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As a teen, peer pressure is difficult to stand up to. If it wasn’t hard enough to face already, today’s teens have even more pressure—right at their fingertips. These days, influence is everywhere, or at least, when it comes to social media and teen drug use.

Your teen could be sitting at home, enjoying a sober night with friends when they or one of their friends check Snapchat or Instagram, and instantly, they’re met with a video of their other friends doing drugs, drinking, or blowing smoke at the camera.

Teens glamorize the use of drugs, alcohol and vaping on social media.

Because these social platforms are instant, in-the-moment photo and video sharing platforms, when your teen sees this, they have the choice to locate their friends (down to the exact house they’re in) and join them.

How Do Teens Find Drugs on Snapchat?

Teens can find their friends’ location easily on Snapchat’s Snap Map whenever they open the app. They can also use Snapchat’s “Quick Add” feature to easily add a friend that a lot of their friends have in common. This makes it easy to add a drug dealer and request drugs in a message, sometimes as simple as texting a “maple leaf emoji,” used as code for marijuana.

Snapchat's Snap Map lets your teen locate their friends when they open the app.
Snapchat’s Snap Map lets your teen locate their friends when they open the app.

A study by the National Institute of Health interviewed 358 drug users who use apps to buy drugs. 75% said they use Snapchat, and 1 in 5 said they use Instagram. Other communication apps used for drugs include texting app WhatsApp, encrypted texting app Wickr, and dating apps Tinder and Grindr.

Snapchat took away money transfer in the app, but they can use Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp to send money to a dealer instantly. While Snapchat conversations are saved on the company’s internal server, the messages disappear immediately on your teen’s phone—so if they used cash—you might never find out.

How Do Teens Find Drugs on Instagram and Twitter?

Social media and teen drug use goes hand-in-hand. Teens use Instagram and Twitter for hashtags to find drugs and dealers.

Hashtags, which are used to find and categorize post topics, have been abused on Instagram and used for locating dealers. Following a drug dealer on Instagram fills a person’s feed with posts from the dealer about drugs, related drug hashtags, and other recommended sellers.

Hashtags are also a feature used on Facebook and Twitter. Drug posts on social media have helped fuel the opioid epidemic in America, the FDA says. Dealers leave comments on drug-related photos under specific hashtags and post their contact information for Snapchat and WhatsApp.

Instagram’s Celebrity Influencers

Celebrity influencers have taken the Internet by storm and are part of the social media and teen drug use problem. Users are able to view Instagram stories, which are videos similar to what you’d see on Facebook stories. In stories and on posted Instagram photos, it’s common to see celebrities up in smoke. Rapper Wiz Khalifa and Post Malone, a 2019 album chart-topper, are popular examples.

Opioids on social media are often glamorized, especially by a genre of rappers notorious for referencing Xanax. This includes emo rapper Lil Peep, who died at 21 in 2017 of a fentanyl and Xanax overdose.

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Of the teens who abuse opioids, 7 out of 10 combine them with another substance. Marijuana or alcohol are combined the most, while some use prescription opioids with cocaine, tranquilizers, and amphetamines.

Live Streaming is Often Looked-over

The most popular social media platforms among teens are YouTube, Instagram, and Snapchat respectively, according to a 2018 Pew Research Center study.  There’s only one problem: Twitch, a social gaming platform, was left off the list entirely.

More people watch live streams on Twitch than YouTube and Facebook Gaming combined. In three months, Twitch viewers streamed 2.7 billion hours of content. YouTube had 735 million hours and Facebook had 200 million.

Twitch, Snapchat, YouTube, and Instagram are the most popular social media platforms among teens.

How are teens exposed to drugs on Twitch?

Twitch is a live video-streaming service that is mainly used for broadcasting video games in real-time. Spectators can join a channel, watch, and interact with a streamer while they play the game. Some streamers smoke cigarettes on-screen while gaming or vape while they’re waiting for a game to load. Streamers also encourage their viewers to join them in taking shots of alcohol whenever they get a monetary donation from another viewer.

  • Viewers watch their favorite streamers for an average of 2 hours per day—some of which discuss their favorite flavors of vape with their audience. 
  • Twitch’s demographics are 81% male.
  • Of 1.84 million teen substance abuse treatment admissions in 2011, 1.23 million of those were boys aged 12-17.
  • Twitch, which has 15 million daily active users, requires parental permission for users ages 13-18 years old.

Teens follow their favorite influencers across social media platforms

In another example, after being banned from Twitch, popular “life streamer” Ice Poseidon took his 797,000 followers to YouTube. There, he has live-streamed himself smoking marijuana and making edibles, allowing viewers to get a first-person view of the entire process, from finding a bong in a smoke shop to passing it around. Some live video content on YouTube requires users to verify that they are 18 to view the live stream. But just like other online platforms, teens can lie about their birth year.

What can you do about social media and teen drug use?

With phones at their fingertips, teens are exposed multiple times a day to social media and teen drug use.

Talk to your teen about drugs.

While social media increases their exposure to advertisements, influencers, friends doing drugs, and drug dealers, you can let your teen know that they have a choice and don’t have to follow the peer pressure.

Social media and teen drug use can have a huge impact on their self-esteem and their need to fit in.

Limit your teen’s time on social media.

Encourage your child to monitor their own time using usage statistics in their phone or on certain apps with time tracking, such as YouTube. There are also parental controls on your teen’s smartphone and gaming consoles that can help you limit their daily usage of certain apps and websites. Helping your teen limit their time on certain apps reduces the amount of exposure to content centered around drugs and alcohol.

Limiting your teen's time on their phones and devices lowers their exposure to social media and teen drug use.

Encourage them to follow good influences.

If they’re using Instagram, YouTube, Snapchat, Twitch, Twitter, Facebook, or TikTok, encourage them to follow those who are positive role models for their careers or in their favorite hobbies. There are plenty of healthy influencers in yoga, exercise, dance, and art spaces on social platforms.

On TikTok, the social platform that’s similar to Instagram but with videos, there is a doctor influencer, Dr. Leslie, who made an x-ray video of the difference between healthy lungs and lungs with the mysterious vaping disease.

Summary

Social media and teen drug use may be easy for your teens to see. Teens can easily search drug hashtags, and they’re exploited to illegal drug and e-cigarette advertisements. They’re also exposed to influencers who glamorize the abuse of prescription pills and drugs. While your teen has instant access to their friends, drug dealers, and underage party locations, it’s important to limit your teen’s time spent on social media. Have a conversation with your teen about who they follow and find out why.

From Twitch to Instagram to Snapchat, it may look like everyone is doing drugs or binge drinking. Even so, it’s important to tell your teen that substance abuse isn’t the reality for most successful teens. And no matter who you are, it can lead to an early death.

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