Teens glued to Instagram, TikTok and other social media are more likely to drink, take drugs, smoke and engage in risky sexual behaviors, a new review warns.

For example, spending at least two hours a day on social media doubled the odds of alcohol consumption, compared with less than two hours daily use, researchers report in the Nov. 29 issue of BMJ.

The results show that teens are particularly susceptible to social media depictions of risky health behaviors like alcohol use or unhealthy eating, the investigators said.

“Experimental and risk-taking behaviors are an inherent part of adolescence,” the team concluded in a journal news release. “However, as safeguards for a digital world are still evolving, precaution across academic, governmental, health and educational sectors may be warranted before the risks of adolescents’ use of social media is fully understood.”

For the review, researchers analyzed more than 250 social media measures reported in 73 studies conducted between 1997 and 2022, involving 1.4 million kids ages 10 to 19.

The pooled data showed that frequent or daily social media use is associated with a 48% increased risk of alcohol consumption, a 28% increased risk of drug use and an 85% increased risk of smoking, compared to infrequent surfing of social media.

Social media seems to have an influence over teens’ sexual choices as well. Frequent or daily social media use was tied to 77% increased odds of risky sexual activities like sexting, transactional sex and inconsistent condom use, researchers found.

Frequent social media use also appeared to increase risk of anti-social behaviors like bullying, physical assault, and aggressive or delinquent behavior by 73%, and nearly tripled the risk of gambling.

However, the researchers said more study is needed to establish a direct cause-and-effect link between social media use and unhealthy behaviors among teens.

They noted that other factors, such as parental behavior, also can influence a teen’s risk-taking behaviors.

More information

The Mayo Clinic has more about social media and teens.

SOURCE: BMJ, news release, Nov. 29, 2023