Clearly More Dangerous Than Marijuana’.”
Highly Correlated Drug Terms
We also took a closer look at the most frequent co-occurrences of substance mentions with other non drug-related terms in a selection of major subreddits, and the patterns we found were quite revealing. Communities focused on specific interests often showed a tendency to discuss relevant substances. For example, the Anxiety subreddit most frequently posted about Xanax alongside the word “taking,” while the MDMA subreddit most often mentioned ecstasy along with “brain.” >Similarly, the Opiates community most often posted about heroin along with the word “drug,” and the Stims subreddit was primarily focused on meth and the term “feel.”
Some of these sections were oriented toward recovery from use of particular substances. (For example, the Leaves subreddit focuses on abstaining from “smoking weed,” OpiatesRecovery’s discussions about when people started becoming sober from heroin, and StopDrinking’ frequent posts from users talking about how alcohol has affected their “life.”) Other subreddits – as diverse as the comedic AdviceAnimals section, the popular AskReddit community, and the general WorldNews section – reflected the site’s overall trend toward marijuana as the most discussed substance. These sections and others, such as News, Politics, and Videos, all discussed “using” or “smoking” “weed” or “marijuana” most prominently, as well as the issue of “medical” “marijuana.”
Potentially Negative Attitudes Toward Drug Terms
The ratio of upvotes to downvotes on a submission to Reddit is what determines how prominently it will be displayed to a community, and as discussed earlier, downvotes are typically used to express disapproval of a post’s content. We ranked which sections of the site had the highest average number of downvotes on posts mentioning drug-related terms. The RoastMe section, a subreddit focused exclusively on crafting insults about practically any feature of a person’s posted self-photo, is already a hotbed of negative sentiment toward nearly anything – and even here, substance-related content seems to be viewed in an especially poor light. These posts received an average of 6.04 downvotes in the subreddit. Placing second was the Hockey subreddit with 5.5 average downvotes for substance-related posts, where submissions on these topics often have to do with problematic drug or alcohol use among players of the sport. The CFB section (4.13 average downvotes), dedicated to college sports, also largely focused on the impact of substance use on players’ careers.
Potentially Positive Attitudes Toward Drug Terms
However, not all sections of Reddit had a collectively negative view toward drug-related posts – some had an especially high average number of approving upvotes for this content. The AskReddit community, already responsible for the largest proportion of all drug-related posts, also had the highest number of average upvotes on these posts: 19.01 per submission. In second place was the WTF section with 18.79 average upvotes per drug-related post. As the name suggests, this subreddit is oriented toward submissions of particularly shocking or unpleasant content, with explicit posts such as “Girl who overdosed on heroin being administered Narcan, an opioid antagonist.” The Not the Onion subreddit – named after the satirical publication The Onion, and similarly focused on surprising and dismaying content such as, “Man pleads guilty to cooking meth in trunk while driving” – placed third with an average of 18.03 upvotes. One pattern is clear: Even in areas of Reddit where drug- and alcohol-related topics receive the most attention and visibility, these subjects are often discussed in a not-so-positive context.
Finding Help for Substance Addiction and Dependence
The diverse discussions about drugs and alcohol on Reddit encompass the many facets of the issues surrounding them. The site offers an unusually honest and personal look at the difficult realities of substance abuse. From individual experiences to the impact on society at large, Reddit continues to show how drugs and alcohol are affecting our world.
If you or someone you know is struggling with substance addiction or dependence, there’s hope for recovery. ProjectKnow.com can connect you with specialized professional treatment services that are tailored to meet your needs. With expert help, you can take your life back from addiction to drugs or alcohol. Contact ProjectKnow.com today at 1-888-287-0471 to take the first step in defeating substance abuse.
Using Google’s BigQuery, we searched all posts submitted to Reddit throughout 2015 for keywords related to drugs and alcohol. We included the terms “alcohol,” “cocaine,” “heroin,” “marijuana,” “MDMA,” “meth,” and “Xanax.” These results were sorted per subreddit, and any subreddit with fewer than 500 total results was excluded from our analysis.