In recent years, social media has become an integral part of our daily lives. We use it to connect with friends and family, stay up to date on the latest trends, share our thoughts and experiences with the people we care about, and consume information on virtually any topic, ranging from news and current events to crafts and DIY tutorials.
Although a useful tool, social media has also been linked to negative consequences, such as increased feelings of anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem. One area where social media has been particularly concerning is its impact on substance misuse and addiction, particularly among young people. Most kids spend more than five hours a day on social media or playing video games, and nearly one-quarter of 10th-grade girls spend seven hours or more on social media each day, so it’s important to know how social media affects them. [1,2]
The Relationship Between Social Media and Substance Misuse
Few people realize that social media has been found to be a significant risk factor for substance misuse. But research has shown that individuals who spend more time on social media are more likely to use drugs and alcohol. The truth is that social media use is associated with increased odds of binge drinking, marijuana use, and prescription drug misuse.
Social media can be a source of immense stress and anxiety. Social media platforms are designed to keep us engaged, and this can lead to feelings of pressure to constantly check our accounts, respond to notifications, keep up with the latest hot trends, and scroll endlessly. This constant digital stimulation can be mentally overwhelming, and some young people may turn to drugs or alcohol to cope with these feelings without even realizing why they are overwhelmed in the first place.
Social media can also facilitate easy access to drugs and alcohol. Social media platforms provide a way for teens to connect with other people of all ages who share similar interests, including drug use or “party culture.” This can make it easier for individuals to obtain drugs or alcohol, or to be exposed to content that normalizes substance misuse. For example, social media influencers and celebrities often share images and messages that glamorize substance use, making drugs and alcohol seem like a normal part of everyday life. This can be particularly problematic for young people because they are more likely to be influenced by social media content.
How Social Media Affects Mental Health
Another way social media is linked to substance misuse is its effects on mental health. According to an article published by NPA, a psychologist named Jean Twenge explains that the majority of Americans had smartphones by 2021, which is around the same exact time rates of loneliness started to increase. Today, rates of anxiety, depression, and loneliness are at an all-time high, and social media is partly to blame.
Smartphones offer endless entertainment at the tips of your fingers. With so much entertainment available digitally, young people don’t need to hang out with their friends as much to avoid getting bored. Since 1976, the number of times the average teen went out with their friends stayed nearly steady, but it decreased significantly around the time smartphones became mainstream.
In-person social interactions are important for development, and without socialization, people experience increased rates of anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues. Currently, teen girls are suffering from record levels of sadness and suicidality, and studies have linked the escalation of mental health crises to the rise of electronic devices and social media.
Although not everyone who struggles with their mental health misuses substances or suffers from addiction, rates of addiction are higher in people with mental health issues. Over 60% of adolescents in substance use treatment programs also have a mental illness.
Protecting Youth from The Impacts of Social Media on Mental Health and Substance Misuse
Social media is still considered fairly new, so we don’t know the long-term effects just yet. However, what we do know is that it can be harmful, so what can be done?
Raise Awareness About the Risks
Raising awareness is an important first step. Parents, educators, healthcare professionals, and peers should educate themselves and others about the risks associated with social media use as well as the signs of mental illness and addiction.
Limit Social Media Use–No Matter the Age
Whether you consider yourself young, old, or somewhere in between, it’s important to limit the amount of time you spend on social media. Consider setting limits on you and your teen’s social media use to reduce the feelings of pressure and lonliness that can contribute to substance use and mental health issues.
Closely Monitor Social Media Use
If you’re a parent or caregiver, you should also monitor your children’s social media use closely. This can help you identify any warning signs of harmful content, substance misuse, or signs of unhealthy behaviors and give you the chance to intervene early.
Talk to Your Kids About the Issue
Let your kids know that everything they see on social media isn’t what it seems, and make sure they understand the importance of in-person social interaction. Educate them on how social media increases the risk of addiction and maintain a supportive, positive environment.
Promote Positive Messaging on Social Media
Finally, it’s important to promote positive messages and images on social media. Positivity can counteract the negative messages that glamorize substance use. Social media influencers and celebrities can also use their platforms to promote positive messages about sobriety and recovery. Doing so can also help reduce the stigma associated with addiction and mental health while also providing hope to those who are struggling.