Preventing Teen Addiction by Raising Awareness About Media Use

Teenagers may seem to be on social media all the time. Their anxiety levels may increase when unplugged from social media. With the wide use of smartphones, today’s younger generation is immersed in a world of media use, including TV, the internet, and especially social media.

Over-exposure to media use may evolve into social media addiction. Worse, exposure to normalizing depictions of drug and alcohol use in the media can be a risk factor for substance addiction. Society as a whole need to raise awareness about this risk facing youth.

Teen Social Media Addiction

Teenagers in the U.S. are one of the largest groups of social media consumers. However, one could say that social media is also consuming them. In fact, social media addiction is a new behavioral addiction that must be addressed.

Health experts are sounding the alarm about the link between excessive social media use and mental health problems among young people. These mental health issues include anxiety and chronic depression.

While adolescents’ and teenagers’ use of social media is increasing, they are getting less healthy effects from it. Some young people develop compulsive scrolling behaviors. Others give in to the phobia of being “left out” if they do not participate in certain conversations online.

More and more young girls have eating disorders because of the over-exposure to body image messaging on social media. In addition, an increase in cyberbullying further worsens the situation.

The negative effects of social media addiction also include poor emotional health. Young people with social media addiction may find it more difficult to express emotions in real life. Regulating emotions also becomes challenging. They are highly susceptible to negative peer pressure.

Media Depiction of Normalized Substance Use

Media depictions of substance use can increase the risk of young people experimenting with drugs and alcohol. This is in line with child development theory which points to young persons’ social learning tendencies. If a child sees people around him or her use substances, that exposure is a risk factor. Media depictions function as role models encouraging substance use.

For example, research shows that exposure to favorable media portrayals of drinking promotes youth drinking. Researchers even find that this risk is particularly true of alcohol advertisements more so than portrayals of drinking in television or film. Other research also shows that exposure to e-cigarette portrayals is associated with increased e-cigarette use in middle and high school students, in a dose-dependent manner.

High Susceptibility of Adolescents and Teens

The reason adolescents and teens are highly susceptible is due to a combination of factors. First, based on the social identity approach, media portrayals of one’s identified peer group using substances in appealing settings influence the initiation of substance use by associating substance use with that identified peer group.

Secondly, exposure and learning are biased toward the beneficial effects of substance use since there is not an equivalent amount of media portraying the downsides of substance use.

On a biological level, because the brain is still at a highly malleable stage before one reaches 25, experimenting with substances has more intense effects on teens than they do on adults. These casual experimentations trigger the brain’s reward systems in a more powerful way. This is all due to the brain’s neuroplasticity.

Helping Teens and Adolescents With Media Detox

Educators, parents, and health providers all need to raise awareness about the link between social media addiction and potential substance use addiction. Parents who are concerned about their youth engaging too much with social media need to build guardrails around the activity.

First, daily social media use should be limited to less than one hour. This applies to both parents and children in the home because parents need to be positive role models before limiting their children.

Secondly and equally important, parents should have open and regular conversations with youth about the science behind addiction and recovery. Parents must educate their teenagers about how excessive social media use may create mental health issues. Build up his or her confidence so that they are less likely to succumb to negative peer pressure. Organize healthy activities to boost the positive emotional benefits of quality social time.

With the high accessibility of drugs, especially illicit drugs sold online, the risk of young people’s substance use is higher than ever. They might not know what they are purchasing or consuming. Educators and parents also need to be experts in identifying signs of behavioral addictions. Schools and communities can have awareness campaigns educating the general public about both substance addiction and behavioral addictions.

Are you aware that between media portrayals of substance use and young people’s excessive use of social media, the risk of substance abuse in young people is higher than ever? Educators and parents need to be experts in identifying the signs of behavioral addictions such as social media addiction. Schools and communities can have awareness campaigns educating the general public about both substance addiction and behavioral addictions. It is important to work with quality treatment service providers in the community. At Casa Recovery, we have health professionals who treat both substance addiction and co-occurring mental health problems. Each client’s treatment team will work with them to provide customized efficient and effective treatment methods that have been developed and applied in clinical settings. We support families and schools in prevention, intervention, and long-term recovery. Call today at (888) 928-2272. Early intervention is key. Do not delay for another day. 

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