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How Does Social Media Affect Teen Drug Use?

By Britni de la Cretaz 10/21/16

A recent survey examined how social media impacts the way teenagers approach drug use.

How Does Social Media Affect Teen Drug Use?

Social media has created a very different world for today’s teenagers than teens from even one generation ago. But how has social media influenced the way those teens use substances?

One might think that with social media giving people access to information, images, and connections that would have been impossible just 10 years ago, teens’ exposure to substances and their ability to use them might look drastically different than it used to. And a 2011 study from the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University found that 70% of the teens surveyed said they used social media, and that group was three times as likely to have used alcohol. 

A new survey from Project Know decided to find out exactly how social media is affecting perceptions of substance use by surveying 2,000 people. The survey, called Young and Using, measured people’s opinions about social media and teen drug use.

One of the most interesting finds was in regards to the difference between what older generations thought social media’s impact on young people was, and what the young people themselves thought. Most baby boomers (64%) thought that teens face more pressure to use drugs because of social media, but the majority of those aged 21-59 disagreed.

However, teens themselves did believe that social media provided more pressure to use drugs. The 2011 survey cited above backs that up—it found that teens who used social media were twice as likely to have used marijuana.

And while teens are drinking and using drugs, they aren’t imbibing at the rates people think they are—62% of those surveyed overestimated underage drinking rates, estimating them to be between 45% and 55%. But the survey found that just 35% of high school students drank alcohol in the past year. In fact, teen drinking rates have steadily been on the decline in the U.S. in recent years.

When it came to estimating the rates of drug use, survey participants were more accurate. The majority of respondents knew that drug overdose deaths were rising among young people.

And despite the potential negative consequences that social media could have in regards to substance use among young people, many people felt that social media could ultimately be used to positive effect. Eighty-two percent of people felt that social media could be used as a tool to educate teens about the dangers of drug use. In fact, this is already happening. National campaigns have begun to switch from television ads to social media campaigns to target teens where they’re at—on their smartphones.

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Britni de la Cretaz is a freelance writer, baseball enthusiast, and recovered alcoholic living in Boston. Follow her on Twitter at @britnidlc.

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