We’re officially in the thick of the digital age. The internet has been the greatest invention of our time and its possibilities really are endless. Every industry, interest, and consumer around the world has been affected by its power. Social media is relatively new to the internet and enables people to be connected to each other and to the world all the time. We are constantly sharing our lives, including our struggles.

This makes the dynamic of addiction and social media unique but can also make it a more dangerous place for those who are using. Let’s explore the influence social media has on alcohol abuse:

How does social media influence alcohol use?

Social media is full of advertisements, news, and other impactful visuals. Brands like big alcohol and big tobacco use social media to target their consumers. Restaurants use social media to promote their drink specials and happy hours. Additionally, social media is where parties and get-togethers are organized. If you want to host a party, you make an event on Facebook. It’s easily accessible for people—and even strangers—to find parties, alcohol, and drugs.

Because social media is such an integral part of people’s lives, it can also influence the way they drink or use drugs. According to a national teen survey done by CASAColumbia at Columbia University in 2011, American teens ages 12 to 17 who spend any time on social media during a given day at increased risk of smoking, drinking, and drug use. In comparison to teens who spent no time on social media in a typical day, teens that do are five times likelier to use tobacco, three times likelier to use alcohol, and twice as likely to use marijuana. The survey also found that 40 percent of teens surveyed have seen photos on Myspace, Facebook, or other social networks of people passed out, drunk, or using drugs.

Social media allows young kids to see these influential photos. Shockingly, half of the teens who saw photos of people drinking or using drugs on Facebook and other social media sites first saw these photos when they were 13 years old or younger. Over 90 percent of the teens first saw these photos when they were 15 years old or younger.

Compared with kids who have never seen photos of people drinking, using drugs, or passed out on social networking sites, the teens that have seen them are:

  • 3 times likelier to use alcohol.
  • 4 times likelier to use marijuana.
  • Almost 3 times likelier to be able to get controlled prescription drugs without a prescription.
  • More than twice as likely to be able to get alcohol in a day or less.
  • Likelier to have peers who abuse illegal and prescription drugs.

More interesting is that displaying risky behaviors online in photos is consistent with what behaviors take place offline. For example, teens who share one risky behavior, such as promiscuity, on social media, are more likely to display other behaviors like alcohol use, according to The Journal of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Additionally, alcohol use posts on social media have been linked to alcohol behaviors offline, shown by the fact that older adolescents whose Facebook posts suggest problem drinking behaviors are more likely to have a higher score on a problem-drinking screen.

Restrictions exist to prohibit young people from exposure to alcohol advertisements on the traditional social media sites, but teens still have access to these ads in regular venues. Social media is unique in that alcohol brands can target consumers and create relationships with their audience. Users are often asked to “like” alcohol brands, to attend their events, and share photos of themselves using their products. If you do not want to see alcohol-branded content in your Facebook newsfeed it’s hard to block it.

In other words, social media is the perfect environment for drugs and alcohol to be displayed, viewed, bought, and sold.

It’s also a place where anyone can create a culture of drug use and drinking amongst their friends and connections.

Social media and recovery

Another interesting phenomenon is social media and recovery. There is a positive and a negative side to everything in life. Even though social media can be a place inundated with alcohol and drug use, it can also be a hub for recovery. When I got sober I was able to find a plethora of information online about getting sober and living in recovery. I frequented sober blogger sites, followed sobriety accounts on Twitter, and “liked” recovery pages on Facebook.

With each passing day, there is more and more offered in the recovery space online. There are now podcasts, Facebook groups, Twitter chats, chat room meetings, all dedicated to overcoming addiction and living a life in recovery. You can actually get sober online. The only recovery space can be a great compliment to an addiction treatment program or a component to your aftercare program. There are options for everyone.

We should continue to use social media as a powerful tool to combat the stigma of addiction and promote prevention among our youth. Let’s use our social media powers for good.

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