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Is Social Media an Enabler to Alcohol and Drug Abuse among Teens?

By Maawiya Mohammed

As we delve deep and deep into the uncharted waters of technological eras, no one and I mean no one would like to be left behind. This is especially true in the field of electronic devices and to be more specific- the smartphone field.
Everyone wants to own the latest piece of smartphone the industry has to offer. Even kids and teenagers are no longer an exception. Overtime, the society has come to ease up on the idea of teenagers and kids having phones. It is now normal to see a 13 year old with a phone. This particular issue is so baffling to me, considering I got my first phone at eighteen years only after completing high-school.

According to the National Centre for Health Research in a study published in 2021, about 89% of teens across the world aged between 13 and 17 have a smartphone or access to one. The study also went to say that these teens spend 7.5 hours a day on their phones. Rattling, right? Well, the next statistics will even be more rattling. According to United States’ National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA), half of teens who spend any of their time on social media have seen pictures and videos of drugs and alcohol.  So one may beg to ask, what is the relationship between the two? What do these teens do with these apps and how does it connect with drug and substance abuse? How do they promote it?

There are tons of social media apps that people mostly use to interact with each other all while showing bits of their life to the public. Apps like Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram, Twitter and Tumblr are examples of such apps. These apps contribute to drugs and alcohol abuse among teenagers in the following ways:

1. Glorification of drugs and booze by celebrities, friends and family
These social networking sites and apps have a feature that enables users to post images and videos so as to share with their followers. For example, the status feature in WhatsApp. In such posts, celebrities, friends and families post with drugs and alcohol in a way that signals they are enjoying themselves. This posts in turn lead to the teenagers seeing them, think that doing drugs is fun. It is portrayed in a light manner

2. Advertising
There is a lot of alcohol and drug promotion in every corner of the social media apps. Although alcohol adverts go on to mention “not for sale to persons under the age of 18,” this only makes the teens more curious to try it.

3. Peer pressure
This comes in the form of friends convincing their friends who don’t do drugs to try it. In trying to fit in and become more ‘woke’ these guys give in and partake in drug and substance abuse. This paves a way for more pressure pilling onto those who don’t indulge in such.

4. Selling/buying made easier
These social networking apps have made the selling and buying of drugs, alcohol and other substances much easier. In the past, for someone to get their hands on drugs they had to have a friend who knows a friend who knows a friend and so on. Now someone can just be referred to the social media page of the seller and bap! The drugs are on their door step.

From the above points, we can concur with no doubt that social media is the one of the major enhancers in teenagers getting into alcohol and drug use. But it is not all doom and gloom. Social media apps and sites can be used to good causes and effectively curb their negative part. We can fight back through social media by:

  • Improving drug refusal skills e.g. not feeling guilty for not taking drugs and having an escape plan
  • Doing anti-drug social media campaigns
  • Encouraging those with voices speak to encourage positive lifestyles
  • Showing people who have been affected and telling their stories- to target those that are already using as a sign that stopping and recovery is possible.