Social Media and Addiction

Digital and social media platforms continue to grow and become the most popular forms of communication among adolescents and young adults. The ease of accessibility has created a dangerous breeding ground for the exposure of young people to drugs, alcohol and other mind-altering substances. The young adult population is uniquely vulnerable to the effects and influence of social media.

Researchers are concerned that platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, TikTok and Snapchat are beginning to strategically target young people’s perception of drug and alcohol use. Today, the relationship between social media and addiction has created a crisis of substance abuse in young people across the nation.

Some studies have found that throughout social media platforms, displays of drug and alcohol use are generally portrayed and perceived in a positive light. The positive associations and the frequency of seeing drugs and alcohol have an enormous impact on the younger population. It increases the normality of seeing alcohol and drugs, using alcohol and drugs and other actions related to substance use. Young people are highly susceptible to social media influence and spend, on average, an estimated eight hours per day online. It plays a significant role in their lives and the formation of social identity.

A row of young adults on social media platforms on their phones represents the relationship between social media and addiction.

How Social Media influences the perception on Drugs and Alcohol

With ever increasing popularity of social media and digital communication platforms, young people are also being exposed to more drugs and alcohol. Young people who are active on social media are constantly being exposed to drug and alcohol content. This puts them at a higher risk of developing drug and alcohol issues.

Social media gives opportunities for new marketing tactics where alcohol brands can connect with the younger audience and develop brand loyalty. It also allows drug dealers looking to expand their market into a whole new population of users. Drug networks are now using social media platforms to expand their reach into a new market of clients: young people.

This often includes selling deadly counterfeit fentanyl and meth pills to unsuspecting teens and young adults. In a study from the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), researchers found that drug traffickers were using social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat to advertise. They would specifically post ads on their stories, which would then disappear after 24 hours so they could not be easily tracked. Other instances saw young people and drug traffickers corresponding through encrypted communication apps such as WhatsApp. In 2021, the DEA investigated more than 80 cases associated with drug trafficking online.

With the rise in social media-related drug deaths, some advocates are advocating for federal action to hold social media companies accountable for putting teens and young people in danger. They are pushing for a provision to the Section 230 law, which protects social media companies from most civil lawsuits that are linked to content on their platforms created by users. Even content engaging in criminal activity.

Critics who oppose the push for amending Section 230 say it could blur the lines between controversial topics and the first amendment right to freedom of speech. Critics claim that censoring user content and punishing social media companies will only drive these illicit conversations to deeper parts of the internet that are more difficult to find.

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The correlation between Social Media and Dopamine Addiction

With so many young people online, trends involving the usage of drugs have become increasingly popular. One such popular digital trend involves misusing non-prescription medications. Such substances include over-the-counter medications like NyQuil, allergy medicines or other types of cough medicines. These are all easily accessible without the permission of a medical provider or pharmacist. However, when these medications are misused, they could pose a significant health risk and even cause death.

Video challenges are being posted online by young people misusing such medications. One of these challenges involves eating chicken cooked in NyQuil. NyQuil contains acetaminophen and dextromethorphan. Both are ingredients used to help relieve pain. It may sound unappealing and absurd, but it can be extremely unsafe. Boiling any type of medication can make it more concentrated or change its chemical properties which could be dangerous if ingested. This makes the chicken more potent and can result in a “high” or similar feeling of euphoria. In other words, a person could get extremely high without even knowing.

In another social media video challenge, young people are encouraged to take high doses of allergy medicine in an attempt to induce hallucinations. This extremely dangerous trend has sent many young people to the ER or ended in death. These challenges are young people’s attempts to reach desired dopamine levels, which is a gateway to seeking out harder drugs and addiction.

How does Social Media affect Mental Health?

Young people crave connections and social media has created a way to easily connect with others and join like-minded communities. However, spending too much time online can also cultivate feelings of loneliness, isolation and worsen mental health conditions of anxiety and depression.

In some cases, social media can promote negative experiences when users engage online. Feels of inadequacy about your life or your physical appearance are a huge contributing factor in the development or worsening of mental health conditions. Users will develop the mindset of “keeping up with the Jones’s” and begin to compare themselves to others. Comparisons of materialistic aspects as well as comparisons of physical beauty can harshly impact a young person’s self-esteem.

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FOMO. The fear of missing out is another negative impact social media can have on mental health. This term was created in 2014 to describe how young people felt about missing out on social opportunities or activities perceived to be fun and the desire to maintain social connections. Social media has given users availability and accessibility in a world where changes happen so quickly. Young people who are constantly trying to keep up may find it stressful and straining.

Bullying only worsened with the introduction of cyberbullying. Now anyone, from anywhere can spew out hateful and harmful speech toward another person. With the advancements in technology, these bullies can even do it under disguise without ever having to show who they really are. Bullying in any shape or form is harmful to a young person’s psyche and can cause lasting effects.

Social media is a powerful tool that can have adverse effects on public health. The impact of social media plays a significant role in the development of mental health disorders and addiction in young people. Hotel California by the Sea offers unique treatment programs that specialize in the struggles of teens and young adults. Personalized programs have an emphasis on treating co-occurring mental health disorders associated with social media and dopamine addiction. Through effective treatments such as CBT, DBT and EMDR therapy, young adults will receive all the tools needed to address their issues that have developed from the influence of social media. Hotel California by the Sea provides the resources and support for all of its clients to overcome their addiction.


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