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Social Media and Drug Use

Teen holding an iphone and opening a folder with various social media apps

The teenage years are a time full of all-new experiences, challenges, and changes. Though situations like peer pressure and bullying have always been a part of growing up, teens today are forced to navigate an entirely new obstacle: social media.

Apps and websites like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram have arguably shifted the way society interacts as a whole. Users can share news about life events, connect with friends and family on a global scale, meet new people and, of course, post funny pictures.

Unfortunately, the rise of social media may have led to a downfall in the nation’s mental health and well-being. Studies have shown that many aspects of social media directly relate to feelings of depression and anxiety. Cyberbullying, low self-esteem, and unreal expectations are just a few possible side effects of social media use, and each one can lead to poor mental health. When this happens, a teen may turn to drugs or alcohol in an effort to cope.

Social Media and Teen Drug Trends

To illustrate social media’s prevalence in teens, it helps to understand just how many teens used these platforms in 2018. Some teen social media statistics include:

  • 95% of teens had access to a smartphone, and 45% reported being online almost constantly
  • 85% used YouTube
  • 72% used Instagram
  • 69% used Snapchat
  • 51% used Facebook

Though many adolescents are online in some capacity, teen drug statistics show that rates of substance use have dropped in recent years. Marijuana use remains steady, but e-cigarettes continue to grow in popularity among teens — more than 25% of 12th graders reported vaping within the last month in 2019. This is more than twice the amount reported in 2017.

Ways Social Media Causes Teen Substance Abuse

While social media and substance abuse may not be directly linked, social media use can lead to mental health issues that cause teens to self-medicate. Additionally, online celebrities or “influencers” can portray substance use in a way that seems appealing to impressionable teens.

Peer Pressure

Statistics show that 24% of teens describe social media as having a negative impact. Of these teens, 27% say social media causes bullying, 17% say it harms relationships and 12% say that social media causes peer pressure.

Bullying and peer pressure play two of the biggest roles in teen substance use. When a teen sees others posting alcohol on social media, for example, they may feel like they’re missing out by not drinking. Most teens have a desire to fit in, and if their peers are bullying them because they refrain from substance use, they may choose to give in. The teenage brain is not yet developed enough to capably weigh risks and exhibit self-control, so peer pressure can often lead to substance use.

Poor Teen Mental Health

Social media can impact mental health in a few different ways. If a person has negative interactions online or compares themselves socially to others, they are more likely to develop disorders like anxiety or depression. Additionally, those who use social media at higher rates are also more likely to develop these disorders.

Online, people are able to present themselves however they want. A person can appear to live a perfect life, and it’s easy for teens to compare themselves to perfection and feel inadequate. When social media use is constant, a teen may be bombarded by these reminders in every waking moment. This can cause low self-esteem or body image and can develop into depression. Also, teens may use drugs or alcohol to self-medicate their symptoms.

Access to Drugs

The internet and social media have created many new ways for teens to purchase drugs. Teens can obtain drugs from people in their city who they see using substances on social media. Teens can use anonymous apps and even find illegal online pharmacies.

Social media marketing also plays a role in what young people see. Accounts and influencers are able to promote drug use, and advertisements can showcase e-cigarette products or alcohol. Since teens are so susceptible to being influenced by outside forces, seeing drugs on social media can lead them to experiment with substances.

How Social Media Fights Substance Abuse

Though internet use may be connected to mental health disorders and substance abuse, there is still a variety of positive effects of social media for teens. For example, online addiction campaigns help raise awareness of substance misuse, and there are countless resources that help people avoid addiction or find ways to recover. It’s possible to find groups and smartphone apps that are similar to 12-step programs, which allows people to have a resource for recovery anywhere they go.

While almost 25% percent of teens say social media has a negative effect, 31% believe the effects are mostly positive. Of these teens, 15% say they’re able to meet like-minded people, 9% say it keeps them upbeat, 7% say they find self-expression and 5% say they receive support from others. These are all factors that can help teens abstain from substance use and turn to positive influences in their lives.

If your teen is struggling with a substance use disorder or co-occurring mental health condition, Next Generation Village can help. Contact us today to learn more about treatment plans and programs that can work well for your teen.

Medical Disclaimer: Next Generation Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options, and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.


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