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Facebook, Twitter linked to teen drug use, study says

Published: Saturday, Oct. 8 2011 11:34 p.m. MDT

In this photo made Thursday, July 16, 2009, a Facebook user logs into their account in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.

Associated Press

Teenagers who frequent social networking Websites like Twitter and Facebook are more likely to smoke, drink and get tangled up in illegal drugs, according to recent research from Columbia University.

About 70 percent of teens spend time networking online every day. Compared to teens who don't log on, researchers at Columbia's National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse found teens who use social media are five times more likely to use tobacco, three times more likely to drink alcohol and twice as likely to use marijuana.

About 40 percent of teens have seen photographs of kids drinking or using drugs while perusing sites like Facebook, according to the survey. Researchers believe viewing such images puts kids at risk for developing substance abuse disorders.

"The relationship of social networking site images of kids drunk, passed out or using drugs to increased teen risk of substance abuse offers grotesque confirmation of the adage that a picture is worth a thousand words," said Joseph A. Califano, Jr., CASA Columbia's founder and chairman.

Califano is the former U.S. Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare.

Most parents, though, are unaware of the connection, the survey concluded. Eighty-seven percent of surveyed parents said they don't believe spending time on social networking Web sites will make it more likely their child will drink alcohol. Eighty-nine percent believe online socializing will not influence their child to use drugs. Only 64 percent of parents who said their child has a social network page also said they monitored it.

"Especially troubling — and alarming — are that almost half of the teens who have seen pictures of kids drunk, passed out or using drugs on Facebook and other social networking sites first saw such pictures when they were 13 years of age or younger; more than 90 percent first saw such pictures when they were 15 or younger," Califano wrote in a statement that accompanied the release of the study. "These facts alone should strike Facebook fear into the hearts of parents of young children."

The study also found a link between increased risk of substance abuse and viewing suggestive television programs. Teens who watch shows like "Jersey Shore," "Teen Mom" and "Gossip Girl" are twice as likely to smoke, twice as likely to drink and one-and-a-half times more likely to use marijuana.

"The results are profoundly troubling," Califano wrote. "This year's survey reveals how the anything-goes, free-for-all world of Internet expression, suggestive television programming and what-the-hell attitudes put teens at sharply increased risk of substance abuse."

Since the study's release, the data has come under fire online.

Mike Males of YouthFacts.org called the study "simplistic," "sensational" and possibly "invalid on its face." In PC World, Jeff Bertolucci wryly congratulated Facebook for becoming "the new Rock'n'Roll: Corruptor of America's Youth."

Bertolucci pointed out that drinking and drugging is influenced by a "variety of maladies that predate Facebook, Myspace and Twitter." Among those: peer pressure, boredom, depression, experimentation and parental neglect.

"All of these things exists, I suspect, even in a world where everyone has a smartphone," he wrote. "Social networks may facilitate interaction among teens, but do they really encourage bad behavior? Or do they simply bring the trials and tribulations of teen life online?"

Time reporter Maia Szalavitz further noted that only 10 percent of the surveyed teens who used social networking sites said they used tobacco products. Twenty-six percent drink alcohol and 13 percent use marijuana. In 1995, before the Internet took off, 16 percent of teens reported using marijuana and 38 percent smoked cigarettes.

"The research methods used here cannot actually determine whether social media causes increased substance use or whether the association is simply related to a third factor, such as teens' concern about their social status or conversely, having strict parents," Szalavitz wrote.

To get the data, researchers asked 1,037 teens aged 12 to 17 about drug, alcohol and social media habits. More than 500 parents responded to the survey.

EMAIL: estuart@desnews.com, Twitter: elizMstaurt

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