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Deleting Facebook: Are Social Media Apps Influencing Young Adults to Use Substances?


Social media sites, such as Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, are different but share similarities. First, users generate an account, then link to a network of friends, family, or groups, and proceed to use the platform to share personal thoughts and ideas, videos, photos, and other user-generated content. In the United States in 2019, there were 190 million active users on Facebook, 330 million active users on Twitter, and 110 million active users on Instagram. Although users saturate these platforms, research shows that exposure to other’s social media pages displaying negative behaviors also influences young adults’ use of drugs or alcohol. 

Social Media is Addictive Itself

Social networking sites, also known as SNS, include platforms such as Facebook and Instagram. The use of these social media platforms causes stress due to their use. When dealing with stress-induced by SNS, users do not just stop using them; instead, they change how they use them. For example, research revealed that social media users would switch from posting updates to scanning news feeds to chatting with friends, depending on which ones were inducing stress. They essentially “bounce around” the platforms to avoid stress, instead of cutting out social media use altogether. These actions may lead to an addiction to the social media platform itself. Using the same social media platforms that cause stress to battle stress seems illogical, but that is how the use becomes obsessive, compulsive, and, ultimately, an addiction. 

Social Media is Free Advertising

Seeing other people’s “highlighted” lives may cause negative emotions, such as jealousy and anger. Users of SNS are seeking solace from stress and using these sites as a means of escape or coping. Unfortunately, the use of SNS causes stress itself and may lead to anxiety disorders, depression, and addictions. Addiction to the SNS is not the only possible outcome, as social media use positively relates to increased alcohol use in young adults. The content generated on these social media platforms is from other users, so images of alcohol and drug use are rampant on these sites. Images of drinking and using drugs are known to influence young adults, and social media promotes the sharing of information and connecting to others. Alcohol and drug-related texts or statuses and photos of consumption or use abound on SNS. 

Therefore, other users unknowingly become advertisements for smoking cigarettes, drinking alcohol, and using drugs through their own social media pages. Although these advertised risky behaviors become displayed on social media platforms, they are not so quick to display the negative consequences of engaging in them. Embarrassment, hangovers, arrests, or other negative consequences associated with these risky behaviors are rarely, if ever, posted on SNS.

Furthermore, alcohol companies ask users to “like” their social media pages on Facebook and then ask them to take photos of themselves imbibing their specific alcohol beverage. There may be giveaways or contests associated with participating in these requests, which furthers the amount of “free advertising” for the alcohol company. It is difficult to censor the content that a social media user is exposed to on SNS like Facebook. Since generating an account does not require age-verification, you can choose whichever age you wish when setting up your page. Therefore, drug or alcohol-related content exposure for young adults is a real problem.

Psychological Theories Help Explain Social Media Influence

Social media strongly influences young adults and is explored through two classic psychological theories: Social Learning Theory and the Media Practice Model. The Media Practice Model suggests that the role of media choices influence intentions and behaviors, and young adults choose and interact with social media based on who they are or who they want to be in that moment. Therefore, social media users explore content based on behaviors they wish to engage in, which can lead to the reinforcement of these ideas. So, an adolescent who is contemplating alcohol consumption may decide to watch a movie or browse social media content that depicts drinking at a party, which in turn may inspire them to attend a party in the future. 

Social Learning Theory is a combination of two other theories, and suggests that there is a strong relationship between peer influence and behavior:

  1. Cognitive Learning Theory suggests that psychological factors influence learning.
  2. Behavioral Learning Theory presumes that we build learning upon our responses to environmental stimulants.

Therefore, combining the two theories, Social Learning Theory identifies four requirements for learning:

  1. Observation, or learning from others.
  2. Retention, or continued use of the substance.
  3. Reproduction or imitating behaviors.
  4. Motivation, or feeling rewarded by acting the same way as others.

Consequently, young adults learn through direct experience and observing others. Observing peers is a significant influence on young adults’ intentions, attitudes, and behaviors. This relationship is evidenced by early alcohol use, which is mainly dependent upon peer alcohol use. In regards to social media use, these observations are no longer limited to physical interactions, but are online, on cellphones and computers. 

Looking for Help?

Today, social media is pervasive in our society, easily available, and accessed continuously as a source of information for young adults. SNS combines the influence of social persuasion with the reach of mass media, and exposure to alcohol and drug use through these platforms is associated with higher instances of adolescent substance use. Social media is creating a more powerful influence on drinking behavior for these at-risk populations. At Enlightened Solutions, we offer a safe and nurturing space for a long-lasting road to recovery. If you or someone you know is struggling with an addiction to drugs or alcohol, call us today at 833-801-LIVE.