Snapchat: The newest opioid?

By Skylar Heisey

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We can’t prove with any degree of certainty that social media is the only cause of the increasing number of adolescents with mental illness, however, there is a link. What we do know is that there is a connection between social media and the mental health of adolescents. Currently, almost all adolescents and young adults are active on social media.

The Pew Research Center states that 69% of adults and 81% of teens in the U.S. use social media. Social media platforms are designed to be addictive, and as such contribute to feelings of anxiety and depression for adolescents.

Noted in Scope, published by Stanford Medicine, “The hypodermic needle delivers a drug right into our vascular system, which in turn delivers it right to the brain, making it more potent.

The same is true for the smartphone: with its flashing lights and engaging alerts, it delivers images to our visual cortex that are tough to resist.” Snapchat is one of the largest and most frequently used social media platforms that exists.

The National Center for Health Research said 69% of 13-17 year olds and 78% of 18-24 year olds use Snapchat. Snapchat is said to be popular for adolescents because of its highly addictive features. One of the most addicting characteristics of Snapchat is what is called a snapstreak.

That refers to a feature given to users who have consecutively sent snaps for at least two days, say those who study the phenomenon. Paula McCall, PhD, who specializes in adolescent psychology, says: “When you keep a snapstreak, it knows that you are not supposed to take a break.

“You are always supposed to be active, and people can get offended when you don’t respond to them. You have to be online and present. It’s really anxiety producing.” The standards by which friendships are measured is determined by the length of a streak. If one friend breaks the streak, the friendship is not valued as highly.

This form of connectedness can lead to depression and anxiety, according to those who have studied it. Students at Arizona State University relate to these feelings, they say, due to Snapchat.

Ariana, a Tempe campus student, shared her story about how Snapchat led to feelings of depression and anxiety. She said, “I was Snapping a boy I liked all summer long. We had a snapstreak over 100 days. We snapped so much that we even had the yellow heart” (the familiar visual image used to identify the program).

“One day, he broke the streak and stopped snapping me. I was constantly checking his snap score and snap location to see him ignoring me. I kept checking my phone to see 0 notifications.” Another ASU Tempe student, Kendall, talked about her usage of social media at school.

She said she keeps over 50 different snapstreaks. “I use Snapchat probably way too much. My snap score is literally almost 2 million.,” she said. This means she has sent almost 2 million snaps in her life.

She also said, “It’s hard for me to focus on school and a lot of other things because of Snapchat. Everyone’s always on it. When there’s a party, everyone posts it and snaps me from there. “All I can think about is wanting to go and hang out with my friends.”

Research has shown that the addiction to social media is somewhat similar to the addiction to drugs. Additionally published in Scope, Lisa Coyne, PhD, said, “Social media has a reinforcing nature.

Using it activates the brain’s reward center by releasing dopamine, “a feel good chemical.” Even though social media can lead to one feeling ill from anxiety and depression, like drug addiction, users report wanting to come back.

Like drug addiction, you don’t realize it’s dangerous until it’s too late. It has been shown that social media boosts self esteem by allowing adolescents to form and be part of social circles, or added on private stories or having a snapstreak.

However, conclude the experts, the anxiety and depression caused by being removed from these social circles can be detrimental.

— Skylar Heisey is a student at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communications at Arizona State University.

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