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Survey: Do social networking habits influence teens to smoke, drink, use drugs?

August 24, 2011
by News release
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Washington, D.C. — American teens ages 12-17 who in a typical day spend any time on social networking sites are at increased risk of smoking, drinking and drug use, according to the National Survey of American Attitudes on Substance Abuse XVI: Teens and Parents, the 16th annual back-to-school survey conducted by The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University (CASA Columbia).

For the first time this year, the survey asked 12- to 17-year olds whether they spend time on Facebook, Myspace or other social networking sites in a typical day. Seventy percent of teens report spending time on social networking sites in a typical day compared to 30 percent of teens who say they do not. This means that 17 million 12- to 17-year olds are social networking in a typical day.

Social Networking Teens at Increased Substance Abuse Risk
Compared to teens that spend no time on social networking sites in a typical day, teens that do are:

  • Five times likelier to use tobacco;
  • Three times likelier to use alcohol; and
  • Twice as likely to use marijuana.

The CASA Columbia survey found that 40 percent of all teens surveyed have seen pictures on Facebook, Myspace or other social networking sites of kids getting drunk, passed out, or using drugs. Half of 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.

Compared to teens that have never seen pictures of kids getting drunk, passed out, or using drugs on social networking sites, teens that have seen these images are:

  • Three times likelier to use alcohol;
  • Four times likelier to use marijuana;
  • Four times likelier to be able to get marijuana, almost three times likelier to be able to get controlled prescription drugs without a prescription, and more than twice as likely to be able to get alcohol in a day or less; and
  • Much likelier to have friends and classmates who abuse illegal and prescription drugs.

This year's survey also explored teen TV viewing habits in relation to teen substance abuse. One-third of teens (32 percent) watch teen reality shows like Jersey Shore, Teen Mom, or 16 and Pregnant or teen dramas like Skins or Gossip Girl in a typical week.

Compared to teens who do not watch suggestive teen programming, teens who typically watch one or more such programs per week are:

  • Twice as likely to use tobacco;
  • Almost twice as likely to use alcohol;
  • More than one-and-a-half times likelier to use marijuana;
  • Twice as likely to be able to get marijuana within a day or less; and
  • More than one-and-a-half times likelier to be able to get prescription drugs without a prescription within a day or less.

"The relationship of social networking site images of kids drunk, passed out, or using drugs and of suggestive teen programming 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 and former U.S. Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare.


"The time has come for those who operate and profit from social networking sites like Facebook to deploy their technological expertise to curb such images and to deny use of their sites to children and teens who post pictures of themselves and their friends drunk, passed out or using drugs. Continuing to provide the electronic vehicle for transmitting such images constitutes electronic child abuse."

Of parents, 87 percent said they think spending time on social networking sites does not make it more likely their child will drink alcohol; 89 percent of parents felt it would not make their child more likely to use drugs.

The CASA Columbia survey also found that 19 percent of teens ages 12-17 (more than 4.5 million teens) report being cyber bullied (having someone post mean or embarrassing things about them on a social networking site). Compared to teens who are not cyber bullied, teens who have been cyber bullied are more than twice as likely to use tobacco, alcohol, and marijuana.

"The anything goes, free-for-all world of Internet expression and suggestive television programming that teens are exposed to on a daily basis puts them at increased risk of substance abuse," said Califano. "The findings in this year's survey should strike Facebook fear into the hearts of parents of young children and drive home the need for parents to give their children the will and skill to keep their heads above the water of the corrupting cultural currents their children must navigate."

Teens whose parents don't agree completely with each other on what to say to their teen about drug use are more than three times likelier to use marijuana, and three-and-a-half times likelier to expect to try drugs in the future, than teens whose parents agree completely on what to say about drug use.

  • Teens whose parents do not agree completely with each other on what to say to their teen about drinking alcohol are twice as likely to use alcohol, than teens whose parents agree completely on what to say about drinking.

  • Teens who agreed with any of the following statements—"If a friend of mine uses illegal drugs, it's none of my business," "I should be able to do what I want with my own body," or "It's not a big deal to have sex with someone you don't care that much about" − are three times likelier to use marijuana, twice as likely to drink alcohol, and much more likely to smoke cigarettes, compared to teens who disagreed with the statements.

  • For the fifth straight year, more than 60 percent of high school students say they attend schools where drugs are used, kept or sold on school grounds.

  • Forty-two percent of 12- to 17-year olds report knowing at least one friend or classmate who uses illegal drugs, like acid, ecstasy, methamphetamine, cocaine or heroin, a 24 percent increase since 2007.

CASA Columbia's back-to-school survey was conducted using two concurrent surveys. CASA Columbia used Knowledge Networks to do an Internet-based survey administered to a nationally representative sample of 1,037 teens (546 boys, 491 girls), and 528 of their parents, from March 27 to April 27, 2011. Sampling error is +/- 3.1 for teens and +/- 4.4 for parents.


As in the past, CASA Columbia used QEV Analytics to do a survey of trend questions at home by telephone which was administered to a nationally representative sample of 1,006 teens (478 boys, 528 girls) from March 29 to May 9, 2011. Sampling error is +/- 3.1. CASA Columbia is the only national organization that brings together under one roof all the professional disciplines needed to study and combat abuse of all substances—alcohol, nicotine, illegal, prescription and performance enhancing drugs—in all sectors of society.


Founded in 1992 by former U.S. Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare, Joseph A. Califano, Jr., CASA Columbia and its staff of some 60 professionals aim to inform Americans of the economic and social costs of substance abuse and its impact on their lives, find out what works in prevention and treatment of this disease, and remove the stigma of substance abuse and replace shame and despair with hope


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