Facebook and Twitter Hinder Teens

Teens who are being treated for addiction may increase their likelihood of relapse if they use online social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter.

We’ve reported here before that Facebook and Twitter can be addictive, and also there is a connection between Facebook and teen drug use – particularly marijuana and alcohol.

A recent UCLA study suggests that teens who are undergoing substance abuse treatment and who use online social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter and MySpace may be at greater risk of suffering a relapse. The goal of the study was to determine if online social networking with friends and families would expose the teens to drug-related cues and whether these cues would impact their recovery.

More than 90 percent of participants in the study used social networking sites. Of this group, more than 75% of girls and 50% of boys reported seeing drug references on the sites that triggered a desire to use drugs. These results are in keeping with other research that has found that teenagers are highly susceptible to being influenced by other people in the environment, whether in person or online.

The study involved a questionnaire that was completed by 37 adolescents enrolled in an East Los Angeles substance abuse treatment program. It was conducted by David Tran, a graduate student in the Medical Education program and the findings were presented at the 2012 annual meeting of the American Psychiatric Association. Because the number of study participants was low, the findings are preliminary. A larger study will be needed to determine if the findings are conclusive.

Tran believes that banning the use of social media by teens who are in drug abuse treatment is not possible since teens would find some way to access these sites. Instead, Tran would like to see social networks become tools in substance abuse programs. One possibility is the creation of private Facebook groups for patient support and the use of peer leaders to post positive messages that will aid in recovery.

Another alternative is to ask teens to voluntarily give up social networking while in treatment, similar to the way that 12-step programs request participants to distance themselves from the people, places and things that are associated with their substance abuse.

An earlier study conducted in 2011 by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University found that social media is associated with substance abuse even for teens who are not in treatment. That study of more than 1000 teenagers found that about 70 percent used social media on a daily basis. These teens were twice as likely to use marijuana and three times more likely to abuse alcohol compared to teens who responded that they didn’t use the sites. The study also found that half the teens who used social media had seen pictures of young people who were drunk, passed out or using drugs on the sites. Teens who had seen the pictures were more than twice as likely to say that they would like to try drugs sometime in the future.