Social Media and Teen Drug Addiction

As we continue to learn about the significant mental health effects of compulsive social media use and addiction among teens, we are faced with the task of determining the sometimes elusive connections to teen substance abuse and other troubling issues as well.  Alienation, depression, low self-esteem, loneliness, unhealthy comparisons to others and teen drug use have all been directly linked to the widespread obsession with and inability to log off of social media.  This can be especially tough on our ever evolving teens. Growing up today, adolescents live suspended between two worlds. Actual life which can be considered challenging, boring, and mundane, and a deceptively appealing realm of illusions where “content is king” and meticulously curated, unrealistic online images of personas are given significantly more attention, clout and scrutiny than our “IRL” existence ever has. This is an alarming and perilous state of affairs for the impressionable, developing minds of today’s youth.

Addictive Technology and Mental Health

It doesn’t take more than a few swipes up on facebook or instagram to encounter someone’s bradocious post who appears to be having a “better” day, experience or even life than you are.  Being perpetually bombarded by this kind of negative reinforcement is not good for our psyche or our overall sense of well-being. When immersed in the perpetual use of social media sites, the craving and emotional dependency on virtual validation develops almost immediately. Teens often find themselves desperately seeking approval and can in fact become addicted to posting selfies and status updates. The dopamine high that comes with “getting likes” is notably powerful and remarkably similar to the effects of teen substance use in how quickly it can become habit forming.  The technology is exceedingly convenient to use and has become almost an automatic act for many teens. To complicate matters, the global shift to social media in just about all areas of life regarding communication and getting the news makes it hard to feel informed or up to date on current events, even if you want to log out, which leads us to a vicious cycle of habitually scanning and feeling helplessly tethered to our phones. By all accounts the growing dependence on and inability to wean off of social media platforms meets all the criteria and definitions of a legitimate addiction

Cyberbullying and the Long Term Effects

Let’s face it. Kids (and teens) can be cruel. Online they can be even crueler. Without the regulations and restrictions that come with adult supervision, unspeakable words, hateful jokes, and hurtful acts of sadism can be almost effortlessly inflicted on vulnerable teens by their peers. This is known as “cyberbullying” and a staggering amount of teens have reported some level of experience with this destructive trend.  For self-conscious, shy, nervous, and sensitive teens this is no laughing matter and can lead to serious emotional trauma. Some teens will tend to withdraw, becoming socially anxious, discouraged and potentially stunted in their development of social skills. Others will turn to other anti-social coping mechanisms such as increased amounts of teen drug use which, if not addressed can lead to full blown teen drug addiction and in some extreme cases teen suicide.  Research has suggested a direct correlation between being bullied in youth and teen substance abuse in later years. Similarly, teen alcohol addiction proved to be an issue among victims of bullying and cyberbullying in adolescence.

Access to Drugs Online

Teens are regularly being exposed to an endless stream of flashy images and videos of glamourous and excessive celebrity lifestyles through social media. With the technological advances in the drug market, social media now offers a direct line of access to drugs through online drug dealer accounts. Through this new means of trafficking, the amount of teen drug use has been increasing to a troubling degree. In the mainstream media, celebrities and popular culture icons have been promoting and sponsoring alcohol brands for decades, this is nothing new. What IS new is the fact that on social media, even if it isn’t an official brand partnership, celebrities’ personal pages often demonstrate and celebrate blatant alcohol and or drug use. A quick scan of beloved celebrities such as Snoop Dogg or Seth Rogen’s Instagram pages will likely show you more than you may want to know about what your teens are regularly seeing. The personal touch and perceived intimacy of social media can tend to normalize and make attractive otherwise questionable drug and alcohol practices. Influenced by the examples often set by rich and successful, recognizable figures, tech-savvy teens are now taking to the web to follow in suit.  The truth is that we need to be aware of the facts and willing to talk to our teens who are now easily able to obtain drugs through contacts on social media as well as finding them on the “dark web”.

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