The Impact of Social Media on Substance Abuse

social mediarecovery

Carissa Wilcox on December 27, 2022 at 8:13 AM


Christopher Graham

Social media is everywhere. It has provided a way for people to connect in a way never before possible. However, it's not without its flaws. For instance, people check their social media, sometimes dozens of times per hour of time hour. We also see parallels between the excessive use of social media and drug misuse. According to research, people who spend more time on social media are more likely to experience feelings of depression and loneliness. This can cause many people to turn to drugs and alcohol to feel better. For this reason, we have decided to explore the impact of social media on substance abuse.

1 Social Media May Cause Addiction

The repetitive nature of social media usage mimics that of addiction in many respects. In fact, all forms of addictionfrom drugs, and alcohol, to gambling – cause a similar reaction in the brain. A specific section of the brain called the reward pathway is impacted by all kinds of addictions. This reward pathway is triggered in healthy people whenever they engage in actions that improve their health and chances of survival. Having sex, eating well, and working out all set off a chain reaction in the brain's reward system. It's not only the sunshine that may bring up these sensations of joy. That being said, drug abuse stimulates the reward pathway in similar ways.

Both drugs and social media provide users with a sense of accomplishment without requiring them to accomplish anything. If you are battling addiction, you are most likely suffering from a broken reward system. People suffering from addiction find fulfillment in their obsessive routines rather than in more "normal" pursuits. And this is why one might get addicted to social media. In doing so, they stimulate the same part of the brain that usually informs us that our actions are in our best interest. The sad truth is that excessive social media use harms our well-being. In fact, it may even lead to other issues, such as drug abuse.

2 It Can Trigger People in Recovery

Thanks to social media, we are able to instantly broadcast our everyday exploits to the world. Some individuals may publish photos and videos of healthy pursuits like sports. Others may use it to broadcast their all-night benders. Normal individuals and famous people alike are just as guilty of this. Famous people frequently have hundreds of thousands or even millions of followers on various social media platforms. 

Instantaneously, thousands of young people have access to images of superstars having fun. Although the videos do not directly depict intoxication, it is implied. As you can imagine, this could be quite triggering for someone in recovery. In some cases, it can even lead to a relapse. Therefore, it is recommended that those in recovery limit their use of social media as much as possible to avoid falling back into old habits.

3 Social Media Encourages Self-Comparison

Regular social media users also seem to have problems comparing themselves to others. Most people like to show off their best selves in photos and videos online. This often leads people who see that content to compare themselves to it. Moreover, because everyone else's life on social media appears perfect, most users end up feeling inadequate about their own lives. Because of these negative emotions, some people are more inclined to seek relief via drug abuse.

A person may also start drinking or doing drugs if they often see it in media depictions of their friends doing so. People often exaggerate the positive and downplay the negative parts of their life on social media. They might show you how much fun they had partying the night before but will probably leave out the hangover they suffered the next day. The impact of social media comparisons is often far-reaching. For example, teenage girls bombarded with media depictions of the "ideal slim lady" are at a higher risk of developing anorexia.

4 It Influences the Development of Mood Disorders

The role of social media in developing mental health problems is also well-established. In addition to depression and anxiety, social media use can also contribute to other mental health issues that can lead to addiction. With that said, there are several ways that social media can fuel depression and anxiety.

  • Inadequacy complexes: Almost everyone edits their photos before posting them on social media. Sometimes the changes are minor, and sometimes they are dramatic. It's difficult to tell the difference in either case. This means that people can't tell what's true and what's not when they see something. 
  • FOMO: People experience FOMO, or "fear of missing out," when they worry about missing out on enjoyable experiences. Since the rise of social media, FOMO has become more frequent. If you often feel left out of fun group activities, it might take a toll on your confidence. This may make anxiety and depression worse for some individuals.
  • Feelings of Isolation: Social media enhances feelings of loneliness and isolation, especially in young people. It is well-established that both factors contribute to emotional distress, increasing the risk of drug misuse.

That being said, professional help is available for anyone who turns to cocaine, amphetamines, marihuana, alcohol, or any other mind-altering substance because of these mood disorders. 


In Summary, social media influences our state of mind in many ways: increasing feelings of inadequacy and depression, as well as heightening anxiety and leading to social isolation. It is no wonder, then, that the impact of social media on substance abuse is real. Young people who are constantly comparing themselves to others online may develop low self-esteem and may begin to experiment with drugs as a way to escape their feelings of inadequacy. Fortunately, many resources are available to help young people struggling with mental illness and substance abuse issues, both online and offline.


Christopher Graham


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