(CBS) Is social networking turning America’s youth into substance abusers?

Teens who use Facebook and other social networking sites on a daily basis are three times as likely to drink alcohol, twice as likely to use marijuana, and five times more likely to smoke tobacco than teens who don’t frequent the sites.

“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,” study author Joseph A. Califano, Jr., founder and chairman of Columbia University’s National Center on Addiction and Substance abuse, said in a written statement.

Seventy percent of teens spend time on these sites every day, according to the survey. That’s 17 million 12- to 17- year-olds….

Read the rest here.

Sorry, I don’t buy it.  I have no doubt that the statistics are accurate; it’s simply that I don’t agree with the interpretation.

What do we know about kids who don’t use drugs, as opposed to those who do?

  1. They tend to be active in all sorts of ways, from athletics to social organizations.
  2. They tend to be better students, which implies that they spend more time on schoolwork, both in the form of homework and other outside means of education such as research for book reports, projects, and general outside reading.
  3. They tend to come from stable families.
  4. In short, they tend to have lives that are fulfilling, and I believe that leads them to spend less time on social sites.

I’m no expert on population studies, nor a sociologist, but I can see when it looks like people are taking an easy shot, rather than doing a little critical thinking about other reasons for statistics, which are only numbers, with no inherent meaning.  The meanings are ascribed by the interpreters, and they are, in turn, informed by their ideas, prejudices, and agendas.

It may be true that exposure to these influences moves a small percentage of teenage social site participants in the direction of excess — it probably is.  But we’re talking about 70% of teens, here.  According to another study, by age 18 more than 70% of teens have tried alcohol at least once.¹  Furthermore, simply stating that some of them are x number of times “as likely” to use alcohol, marijuana or other drugs fails to take into account how many times they used them, how long they used them, whether it became a problem, and a number of other factors.

I have no problem with studies and their use in determining priorities for fund allocation, areas of concentration, and so forth.  I do have a problem with interpretations that are not put into context with other pertinent data, or skewed to make a point.  Ascribing a cause and effect relationship to these figures is like explaining addiction as being the result of “bad blood.”

This, in turn, is only my opinion, but it’s based on a intimate knowledge of addicts and addiction.  I wonder if that’s true of those who simply study us.

¹Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2008).Underage Alcohol Use: Findings from the 2002-2006 National Surveys on Drug Use and Health.

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