The world communicates in a very different way now that we have social media. It’s hard not to feel the social pressures when media is available with a single tap. As it turns out, this social media pressure can have drastic consequences. It has been linked in multiple studies as a contributor to greater use of substance and drug abuse in teens and young adults.
Social Media Creates Serious Peer Pressure
According to a study from the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, there’s a strong connection between teens who drink, buy tobacco, and use drugs and their social media use. The survey reached out to 2,000 teens between the ages of 12 and 17, and 70 percent said they use social media daily.
When compared with the 30 percent who didn’t consume social media daily, researchers found that individuals in the majority group were three times more likely to drink alcohol, five times more likely to purchase cigarettes, and two times more likely to use marijuana.
There are various reasons for this reaction, but researchers believe that it has to do with the constant imagery and comparisons on social media. Kids can be fascinated with the idea of being in the “cool” party, drinking alcohol from red Solo cups, and doing or saying “cool” things under the influence of drugs and alcohol. It makes them want to participate.
It’s a new form of peer pressure that has pervasive consequences. Being aware of the way this problem impacts individuals is vital to successfully combating drug addiction, particularly among teens.
“We’re not saying (social media) causes it,” Cailfano told the Chicago Tribune. “But we are saying that this is a characteristic that should signal to (parents) that, well, you ought to be watching.”
Social Media Can Create Stress and Unhappiness Among Teens
Another study performed by the University of Michigan in 2013 showed there’s a correlation between the use of Facebook and other popular social channels and greater stress, dissatisfaction, and general unhappiness.
“On the surface, Facebook provides an invaluable resource for fulfilling the basic human need for social connection,” says lead author of the study and social psychologist Ethan Kross. “But rather than enhance well-being, we found that Facebook use predicts the opposite result – it undermines it.”
The study looked at 82 teens and young adults, all of whom had Facebook accounts and smartphones. They used experience-sampling and surveys to evaluate the emotional response of those using social media.
“This is a result of critical importance because it goes to the very heart of the influence that social networks may have on people’s lives,” says U-M cognitive neuroscientist John Jonides, another author of the paper.
The link to drug abuse and addiction is not direct, but it is a contributing factor. The abuse of drugs and ensuing addiction can often stem from unhappiness, increased stress, and overall dissatisfaction with life.
Cyberbullying Increases with Social Media
Being victimized by cyberbullying is another indicator of substance abuse, and social media is one of the primary tools in the hands of cyber bullies. They use it to slander a person’s name, send negative messages, and complete other negative actions.
According to studies, about 50 percent of teens 18 and younger report being cyberbullied at some point. About 70 percent of students admit to having frequently witnessed cyberbullying on social media.
Unfortunately, those who have been cyberbullied are twice as likely to abuse marijuana, alcohol, and tobacco. With the growing use of social media, particularly among teens, it’s no surprise that this is an escalating issue.
Social Media Increases the Brain’s Propensity for Addiction
In 2015, the University of Albany found that humans can become addicted to social media. Their findings showed that 90 percent of the 292 respondents polled reported spending one third of their time on social media. In all, 10 percent of Facebook users found themselves unable to let go of Facebook when pressed.
Social media activates neurotransmitters in the brain, positively impacting your pleasure receptors. It’s the same way that drugs and alcohol can change your brain chemistry if you’re addicted.
“New notifications or the latest content on your newsfeed acts as a reward. Not being able to predict when new content is posted encourages us to check back frequently,” said Julia Hormes, lead researcher on the study. “This uncertainty about when a new reward is available is known as a ‘variable interval schedule of reinforcement’ and is highly effective in establishing habitual behaviors that are resistant to extinction. Facebook is also making it easy for users to continuously be connected to its platform, for example by offering push notifications to mobile devices.”
The study also showed that those who had an addiction to social media were also more likely to have drinking problems, substance abuse, and impulse control disorders. Their propensity for addiction to other harmful substances was engorged by their indulgence of Facebook.
Social Media Should Be Monitored for Teens
Ultimately, social media does not have to be a bad thing. There are many good and noble uses for the tool, both for entertainment purposes and the betterment of society. However, too much social media, particularly unmonitored social media, can be very bad for teens struggling with a variety of social and emotional turbulence during this time.
Parents and guardians should be aware of the way their teens consume social media. When noticing addictive behaviors, or other behaviors listed in these studies that can lead to drug and alcohol abuse, step in. Early intervention is the best defense when combating addiction in teens.