How social media influences people with addictions

Posted May 12

A whopping 90 percent of people ages 18-29 use one or more social networking sites. Needless to say, social media has a huge impact on the lives of teens and young adults.

But have you ever wondered how social media impacts the life of someone addicted to drugs or alcohol?

Here is what research tells us about the link between social media and addiction.

Social media encourages addictive behaviors

Few people realize how addictive social media is. In fact, social networking is designed to be habit-forming. So, it’s no surprise that teen social media users are more likely to smoke, drink and take drugs than their social-media-less peers.

The University of Albany surveyed undergraduates using questions modeled after a test for alcohol dependence. They found 10 percent of students displayed addictive behaviors when using social media. That same 10 percent were more likely to have issues with emotional regulation and alcohol abuse.

The National Survey of American Attitudes on Substance Abuse also found that teenagers who use social media are at a greater risk for substance abuse. They are:

  • 5 times more likely to use tobacco,
  • 3 times more likely to use alcohol and
  • 2 times more likely to use marijuana.
Social media has addictive qualities and can unintentionally encourage other addictive behavior. This is why you often see a relationship between social networking and substance abuse. But, that’s not the only way social media can influence an addict.

Social media encourages peer pressure

For young adults, social media can be a place to explore what’s popular based on the activities friends are participating in.

Because of this, young adults are often influenced to use drugs. A worrisome 90 percent of teens are exposed to pictures of their peers drinking and using substances on social media before the age of 15, and these pictures appear to have a big influence. Teens who have seen social media images of other kids getting drunk, using drugs or passing out are:

  • 3 times more likely to drink alcohol,
  • 4 times more likely to smoke marijuana,
  • more likely to be able to quickly get marijuana, controlled substances or alcohol and
  • more likely to have peers who abuse prescription and illegal drugs.
Social media encourages low self-esteem

Social media can play a big role in how teenagers and young adults view themselves and others. Seeing people having fun with alcohol or illegal substances on social media can encourage an addict (or potential addict) to feel jealousy and FOMO (fear of missing out), influencing them to take actions to include themselves in the behavior.

At the same time, social media can seriously impact a person’s self-esteem. Cyberbullying is a major problem for many teens on social networks today. According to Columbia University’s National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse, 19 percent of 12- to 17-year-olds are victims of cyberbullying.

Bullying of any kind can cause poor self-perception and low self-worth, which are linked to susceptibility of drug use. The same research study found that victims of cyberbullying were at a higher risk of using tobacco, alcohol and marijuana than those who never experienced it.

In many ways, social media is a healthy and harmless activity. However, there are certain factors that can make an addict more prone to relapse if they use it.

Understand the role social media, peer pressure, jealousy and self-esteem has on addictive behavior to determine the influence social media might have on you or a loved one with an addiction.

Kitt Wakeley is a partner at Vizown, a women's treatment center in Oklahoma. He is extremely passionate and determined to help women overcome their addictions and live a clean, wholesome, happy life.


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