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Drug Addiction in the Age of the Internet 

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Table of Content

The internet connects people within communities and all around the globe to one another. But the digital age has also changed what it means to have a substance use disorder. Today, it’s easier than ever to access drugs through internet use. Social media and black-market online pharmacies connect buyers with sellers, worsening addiction issues. On the other hand, the internet can serve as an important tool for sobriety.

How Digital Access Affects Drug Addiction

Access to the internet affects drug use in complicated ways. It provides a platform for those selling drugs to reach buyers and for those interested in drugs to gain access. In the past, you’d have to live in or go to a specific area to access certain illicit drugs — now, you can press a button and have substances arrive on your doorstep. Young people, who are susceptible to peer pressure, experience the strongest impact. The internet complicates addiction concerns in a multitude of ways.

Social Media

The prevalence of social media has a major impact on substance use, especially among young people. Of teens aged 13 to 17, 95% have access to a smartphone, where they use sites like YouTube, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter and Facebook. While browsing social media, teens are exposed to both peer alcohol behavior and alcohol advertisements. Social media posts about alcohol glamorize it, not showing its potential negative consequences. Young people and anyone else on social media can also see posts about marijuana and other substances.

Online Drug Trade

The internet also facilitates access to drugs. Today, it’s easier than it’s ever been to purchase drugs of any kind, including illicit drugs. Pharmacy websites on the dark web operate as part of the black market and sell drugs without requiring a prescription. The lack of regulation in the illicit online drug trade makes it especially dangerous. Drugs bought online can contain harmful impurities, threatening the user’s safety.

The internet also connects drug sellers and buyers, as not all online drug trade originates on the dark web. Web users, especially young people, use social media to find local suppliers who conduct their business online. This access has contributed to the excessive use of substances like marijuana.

How to Tell if Digital Access and Consumption Is Affecting Your Recovery

If you struggle with a substance use disorder, digital access could be affecting your ability to recover. Those who have a history of a substance use disorder have to be cautious about using the internet. If you’re wondering whether or not the digital world is affecting your recovery, ask yourself the following questions:

Do I See Posts or Advertisements Featuring Substances?

When you scroll through your personal social media feed, how often do you see posts or advertisements featuring substances? Do you see advertisements for substances you’ve struggled with? Exposure to these posts and advertisements could make it harder for you to recover. If you’re often bombarded with reminders of harmful substances, how can you focus on sobriety?

Do My Friends on Social Media Glamorize Substance Use?

If you do see content about substances, do those posts glamorize their use? Do you see advertisements or pictures of friends seeming to have fun while using substances? Social media is often considered a “highlight reel,” meaning people only post their best, happiest moments online. This perception can impact the user’s mental health by creating negative self-comparisons and low self-esteem. It can also glorify substance use. Advertisers and online friends are unlikely to post about hangovers, withdrawal symptoms or the other negative effects of using alcohol or drugs.

As a result, you may start to forget the ways in which substances have caused harm to you. You might start to think of drugs or alcohol as “not that bad,” making it harder for you to steer clear. If you’re seeing posts glamorizing substance use, you may want to rethink who you’re following or what sites you’re browsing.

Have I Ever Bought Substances Through the Internet?

You should ask yourself if you’ve ever accessed substances through the internet. Have you ever found a seller using social media? Have you ever purchased drugs using an online pharmacy? If the answer to either question is “yes,” internet access could be a threat to your recovery. You may want to limit or change your digital access.

How to Use Technology as a Tool for Sobriety

Though the internet can complicate substance use, it can also serve as a vital tool for supporting sobriety. Apps, online social groups, advanced assessments and immediate access to help can boost your recovery.


Smartphone apps can help you achieve almost any goal you could think of. Some apps will estimate your blood alcohol content to discourage driving under the influence. Others provide tools to help you stay calm and focused during recovery, offering yoga, meditation or deep breathing guidance. Some apps will count your days of sobriety, giving you encouragement and incentive to keep going. You could also look to apps to maintain your mental health and general wellness, which can help you develop healthy behaviors overall.

Social Groups

While the internet can let you access harmful social groups, it also makes it easier to access support groups of others in recovery and mentors. You can find discussion forums where you can ask questions, seek advice or learn from others’ experiences. Recovery is a lifelong process, and getting involved with support groups can help you stay on track.

Computerized Assessments

New technology can also improve treatment and prevention methods. Computerized assessments make risk analysis more accurate by collecting data in real-time. The internet serves as a host for prevention interventions, which could help reduce substance use issues.

Access to Help

Another benefit of the internet is that it provides more widespread access to recovery services. Those who have substance use disorders can research signs of addiction, long-term effects of substance use and possible recovery outlets. They can also contact organizations for resources and assistance. The internet connects people to the information and recovery services they need to get better.


Contact Gateway Foundation for Medical and Professional Rehabilitation

The digital world is all about connection, for better or for worse. The internet has complicated substance use and addiction recovery. On one hand, it has made it easier to access substances, and it has glamorized substance use in the minds of impressionable young people. But it also provides tools and communities that can aid in the recovery process. What matters is when, how and why someone uses the internet.

If you or someone you know is struggling with substance addiction, consider Gateway Foundation. We can help you find freedom from addiction and get a new lease on life. We understand how the internet has complicated recovery, and we offer lifelong services to help you stay on track. For over 50 years, we’ve been using evidence-based treatments to help patients recover from addiction. To learn more about Gateway Foundation and the services we offer, contact us today.

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