Some people are at a greater risk of substance abuse than others. Researchers believe there is a genetic link to addiction, as people with a family history of substance abuse disorders may struggle with addiction themselves. While there are inherent factors that contribute to illness, lifestyle also plays a role. A lack of support system and intense exposure to peer pressure, for example, are contributing factors to substance abuse and addiction. Even our social media networks can influence our decision to use drugs or develop unhealthy behaviors. Could Facebook be putting your loved ones at risk?
Social Networking and Teens
In 2011 when Columbia University added relevant inventory items to their annual National Survey of American Attitudes on Substance Abuse XVI: Teens and Parent, researchers began examining the link between social media use and substance abuse. The survey asked 12 to 17-year-olds whether they spent time on social media sites, such as Facebook, every day. The overwhelming majority (70%) reported typical day social media use. This daily use put them at higher risk for several kinds of substance abuse. Compared to their peers who did not use social media, these teens were five times more likely to smoke, three times more likely to drink, and twice as likely to use marijuana.
Evidence also suggests that Facebook and other social media sites can normalize binge drinking and other dangerous substance abuse behaviors among teens. According to the survey, nearly half of all teens that use social media regularly have also seen pictures of their peers drinking, passed out, or using drugs. These children were three times more likely to drink and four times more likely to use marijuana themselves.
A 2013 study from the University of Michigan found a positive correlation between Facebook use and unhappiness and dissatisfaction with lives. In other words, the more some teens use social media, the more discontented they can become. Combined with co-morbid mental disorders such as depression, low self-esteem, and anxiety, or environmental factors such as lack of social support or situational induced stress, teens are more likely to turn to substance abuse.
Cyber-Bullying and Substance Abuse
Teens are more vulnerable to peer pressure and bullying than they ever before. It’s easier for teens to achieve anonymity online. The disconnected nature of online discourse causes teens to be bolder in regard to teasing. About half of young people (aged 18 and younger) admit to being cyber-bullied at some point. Over half of young people who use social media admit observing cyber-bullying. Compared to their peers who have not been bullied online, teens that experience cyber-bullying are twice as likely to abuse alcohol, tobacco, and marijuana.
Can We Become Addicted to Social Media?
A 2015 study from the University of Albany revealed we could actually become addicted to social media. Published in the journal Addiction, the study found about ten percent of Facebook’s user’s display “disordered social media use”. The individuals who met this criterion were also more likely to have impulse control disorders and drinking problems. The study’s head researcher suggested these findings illuminate the idea that the same risk factors that increase susceptibility to substance addiction also increase the likelihood of disordered online social networking.
Addiction, Facebook, and Our Brains
These findings aren’t entirely surprising when we consider our biology. Drugs are addictive because of the way they interact with our brains neurotransmitters; creating a rush of endorphins we call a high. While chemical substances create a more intense cycle or high and withdrawal, other activities such as sex, gambling, and even social media use create similar cycles of cravings and rewards. The social media rewards we receive (for example, a notification saying someone “likes” our activity) can create cravings for more approval, generating an addictive pattern much like substances do.
In its most basic form, this is called variable schedule reinforcement, and it’s effective in creating patterns of compulsive behavior. Facebook makes it easy to fall into addictive behavior because of things like push notifications and apps. Users don’t even need to log in to get their social approval; it’s available on the go with their mobile app.
Correlation, Not Causation
While the literature regarding social media use, addiction, and substance abuse are illuminating, it’s important to consider them in context. These studies suggest a link between social media use and addictive behaviors in at-risk members of the population. This doesn’t mean that we are all addicted to social media. People that already struggle with impulse control are more likely to display disordered social media use, and these people are also more likely to struggle with substance abuse.
Addiction is a complex medical condition that arises from a combination of risk factors. Biological predisposition, co-occurring mental disorders, and environmental reasons such as stress and lack of family involvement all contribute to addiction. There is never just one reason for addiction, and each struggle with substance abuse is unique.
Social media can be a wonderful way to connect with others and share experiences. On the other hand, overuse can become a problem for some. In teens exposed to illicit drug use online, social media use can lead to an increased likelihood of smoking, drinking, and marijuana use. Parents should take steps to be involved in their teen’s online activities by talking to them about online safety and the dangers of using illicit substances.
Teens Are Becoming More Active on Social Media Which Leads to More Cases of Cyber-Bullying and Substance Abuse! Speak to Our Counselors About How to Help Prevent Your Teen from Experimenting with Drugs and Alcohol Today!