Published in June of this year, the UNODC World Drug Report 2023 revealed that one in every 17 people worldwide had used a drug in 2021, almost a quarter (23%) increase in the last decade. The report also found that those aged 16-24 are most likely to use social media to purchase drugs.
Platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat have facilitated the creation of online marketplaces where individuals can easily find and purchase illicit substances. These virtual drug bazaars can operate discreetly, making it challenging for law enforcement to monitor and regulate them effectively.
One of the key aspects of social media is the ability to maintain anonymity. Users can create fake profiles and communicate with others without revealing their true identity. This anonymity can encourage individuals to openly discuss and share information about drug use, creating a community where substance abuse is normalised and encouraged.
Furthermore, social media’s emphasis on likes, shares, and followers can fuel the desire for validation and acceptance. This desire, combined with exposure to posts glamorising drug use, can influence vulnerable individuals to experiment with substances they might otherwise avoid.
Robert Common, Founder and Group CEO, The Beekeeper House, said: “In the digital age, social media has become an integral part of our lives, transforming how we communicate, connect, and share information. It has revolutionised various aspects of society, but unfortunately, it has also opened doors to potential dangers. One such concern is social media’s role in enabling drug use, particularly when we consider that around 99% of Gen Z in the UK use some form of social media.
“While it would be unfair to blame social media for the increase in drug use solely, it is important to acknowledge its influence and understand how it can contribute to the problem and keep young people safe. We also need to acknowledge that as access to drugs becomes easier, it becomes vital to be aware of how to spot if someone is using drugs so they can be advised and supported appropriately.”
Drug misuse is not always conspicuous; young drug users may go to great lengths to disguise it because of the associated stigma and a fear of getting into trouble.
Although some substances have specific side effects, many cause similar signs and symptoms that family members or friends might identify:
Weight loss/gain (due to changes in appetite)
Irregular sleep patterns and energy levels
Unusually large/small pupils or bloodshot eyes
Sudden change in social circles and activities
Secretive or suspicious behaviour, particularly with their phone/other communications devices
Differences in personality or attitude
Mood swings, irritability
Anxiety and paranoia
Lack of motivation
Robert added: “As a society, we must proactively address this issue. While social media platforms undoubtedly have a role to play, the key is understanding why a young person may be tempted to use drugs and giving them a safe and non-judgmental space to explore those emotions.
“Ultimately, if someone really wants to get hold of drugs, they will. You can only prevent harm from drug use if you address the reason someone uses to begin with, and help them find healthier approaches to managing. However, recognising the signs can create a prompt to have that conversation, and it’s a conversation that could save their life.”
For more information on The Beekeeper House’s mental health and addiction treatment programmes and approaches, visit https://beekeeperhouse.com/