Medically Reviewed

The Impact of Social Media on Substance Abuse and Addiction

- 7 sections

Medically Reviewed: September 25, 2019

Medical Reviewer

Chief Editor


All of the information on this page has been reviewed and verified by a certified addiction professional.

Many public health and addiction experts believe there is a significant connection between social media use and substance abuse. While social media may be intended to allow people to connect to friends and others worldwide, there is often a dark side to social media use that can include sharing information about drug use or even selling illicit substances.

Understanding Social Media’s Impact

Billions of people worldwide use at least one form of social media regularly. Many people believe that social media platforms have at least some responsibility to monitor and manage their users’ experiences and prevent people from using these platforms to engage in hazardous or illegal activities.

Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, WhatsApp, Snapchat, and Tik Tok have millions–sometimes billions–of monthly users. About 70% of Americans use social media–and this percentage is even higher among adolescents, teens, and young adults. Recent research estimated that as many as 98% of teens and young adults use at least one form of social media daily.[1]

The Connection Between Social Media and Substance Abuse

Drug and alcohol addiction is a complex condition that involves many aspects of a person’s life. Addiction has roots in a person’s environment, genetics, history, and mental health. While it’s sometimes challenging to identify the exact cause of a person’s addiction, it’s clear that social media is not the only factor that leads someone to abuse drugs or develop dependence on them.

However, mental health and addiction experts believe social media can play a role in substance abuse. Here are some theories about the connection between social media and substance abuse.

The glamorization of substance use

Social media is well known for portraying only the best and most glamorous aspects of a person’s life. Carefully curated pictures, filters, and editing can create the illusion of perfection or fun and provide only the tiniest slice of a person’s reality.

People may glamorize substance abuse on social media by posting pictures or stories of parties or fun events. People may look glamorous or dramatic while using drugs or drinking. Social media is full of idealized images and accounts of substance use and very few pictures of the aftermath of addiction.

Normalizing substance use

The more often you see or hear something, the more normal it seems. Many social media platforms are designed to quickly bombard you with information and images and keep you watching. People are also much more likely to talk about drug use on social media platforms than they would in person. Seeing celebrities, public figures, and people in your life using drugs or alcohol over and over and over can have a numbing effect–and make it seem like a normal part of life.

Targeted advertising

Advertising has become more sophisticated in recent years, allowing companies to create targeted ads to reach people in specific demographics. People may see many ads for alcohol in a short period. These ads encourage people to drink heavily and frequently without discussing the risks of excessive alcohol use.

Generally, media and addiction experts believe that social media may play a role in a person’s likelihood of developing a problem with substance abuse. However, the effect may not be as significant as other life factors.

Understanding the Link Between Mental Health, Social Media and Substance Abuse

Experts believe that one of the most significant contributors to substance abuse and addiction is stress and other mental health problems.[2] Research shows that people who use social media frequently have higher rates of depression and anxiety.[3] Some mental health experts believe that heavy social media use may cause people to self-medicate–meaning they use drugs and alcohol to manage symptoms of mental illness.

People may have negative experiences on social media that can lead to stress, anxiety, and depression, including:

  • Believing other people are having more fun or have better lives than you do
  • Comparing yourself to others or feeling inadequate about your lifestyle or appearance
  • Being the victim of cyberbullying or having people spread rumors about you on social media platforms
  • Fixating on your outward appearance so much that it harms your relationships or becomes the central focus of your life
  • Becoming isolated or lonely because you no longer interact with people face-to-face

There is some research to support the idea that social media leads to mental illness and substance abuse. One study found that young people who experience cyberbullying were twice as likely to use marijuana, alcohol, and tobacco than those who were not. Another found that teens who saw pictures of peers using drugs and alcohol were three times more likely to use alcohol and prescription drugs and four times as likely to obtain and use marijuana.

It’s essential to understand the potential connection between social media and substance abuse and use this information to make decisions about your social media use. Seek treatment for substance abuse as soon as you recognize a problem.

Find Help Now

If you are concerned about the connection between social media and substance abuse or you need addiction treatment, contact the caring specialists at PAX Memphis today. Our admissions counselors can help you explore your treatment options and find the support you need at every stage of recovery. Don’t wait for the help you need–call today.