Teens Who Use Social Media Are More Likely to Endanger Their Own Health: Study

As families throughout U.S. pursue social media addiction lawsuit, the Surgeon General has recommended age-restrictions for teen social media use, due to concerns over mental health damage.

The findings of a new study highlight many of the same concerns outlined in social media addiction lawsuits now being pursued by families throughout the U.S., providing evidence that teens who constantly scroll through their Instagram feed and watch hours of TikTok videos are more likely to engage in risky behaviors.

According to a report published in the medical journal The BMJ on November 29, young people who frequently use social media have double the odds of drinking alcohol and more than triple the odds of gambling.

U.K. researchers analyzed more than 17,000 studies, focusing on 250 social media measures. The final data included information for more than 1.4 million youths, ages 10 to 19, from 1997 to 2022. The findings highlight some of the harmful side effect of social media addictions, which have been linked to a mental health crisis among teens.

Social Media Use Linked to Teen Alcohol, Drugs and Sex

In this new study, researchers found that teens who used social media were 48% more likely to drink alcohol, 28% more likely to use drugs, and 85% more likely to smoke compared to teens who used social media infrequently.

Even using social media for just two hours per day was associated with double the risk of drinking alcohol. The likelihood of drinking alcohol was greater if teens consumed user-generated content, compared to marketer-generated content.

The data indicates teens who used social media daily or frequently have a 77% increased likelihood of engaging in risky sexual activities, such as transactional sex, inconsistent condom use, and sexting.

Frequent social media use also increased the odds teens would engage in anti-social behaviors. They were 73% more likely to engage in bullying, physical assault, and aggressive behavior, the researchers determined.

Teens who watched content on social media that showed risky behaviors, like alcohol or drug use, were more likely to vape and three times more likely to gamble as well.

Overall, teens who use social media more frequently are more likely to use drugs, smoke, drink, and do other risky behaviors compared to teens who don’t use social media or use it less frequently.

Social Media Mental Health Concerns

Attorneys General from 35 states recently filed lawsuits against Meta, the owner of Instagram and Facebook, claiming the tech giant uses features that intentionally get children hooked on social media.

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Platforms like Facebook and Instagram use features they know will addict children, the states claim, such as infinite scrolling and content alerts that prolong youth exposure to the social media websites. The lawsuits also accuses Meta of unlawfully collecting the personal data of millions of children without their parents’ knowledge or consent.

The complaints join a number of other social media addiction lawsuits brought against Meta and other internet companies, such as Alphabet Inc., Google LLC, YouTube LLC, Snap. Inc., TikTok Inc. and ByteDance Inc., each raising similar claims that the platforms are intentionally designed to manipulate and maximize user time and engagement, as well as the type of content they view.

A growing number of families are also pursuing social media addiction lawsuits against the operators of these websites and apps, claiming they placed a desire for profits before the mental health and safety of young users, by specifically encouraging behaviors that can have long-term, devastating consequences for teens.

Prior research indicates teens who habitually check social media sites, like TikTok and Facebook, may undergo changes in brain development, making them more sensitive to peer feedback and more inclined to social rewards and punishments.

To that end, the U.S. Surgeon General has called for age restrictions for social media to prevent long-term mental health damage to children.

The researchers in this latest study said more research is needed to determine a direct cause-and-effect relationship between social media use and risky behaviors, but the findings indicate a strong link. They indicated more data is needed to understand what aspects of social media may be the most harmful.

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