An average adult spends more than 3 hours on social media every day in 2020. This behavior has led to unpleasant consequences as social media was found to negatively impact mental health. Prolonged social media use can lead to a high risk of depression, anxiety, and feelings of inadequacy – the same emotions implicated in substance abuse.
However, therapists argue that social networking plays a role in substance recovery. Patients undergoing drug or alcohol abuse need to feel they belong to social groups, supported by friends and family. With social media deeply ingrained in today’s modern lifestyle, one asks, does social media help in substance recovery at all? Or does it only cause further damage?
Social Media and Substance Abuse
Social media use has been linked to substance abuse. A report states that teens, who identified themselves as frequent social media users, were found to engage in drinking and smoking more than those who have lesser social media exposure. Posts about celebrities and friends engaging in such vices contribute to the normalization of substance abuse, affecting vulnerable teenagers.
Indirectly, social media influences substance abuse through social comparisons. For instance, travel, wedding, family, or pregnancy posts of other people on social media trigger social comparison that eventually leads to the feeling of missing out or lagging behind socially-imposed timelines. Whether a person is conscious about the process or not, the effects can turn out debilitating, possibly leading to substance abuse. Resulting negative emotions may become precursors of substance dependence.
Positive Effects of Social Networking
Meanwhile, contentions about keeping your social support intact for substance recovery remain strong. Does said social media use, reported by research to have contributed to substance abuse, help in recovery as well?
Social networking, before the advent of digital technology, implied face-to-face interactions which significantly help in counseling and extending social support to recovering addicts and alcoholics.
Unregulated social media use may reinforce addictive behaviors, yet to an extent, online social networking still yields advantages.
Social media’s instant messaging allows people to seek out immediate help from family and friends when sabotaging emotions kick in. In the same breath, it enables recovering patients to connect with professionals and volunteer counseling groups that maintain a social media presence. In short, connecting to the right people is key to turning social media into a positive influence.
Social media can likewise be used as a platform to promote well-being. Fully-recovered patients can share their journey with others in a more personal and engaging manner through social media. These real-life stories and personalities are inspirational to struggling recovery patients.
Social Media’s Role in Substance Recovery
Like all other things, social media is a double-edged sword. It contributes to both the aggravation of substance abuse and recovery. The discriminating factor here is control. Exercising control over the number of hours, content, and connections is particularly important for recovery from drugs, smoking, or alcohol use.
Exposure requires control as longer hours of social media use implies more content displayed. To add to that, prolonged exposure to social media was found to cause irritability, dependence, and weight gain – outcomes that are not helpful when a person is trying to regain normalcy and live a healthy lifestyle.
Others contend that timing is important, and professional help is needed to determine the right timing for social media re-introduction. That is, restriction of social media use should coincide with the person’s phase of recovery. Substance abuse treatment typically follow several phases. Social media use during early treatment, which focuses on abstinence and cravings management, is not ideal.
Control over content is essential, too. You may not be able to stop others from spreading substance-related posts but you can practice deliberate browsing. For instance, you can un-follow social posts and pages that you know would harm your inner self. More importantly, you must identify the emotional triggers of your substance abuse to effectively filter content. Political news can be as damaging as a friend’s pregnancy news to a person, depending on his/her emotional need. Know what emotionally-loaded content you can handle.
Lastly, selective connections on social media prove fruitful. You wouldn’t want a recovering patient to log in online only to receive positive reinforcement from peers as regards substance abuse. This only leads to relapse. Then again, professional help plays a significant role in identifying mental and emotional readiness, as well as providing continued support.
Ideally, during the late stage of the treatment, a person regains control of his/her life as he is slowly reintegrated into society. If at this stage, social media use is found to be a whole different addiction, then it should be dealt with separately.
To the recovering person’s best interest, seek out mental health and substance abuse rehabilitation experts who know better when, how, and to what extent social media should be managed. Everyone, after all, has idiosyncrasies.