Drugs and the rise of social media

It’s fairly common to hear adults exclaim that they’re glad social media wasn’t around when they were teenagers. They may say it to get a laugh, but their point is hard to ignore. Teenagers today are right in the middle of the social media boom, where anything and everything can be shared and commented on by scores of people.

The rise of social media also means that content about drugs and alcohol can be part of the mix and perhaps contribute to teenagers’ behavior. Parents now have to add social media monitoring to their list of worries. Here’s a look at some of the reasons why.

The statistics

A 2011 study by Columbia University’s National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse had some sobering results. More than 2,000 teenagers were included on the survey about social media, drugs and alcohol. As reported by WebMD, the survey showed that teens that use social media on a daily basis were five times more likely to use tobacco, three times more likely to drink alcohol and twice as likely to smoke marijuana.

Peer pressure

What adults recall as peer pressure — the “come on, try it” moment at a party, for instance — has evolved with the rise of social media. Viewing alcohol or drug related content could develop what is known as digital peer pressure, an increased interest for teenagers to try these substances, as this story on narconon.com explains.

“When teens post pictures of themselves or friends using drugs or alcohol on these types of websites, they are usually followed by dozens of ‘likes’ and comments about how much fun that particular night was or how drunk so-and-so was. With all of this ‘positive’ attention from their peers, it is no wonder why some teens might find using drugs and alcohol as the ‘in’ thing to do. … Monitoring your child’s use of the Internet is a good way to keep tabs on them and make sure that they aren’t becoming involved with drugs or the wrong crowd.”

The pop culture effect

Music can be a powerful thing for teenagers. So it’s notable when hit songs refer to alcohol or drugs and social media. Though blaming a pop star for their lyrics is futile, it is wise to know what kids are listening to. Shannon Brys writes about this for Addiction Professional, pointing out Katy Perry’s Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.). The song depicts a wild party, with such lyrics as “Pictures of last night ended up online/I’m screwed/Oh well/It’s a blacked-out blur/But I’m pretty sure it ruled.” The accompanying video goes for the comedic approach, like a movie about wacky high school teenagers.

“The media, including popular music, TV shows, movies, magazines, etc., all have messages about getting drunk, doing drugs, partying, forgetting what happened the night before — the list goes on and on,” Brys writes. “… I think that when media and social media portray people getting drunk or doing drugs, it glorifies the situation and makes teens feel like they’re missing out on something.”

Widespread influence

A story by Arline Kaplan for Psychiatric Times examines a survey conducted by David Tran at UCLA. He polled young people who were in substance abuse treatment in Los Angeles about the use of social media and drug-related content. Most were Latino, between the ages of 12 and 18, and came from low-income families.

The results: “Nearly all (92 percent) engaged in online social networking; the majority used Facebook,” Tran said. “Many (44 percent) said they posted drug-related content on social networking sites and 94 percent said their friends did. Of greatest concern, Tran said, is that 66 percent (77 percent of girls and 53 percent of boys) reported that drug-related content on Facebook, MySpace, or Twitter made them feel like they wanted to use drugs.”

Illegal activity

Social networking sites can also be a method of arranging a drug deal. Take this news report out of Houston in 2014, which describes how Instagram can be used to entice teenagers to obtain drugs. Or this report by the Coalition Against Drug Abuse, which shows how easy it is to find a dealer, and even have drugs shipped “faster than Amazon.”

“In less than five minutes, a person can go from having zero contacts that could supply him or her with illegal substances to one text message away from a vial of LSD, cocaine, and even illegal weapons,” the coalition story states. “It’s a dangerous side effect of the social media boom that has given anyone, especially teens, access to the world of hardcore drug abuse. It’s also a world in which the buyer, not the seller, is affected most by the negative consequences.”

Originally published at newbeginningsteenhelp.com on February 19, 2016.

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