The Effects of the Media on Teen Substance Abuse


Teens are impressionable. They are soaking up information about social roles, behavior, choices, and lifestyle. They are easily influenced because they are at a stage in life of uncovering who they are and who they will become. Sadly, the media takes advantage of their vulnerability. Billions of advertising dollars are spent by alcohol and tobacco companies who want to influence a teen in using their products – and continue to use them.

Not only are the commercials influential on teens, but so are the television programs and movies. For instance, the show called Breaking Bad reveals the life of a chemistry teacher who gets into drug dealing in order to best provide for his family. In various ways, the show glorifies the use of meth and how a person can make a significant amount of money by selling drugs. These are poor messages to send to teens who are watching the show.

Another show called Weeds portrays the life of a woman who wants to maintain her current lifestyle after her husband passes away. She learns that she can start selling marijuana in order to make more money. However, there are criminal and legal consequences that arise as a result.

The Media 

These two shows are only two examples of the way that the media glorifies drug use and can influence teen substance abuse. There are also plenty of movies that do the same. Smoking cigarettes, getting high on cocaine, and getting drunk have all been portrayed in the media as fun and exciting things to do.

If parents want to protect their teens from the dangerous messages that the media sends, here are some tips to consider:

  • Limit the use of television to certain daytime hours. Evening shows tend to have more adult-related content.
  • When your teen is watching television, ask them what they’re watching. And turn it off if you feel it will harm them.
  • Provide movies for your teen to watch. Rather than have them get bored and look for something on various channels, have a large selection of movies you approve of to share with your teen. There are plenty of inspiration, moving, fulfilling, and inviting movies out there. Opening your teen’s mind to other subjects beside drugs, alcohol, and sex might be rewarding for them.

Also, you might be reading this article because you already feel that your teen has been influenced by the media. If you suspect that your teen might be involved in substance abuse, first look for any changes in their behavior. Changes in sleep, mood, friends, activity level, academic performance, weight, personal hygiene, etc. can all signal a teen substance abuse problem.

What’s the Next Step?

If you prove your suspicions right, then seek teen substance abuse treatment. Two million teens between the ages of 12 and 17 need treatment for substance abuse. Sadly, only about 150,000 teens get the help they need. If you think your teen may have a problem, have him or her assessed by a mental health professional.

Furthermore, a study completed in 2006 and published by the National Institute of Health and the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism found that those who become alcohol dependent before the age of 25 are less likely to ever seek treatment than those who become alcohol dependence at age 30 or older. Prevention and early intervention are essential. You can begin your prevention by limiting your teen’s use of television, Internet, and social media.