Addictive disorders are a public health crisis that affects our society by draining our workforce, health care, judicial, education, and law enforcement, resources. Adolescents are particularly susceptible to social influence - for better and for worse - and addiction. Through social media, today’s youth experience a whole new way of communicating. Not enough is known about adolescent perceptions of addiction, and messages of addiction they are exposed to on social media. Social Learning Theory and the Learning Theory of Addiction provided the framework for understanding how adolescents are at risk for developing unhealthy practices that create numerous psychological, social and physical problems in adulthood. Concurrent, mixed-methods, were used to explore adolescent perceptions of addiction and Instagram hashtags related to addiction. A content analysis of Instagram hashtags related to addiction and interview data from 11 adolescents aged 16-18 from a Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD) club in New Jersey was collected and analyzed. The sample for phase one of this study was comprised of 819,155 Instagram posts, hashtagged #addiction, #recovery, #alcohol, and #drugs, collected on 5 dates over a month. Phase 2, adolescent interviews, included open-ended and Addiction Belief Survey (ABS) questions. The study’s findings led to the conclusion that the adolescents interviewed have uncertain, and at times prejudicial, understandings of addiction. They see social media as potentially helpful in the fight against addiction and feel protected from negative messages of addiction by a strong circle of friends and family. Addiction related posts on Instagram, though littered with unhealthy messages, reflect the belief that addiction is recoverable and avoidable through social support. Adolescent perceptions of addiction align with those expressed on Instagram in both healthy and unhealthy ways. Beliefs of addiction expressed by adolescents and on Instagram reflect recent findings in the scientific literature on the nature of addiction, stigma, social support, and wellness. Study recommendations include for school and government leadership to take a multi-pronged, community based, approach in supporting adolescents. Future research should focus on social media support for adolescents and adolescent social learning of addiction. Secondary school curricula and interventions that include social media should be created and improved using design-based research because it allows for evidence-based improvement.

Library of Congress Subject Headings

Dissertations (EdD) -- Learning technologies; Substance abuse -- Social aspects; Internet and teenagers; Online social networks -- Psychological aspects

Date of Award


School Affiliation

Graduate School of Education and Psychology



Degree Type


Degree Name


Faculty Advisor

Davis, Kay D.;