The Internet replaces drugs as this generation’s addiction

Rotting one’s brain with social media, as opposed to booze and dope, is a generational signifier.


Published Jul 31, 2014   Updated May 30, 2021, 8:49 pm CDT

“We have to stay sober to sort out the mess your generation have made of things,” a 17-year-old recently told Professor Fiona Measham. The criminologist at the University of Durham was speaking about a new report on teenage drug use by the Health and Social Care Information Centre, which says that teens are turning to the Internet for their distractions instead.

The report says that teenagers are now less likely to drink and take drugs than in 2003, when Heathen Chemistry was the most recent Oasis album. Less than half of the number of kids surveyed a decade later, in 2013, had drunk alcohol in the last week. Only 22 percent had tried smoking last year, compared to 44 percent 10 years before. Half as many teens have used other drugs, including cannabis and ecstasy. 

Speaking to the Telegraph, professor Measham notes how anxiety over school and work is still giving teens the jitters. But instead of drinking cider in the park to wind down and socialize, teens are now compulsively using the Internet, with social media on phones making it even harder to say no.

Kids aren’t just glued to their devices just because they’re sick or addicted. Professor Measham says that rotting one’s brain with social media, as opposed to booze and dope, is a generational signifier.

“It makes sense for the next generation to distinguish themselves from their older siblings and cousins and one of the key difference would be, compared to 15, 20 years ago, the massive development of social media,” she said.

There’s an uptick to having the attention span of a kitten and responding to the world with vanity snaps, apparently. “There’s that sense of responsibility for the economy, the planet and the local community,” says Professor Measham.

In case that sounds wholesomely boring, professor Measham says abstinence soon evaporates once kids leave home. “I’d be surprised if they didn’t start to experiment,” she said. “Once they get to 18, the world of pubs, clubs, raves, festivals really opens up to them.”

So they’re starting on the road to ruin later—just with shorter attention spans. 

Photo via Nicola/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

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*First Published: Jul 31, 2014, 9:04 am CDT