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Emerging Adults’ Public and Private Discussions of Substance Use of Social Media

Substance use is common among emerging adults and can lead to various negative consequences. Increasingly, research is investigating factors that influence young adults’ substance use. Social media is clearly a large part of the culture of this population, so a new study looked at how emerging adults used Facebook to privately and publicly talk about substance use.

In this study, 140 students leaving 12th grade and entering college completed an in person survey on substance use and agreed to install software to track their Facebook profile activity. This software measured substance related discussions on public profiles and in private messages. One year later, students reported their substance use again.

The results of these surveys and the Facebook activity indicated that about 25% of the participants mentioned substance use publicly on their profile, and 50% did so privately, indicating that this was perceived to be a safer way to communicate. Those who used substances in high school were more likely to mention substance use on Facebook publicly or privately in the months following. Those who reported tobacco or marijuana use were more likely to mention these substances privately, but this was not seen with alcohol. Those who posted about marijuana were more likely to see an increase in use in the follow up study. As social media and more private messaging apps and features become common, it is important to understand the implications on emerging adults’ substance use.

Take Away: Emerging adults are more likely to discuss substance use on Facebook privately than publicly. Those who reported tobacco or marijuana use are more likely to discuss those substances on Facebook, and those who discussed marijuana specifically were more likely to increase use of marijuana within the year that the study took place.

George, M.J., Ehrenreich, S.E., Burnell, K., Kurup, A., Vollet, J.W. et al. (2019). Emerging Adults’ Public and Private Discussions of Substance Use on Social Media. Emerging Adulthood. doi.org/10.1177/216769681867533

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