image description

Drug, Alcohol Risk Increased For Youths Using Social Media

According to the "National Survey of American Attitudes on Substance Abuse Teens and Parents", conducted by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University (CASA Columbia,) American teens ages 12-17 are at increased risk of smoking, drinking and drug use if they spend time on social networking sites.

This was the first time the survey asked 12- to 17-year olds about how much time they spend in a typical day on twitter, Myspace, Facebook or other social networking sites. Only 30 percent of the teens surveyed said they didn’t spend time social networking during a typical day. As a result of the study 70% of the teens indicate they spend a significant portion of their time on social networking sites (5 to 6 hours daily are:

  • Five times likelier to use tobacco;
  • Three times likelier to use alcohol; and
  • Twice as likely to use marijuana.

One of the programs overseen by Betty Ford Center Director of Treatment Services, Mark Baumgartner, is the Young Adult Track for youths ages 18-25.

He feels the Substance Abuse at Columbia University (CASA) survey provides evidence for adhering to relationship expert and author Pat Love’s advice regarding the importance of parents setting digital limits with their children.  Examples of these limits would include the computer and all other communication ‘gadgets’ being turned off at a particular time before bed.

“Adolescents and young adults need sleep for normal brain development,” said Baumgartner.  “In late adolescence and early adulthood, normal brain development consists of a refinement and efficiency processes of strengthening neural pathways and pruning unneeded ones.  The lack of sleep that may occur from being online and social networking way past bed time may delay normal brain development in a manner similar to alcohol and drug abuse.”

He also noted that development is being influenced by what topics receive attention in unrestricted Internet and media access.  “This is a form of brain elasticity – the ability of the brain to change.  There is a lot of inaccurate information and unsavory content on the Internet, so knowing what and who our teenagers are connecting to online is important.

“Other digital limits recommended by Dr. Love include being clear about who owns the smart phone (the parent) and demanding access to it at any time,” Baumgartner concluded.  “Are there rules about when it is OK to be on the phone texting?  As parents, we have to appropriately model our own digital limits if we are to effectively establish them for our teens.”

- See more at:

Thom Kessler, LMFT, RAS