Are Teens Replacing Drugs with Technology?
Despite being in the midst of an opioid epidemic, the increase in popularity of deadly synthetic drugs and the almost nationwide legalization of marijuana, something interesting has begun to take place over the course of the past ten years. Teenagers across the U.S. are becoming less and less likely to try and regularly use drugs and alcohol. Researchers have noticed this trend building for about a decade now, but have no clear answer as to why. Most attribute the decline in cigarette smoking as the primary reason. Citing that since cigarette smoking is a gateway to other drugs, and less kids are smoking cigarettes, less kids are entering the gateway to using alcohol and illegal drugs. Others believe that years of antidrug youth education campaigns have finally begun to work. However, there are some who have an entirely different theory.
Could it be that teens are spending so much time plugged into their smartphones, either texting, playing games, or on social media, that there’s no time left for drugs or alcohol? It’s not as farfetched of an idea as you might initially think given that the use of smartphones and tablets have exploded during the same period that teen drug use has declined. This doesn’t necessarily mean that one behavior is the specific cause of the other, but scientists say that interactive media appears to have replaced drug experimentation by providing similar impulses, including sensation-seeking and the desire for independence. It could just be that our interactive gadgets take up a lot of the time that could be used for other activities, including partying and doing drugs or alcohol. Researchers have found that the use of marijuana among 8th and 10th graders is down over the past decade despite its social acceptability being up, and though marijuana use has risen among 12th graders, the use of cocaine, hallucinogens, and ecstasy are all down
On the surface, this sounds like good news. However, some social media critics believe that drug and alcohol use haven’t declined because kids today are behaving better, or are more cautious than they used to be, but because they’re simply spending less time hanging out with their peers, developing their social skills and learning about each other. Instead, teens today are spending more time alone staring at their phones than ever before and are growing more and more socially-isolated. Is social media is serving teens with a dose of interactive methadone? Social media is too new for us really have a grasp on its long-term effects, but several studies over the past few years have shown that it’s abuse has already been linked to depression and insomnia
Have we now reached a point where teenagers have replaced alcohol and illegal drugs with Snapchat and Instagram?