We can’t deny that social media has had a huge impact on the world.
It’s changed the way we communicate; we can now regularly stay in touch with friends and family who don’t live close to us, maintaining those important relationships with little effort.
But with this positive, also comes a negative. Social media gives us an insight into other peoples lives which we didn’t have before.
In particular, we’re now more exposed to images of substance use.
These images can be highly influential, especially for teenagers who are most likely to be using social media on a daily basis, therefore are consistently becoming used to this false portrayal of substance use.
What is the impact of social media on youth?
Of course, teenagers were experimenting with drugs and alcohol before social media came along, however the impact of social media on teen substance use is ever increasing.
This age group is more prone to feeling the pressures of their peers, leaving them particularly vulnerable to negative effects of social media.
Peer pressure has always been common amongst teenagers, but on social media it’s so intensified with 24/7 access, meaning the images have a much greater effect.
It’s a common trend to see other people of the same age, famous or not, engaging in substance abuse in an apparent carefree manner.
This is glamourising substance use, leading impressionable teenagers to believe this is the norm and think that they should also be participating in drug and alcohol use.
Not only can they see young celebrities seemingly enjoying themselves as they get high or drink excessively, but they can also see their own friends and even family binge drinking or smoking a joint.
This only adds to the normalisation of substance use, making teenagers feel left out as though they’re the only one who isn’t doing it.
In addition to this misleading representation of social media, drug, and alcohol use, this increased connectivity makes it much easier for young people to buy alcohol or drugs, and to keep in contact with dealers.
Being able to buy drugs on social media through specially coded adverts means they’re less likely to get caught by their parents or even the police.
Teenagers can simply use encrypted messengers to arrange meetings with dealers, there are even invitation only Facebook groups and pages where you can actually order drugs to be discretely delivered to your front door; this shows the enormous negative impact of social media on teen substance use.
What are the effects of social media on mental health?
In the UK, nine out of ten teenagers use social media. It’s known to disrupt teen sleep and exercise, can result in depression and eating disorders, and increases the likelihood of cyber bullying and substance abuse, all of which significantly affect their mental health.
In a study by The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health, a representative group of more than 12,000 teenagers at an English school were interviewed over three years from the age of 13 to 16.
When asked how often they checked social media each day (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and WhatsApp, this study showed that 51% of the girls and 43% of the boys in Year 9 used social media more than three times a day; this rose to 75% of girls and 69% of boys in Year 11.
Regrettably, the teenagers who checked social media more than three times a day were experiencing poorer mental health and greater psychological distress, highlighting the effects of social media on mental health.
This constant barrage of glamourised images of substance use can dramatically knock a young person’s self-esteem.
By comparing ourselves to others, it’s common to derive a sense of worth based on how we’re doing relative to other people, however by doing this, we’re essentially placing our happiness in a variable that’s completely out of our control.
When scrolling through social media, there’s a constant feeling of FOMO (fear of missing out) which can lead to increased feelings of loneliness and anxiety.
More often than not, our human connection diminishes as we become so accustomed to connecting through a screen.
Subsequently, this low self-esteem could result in teenagers turning to substance abuse as a coping mechanism or means of escape.
Excessive social media use has actually proven to cause unhappiness as well as mental issues like depression and anxiety.
There is an unquestionable link between social media and poor mental health which is a great contributor to underage substance use.
It is a good idea to encourage young people to take a break from social media every now and again, it can make a positive difference to their mental health.
How is substance use linked to social media?
Not only does social media influence teenagers to become involved in substance use through peer images, the ads found on social media can also encourage underage drinking and drug use.
As marketeers are taking more advantage of social media platforms, adverts from alcohol, tobacco or electronic cigarettes manufacturers are fully accessible to teenagers.
If a young person is exposed to these ads on a daily basis, they’re much more likely to feel encouraged to participate in substance use whether it’s a subconscious thought or not.
Teenagers are also likely to be influenced by celebrities who they look up to. If they see them promoting drug and alcohol use on social media, they want to join in the fun and see it as the norm.
However, it’s important to remember that social media presents a very distorted view of people’s lives. No matter how happy they may seem in their photos, you just don’t know what’s going on behind closed doors.
What can we do to help?
If you’re concerned about a teenager’s mental health or their high level of social media activity, you can monitor and control their social media access.
However, this could cause them to rebel, you may see better results by having an honest conversation and educating them on the effects of substance use.
If you do start to notice any signs of drug or alcohol abuse, it’s crucial to seek professional support immediately.