Last year, the report from the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, the National Survey of American Attitudes on Substance Abuse XVI: Teens and Parents, suggested a link between regular use of social media and drug and alcohol use among teenagers. Researchers found that teens who used social media as part of their daily routine were more apt to use tobacco (10 percent compared to two percent), alcohol (26 percent compared to nine percent) and marijuana (13 percent compared seven percent). This data could be used to classify social media itself a risk factor for youth substance use, although a more nuanced view of the correlation may view it as another avenue of media messaging and peer interaction, rife with the potential for positive or negative outcomes.
A paper recently presented at the annual meeting of the American Psychiatric Association focused on this duality in reporting preliminary findings on the potential of social media to influence drug and alcohol use in adolescents and teenagers. Survey data from the small sample of youth in substance abuse treatment showed the majority (66 percent) reporting that social media content regarding drugs stimulated their desire to use them. However, less than ¼ of the sample had accessed or posted content on Facebook or related social networking sites related to recovery or sobriety – a telling gap in the use of social media to promote and facilitate recovery.
Youth drug treatment programs must move to harness the power of social networking and digital media as a part of the recovery process and culture – innovative use of technology in the behavioral health and social service sectors should not be limited to donor cultivation and marketing.