Heavy Facebook and Twitter users are more prone to drug use, according to a study by Columbia University, sparking debate over the relationship between social media and risky behaviour.
Teens who report using social media are five times likelier to use tobacco, three times likelier to drink alcohol and twice as likely to try marijuana, according Columbia University’s National centre on Addiction and Substance Abuse’s survey.
The study of 1,000 children aged 12 to 17 revealed 70 per cent of those who said they engaged in these risky behaviours also reported using social media sites like Facebook, Google+ and MySpace daily, while the remaining 30 per cent did not.
One of the main reasons the teens gave for visiting the sites, besides actually communicating with friends, is to keep tabs on peers by looking at photographs. The study reported that many of these pictures were of teenagers “drunk, passed out, or using drugs on Facebook and other sites.”
Joseph Califano, founder of the National centre on Addiction and Substance Abuse, or CASA, concluded that viewing these pictures contributed to increased use of the risky behaviours, and urged more active monitoring and removal of the images.
“America’s drug problem is not going to be solved in courtrooms or legislative hearing rooms by judges and politicians,” Califano said. “It will be solved in living rooms and dining rooms and across kitchen tables — by parents and families.”
Critics point out the study shows a correlation between the risky behaviour and the social media sites, but doesn’t necessarily indicate a cause-and-effect relationship. They point out other factors which motivated the 30 per cent to abstain from Facebook may have attributed to their avoidance of smoking, drinking and drugs.
Finally, detractors point out the study doesn’t indicate the findings by age, suggesting the younger respondents, those aged 12, may be generally less inclined or have fewer opportunity to engage in risky behaviours.
The survey isn’t the first to hold a harsh light to the role social media plays in the lives of teenagers.
Most recently, Facebook, which teens increasing view as an integral part of their social world, was criticised for helping create a generation of people with short attention spans,, needing validation and instant gratification.
The social network was also blamed for making breakups messier, as teenagers increasingly post mean or embarrassing statuses about their exes.
While these developments, like the survey results, may deserve some consideration, parents aren’t viewing social media in a reactionary manner. The CASA study also found that 9 out of 10 parents don’t believe social networking causes drinking and drug use.
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