From social media’s humble beginnings in the 1990s to today where billions of people (4.89 billion, according to Sprout Social) spend, on average, 151 minutes a day on social media platforms, it has permeated our everyday lives. It has transformed the way we communicate, share information and engage with others and, while social media has undoubtedly brought about numerous positive changes, it has also raised concerns about its potential influence on behaviours and attitudes, including drug use.

Normalisation of drug use

Social media has played a significant role in normalising drug use by fostering an environment where drug-related content is readily available and often glorified. Here are some ways in which social media has contributed to this normalisation:

Access to drug information and dealers

Social media platforms have become hubs for sharing information, including detailed instructions on drug use and discussions about their effects. While social media provides a platform for information sharing, it is not fully regulated and this facilitates the spread of inaccurate or misleading drug-related information. This misinformation can perpetuate misconceptions about drugs, their effects, and potential dangers, leading to uninformed decision-making and increased risk of harm.

It is also now easier to make contact with dealers through social media direct messaging features. This easy accessibility to drug-related information and the drugs themselves increases the likelihood of experimentation among curious individuals.

Peer influence and social proof

Social media platforms provide an avenue for individuals to share their experiences and behaviours, including drug use. A University of Queensland PhD student, talking about her 2022 study into drug and alcohol portrayal on social media, summarised: “We looked at almost 16 million posts across Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, Pinterest, TikTok and Weibo and found the majority of drug and alcohol use content was depicted positively”.

When users witness others posting about drug use without apparent consequences, it can create a perception that drug use is more acceptable or commonplace than it may actually be. This phenomenon, known as social proof, can influence vulnerable individuals seeking validation or wanting to fit in with certain social groups.

This constant exposure to the activities and behaviours of their peers can manifest into a fear of missing out (FOMO) and the pressure to conform, leading some individuals to experiment with drugs to feel included or accepted within their online communities.

Damage to mental health

Excessive use of social media has been linked to feelings of loneliness, depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem. The constant comparison to carefully curated posts and idealised versions of others’ lives can lead to feelings of inadequacy and a distorted perception of reality. Moreover, cyberbullying, online harassment, and the pressure to maintain an online persona can further contribute to psychological distress.

This can all chip away at an individual’s mental health and can, in some cases, make drug use more desirable as a way of numbing the pain.

Glamorisation and influencer culture

Influencers and celebrities on social media platforms often enjoy large followings and significant influence over their audience. Some influencers have been known to glamorise drug use by showcasing substances in a positive light or promoting drug-related lifestyle choices. The association of drugs with trendy or glamorous lifestyles can contribute to the normalisation of drug use among impressionable individuals.

Seeing drug-related content presented in a fashionable and attractive way on social media can influence individuals who may have otherwise remained abstinent or unaware of certain substances. The perception of normalisation can reduce perceived risks associated with drug use and increase the likelihood of initiation, especially among vulnerable groups such as adolescents.

How can ANA Treatment Centres help?

Social media has undeniably contributed to the normalisation of drug use, raising concerns about increased initiation, social pressure and the dissemination of inaccurate information. If you or anyone you know is struggling with drug use, we can offer professional help on the journey to recovery. We provide treatment for people with substance issues as well as support and information for those affected. Get in touch today to find out how ANA Treatment Centres can help.