Social media is among the biggest emerging trends of the 21st century, particularly among teens. According to the Pew Research Center, approximately 92 percent of American teens use the Internet and 71 percent of those use multiple social media platforms. More and more interaction between teens occurs online, giving researchers another way to access the adolescent mind. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) has recently announced that it will be examining social media to find ways of better understanding and treating addiction.
Substance abuse in social media
The NIDA’s study will use $11 million to research all the ways that social media can be used to fight substance abuse. Social media services allow teens to share their thoughts, activities and choices, giving outsiders a candid look into their values and world outlook. This insight is particularly valuable for research on substance abuse. When teens Tweet or otherwise share their thoughts on addictive substances online, researchers can use that information to discover the role that drugs play within youth culture. Discovering what behaviors and beliefs are driving substance abuse can help researchers develop strategies to fight addiction.
Social media sites not only reveal behaviors, but can also be used to drive behaviors. Researchers can scrutinize social media to find how addictive habits are being encouraged. For example, another recent study by the NIDA discovered that a popular pro-marijuana Twitter handle only mentions risky behaviors associated with the drug 10 percent of the time. This portrayal of drug culture without consequences on social media can influence teens into seeing drug use as harmless. The NIDA’s study hopes to identify ways to combat this influence as well as develop strategies to spread more informative online messages about the dangers of substance abuse.
Teens and substance abuse
The most vulnerable demographic to substance abuse and addiction is teens. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), more teens than any other age group use drugs. SAMHSA’s research found that more than 22 percent of 18- to 20-year-olds had taken an illicit drug within the past month. In fact, most drug users start using in their teens. Of the 2.8 million people who took illicit drugs for the first time in 2013, more than half were under the age of 18. Illicit drug use most commonly starts with marijuana.
Due to the growing legalization movement, pro-marijuana messages are becoming increasingly common, particularly on social media. Contrary to public knowledge, however, marijuana is an addictive drug that can produce withdrawals and cravings when not used. Marijuana can also cause a permanent decrease in mental ability when its use starts in adolescence, making the drug particularly hazardous to teens. It’s to be hoped that the NIDA’s study on social media will reveal new ways to combat the abuse of marijuana and other potentially harmful substances.