Facehooked: the Role of Social Media in Cocaine Addiction
Whether the message is in our faces or subliminal, social media is playing a major role in the widespread use and availability of cocaine and other drugs. Eye-catching photos of celebrity busts and partying footballers have invaded Facebook and Twitter feeds and as a result, many people have become desensitized to the dangers of drug use. Even more worrisome is the fact that people can actually shop for, purchase, and sell drugs online through social media platforms and the dark web without leaving their home or revealing their identity.
The next gateway drug
Before we discuss the role of social media in cocaine addiction, perhaps we should first discuss the growing number of people who are addicted to social media or the Internet itself.
Anyone who had been out to lunch in the past two years is aware of societies’ obsession with ‘staying connected.’ This infatuation to social media addiction is becoming a huge issue in contemporary society and it is predicted that more and more people will actually begin to seek treatment for social media addiction, or more commonly, Internet addiction. According to recent article, Internet Addiction Disorder (IAD) ruins lives by causing neurological complications, psychological disturbances, and social problems. There is even a push to include Internet addiction in the next edition of the Diagnostics Statistics Manual, the primary consulting text used within the psychological and psychiatric fields for formal diagnosis of psychological disorders.
So what’s the connection between social media addiction and drug addiction? Instagram software engineer Greg Hochmuth explains that social media plays on the ‘network effect.’ According to him, “the ‘network effect’ is the idea that any network becomes more valuable as more people connect to that network.” Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and the later to be discussed Darknet are all examples of social media systems that rely on this effect to occur among users. Opting out of the network, for even a short time, invokes a sense of anxiety within the individual similar to mild substance withdrawal. Other studies have shown that Facebook addiction activates the same brain areas as drugs do.
It may also be argued that if an individual is already demonstrating addictive tendencies in their use of social media itself, then they are perhaps more vulnerable towards other addictive behaviors, like drug use. In this regard, social media may in fact be the next gateway drug.
Gen X-rated behaviour
Teens are arguably the most vulnerable to the influences of social media and to the examples set their peers. According to a 2011 study conducted by Columbia University’s National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA), teens who spend time on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media sites show an increased likelihood of smoking, drinking alcohol, or using drugs.
It wasn’t the simple act of using these platforms however that made teens more likely to abuse alcohol or other drugs. Instead, the determining factor was what they viewed on those sites. According to the study, 40% of teens questioned said they had seen images of intoxicated kids and peers using drugs. It is implied that the continued viewing of these types of images, of friends and strangers alike, potentially leads to a desensitisation to the destructive nature of drugs and alcohol, and a lack of awareness of the short and long-term consequences of these behaviours. Therefore, teens who routinely view these images are more likely to indulge in drug or alcohol use themselves. It is, of course, necessary however to state that this report demonstrates associations, but cannot prove direct cause and effect.
Teens are certainly not the only ones using social media sites though, and although typically less impressionable than the still-developing brains of teenagers, adults can also be just as easily influenced by the multitude of images of drug use and abuse that they see as well.
The Internet’s underbelly
Positive portrayals of drug use on social media through eye-catching photographs and headlines seem like mild threats compared to the more extreme use of social media platforms to actually buy and sell drugs.
While an undeniably useful tool without which you would in fact be incapable of reading this article, the Internet has become an inroad into dark and dangerous places. Essentially, if you own a computer, you are literally one click away from having almost any drug delivered to your door via the Darkweb.
The Darkweb is a sort of Internet black hole with seemingly limitless and ominous possibilities. It is network of sites which require specific software, IP configurations, or other special authorization to access. The Darkweb serves as a trading place for illegal online material including child pornography, weapons, and of course, drugs. The Darkweb is a small part of the even more mysterious ‘deep web’ which hosts content that is inaccessible via search engines and supposedly allows users to maintain anonymity – hypothetically at least.
The ‘Silk Road’ that led to prison
Silk Road, a reference to historic international trading routes, was a website that existed as part of the Darknet. Silk Road was founded by Ross Ulbricht and initially launched in 2011. This site allowed users to log on anonymously, browse for, and purchase illegal drugs or varying qualities and quantities. Users purchased these drugs using online currency called bitcoins which are acquired through external sites as a sort of money laundering scheme that helps prevent money from being traced back to individual people. After making their selections and submitting their bitcoins, users could then easily have drugs delivered to their house disguised as other products like donuts or Chinese take-out.
Sounds too good to be true, right? Well, in this particular case, it was. The website seemed to operate without intervention until October 2013 when the site was shut down by the United States FBI and Ulbricht was promptly arrested. Prior to the shut-down however, Silk Road managed to register over one million users and prosecutors in the case against Ulbricht also claimed that at least six people died from drug overdoses and that Ulbricht profited at least $18 million from drug sales. Ulbricht was eventually convicted of seven charges related to Silk Road and was sentenced to life in prison without possibility of parole.
Cocaine was one of the most advertised and readily available drugs on Silk Road and remains to be widely available over the Darknet. As part of the Silk Road investigations, Steven Sadler, known as Nod on the Darknet, was first arrested in July 2013 and charged with trafficking 3,721 grams of cocaine. At the time of arrest, Sadler’s estimated monthly profit was approximately $105,000, mostly from cocaine.
Internet drug detour
Silk Road may have led to prison for Ulbricht, but it opened the door for several other illegal drug purchasing sites to launch and further develop. After Silk Road was shut down, the once less-known Agora took over as the largest growing illegal trading site on the Darknet. According to a Digital Citizens Alliance report cited by the International Business Times, between January 29, 2014, and August 22, 2014, Agora’s drug listings increased from 7,400 drug listings to 12,053 and the site continues to thrive.
Police are catching on to these sites however, and the Silk Road bust left them with a lot of clues as to how to investigate illegal drug sales over the Internet. In 2015, New South Wales police announced they had made 21 arrests after a two-month operation targeting the sale of illicit drugs online via classified advertising websites, social media platforms, and the dark web. The biggest Darknet drug bust yet recently occurred in Germany in late 2015 when 700 pounds of illegal drugs were seized from dealer ‘Shiny Flakes.’ Police say that during this investigation they intervened on drug exchanges totaling over 4.25 million dollars in value.
The light at the end of the Internet
For all the negative potential that the Internet and social media has regarding the increased use of cocaine and other drugs, there is also a strong positive, yet currently under-realized, potential for social media platforms to be used to help raise awareness of the dangers of cocaine and to those affected by addiction with treatment information.
In the Rooms is a prime example of social media being used for good within the field of recovery. In the Rooms is an online social network site that was created by two men in long-term recovery. Their philosophy is based on what they call ‘H.I.T.C.H,’ to Help, Inform, Touch, Connect, and Heal. The site now has over 350,000 members and another 130,000 through Facebook. There are over 2,500 speaker audio files and over 100 live interactive video meetings each week that are based on the 12-step model. There are also online discussion forums, suggestions for daily meditations, and blogs written by addiction experts and recovering addicts.
Other sites are emerging like In the Rooms such as myrecovery.com, Recovery Social Network, and 12Ste p.org. As the number of addicts continues to rise, particularly in Australia and the UK, these sites will surely become valuable resources for many.
To find more information on cocaine addiction treatment options and recovery groups in Australia, give us a call or contact us today for a no obligation consultation.