In just the last couple of years, TikTok has become one of the most popular social media platforms across the globe. Videos posted on the platform have made millions laugh, sparked dancing challenges, turned songs into sleeper hits, and even raised morale among hospital workers during the pandemic. But, sadly, TikTok was recently in the news due to the recent overdose death of a 15-year-old girl in Oklahoma and the hospitalization of three teens in Texas. The teens had allegedly overdosed while partaking in the Benadryl challenge, a viral trend in which participants misuse diphenhydramine and chronicle their experiences.
The Benadryl challenge is the latest example of drug usage being utilized for views and social media clout. Other recent TikTok trends include TripTok videos, which consist of young people using psychedelics. Earlier this year, #ket (short for ketamine) and #MDMA (aka ecstasy) were trending search results on TikTok, with 13.8 million and 4.3 million searches respectively.
The CDC warns that starting to abuse drugs during one’s teen years is especially harmful. Drug abuse during adolescence hinders brain development and can lead to long-term health problems such as heart disease, high blood pressure, and sleep disorders.
When looking at these recent trends on the platform, some may wonder if stories like this are just headline-chasing anecdotes, or a sign of a larger issue.
Is Gen Z Facing a Generational Drug Crisis?
The viral challenge, the recent overdose deaths of notable Generation Z-aged superstars and influencers, and the increased number of prescription pills in our culture might be more than just anecdotes. A study from Rutgers University found that between 2006 and 2015, the death rate among 15 to 24-year-olds rose an average of 4.8 percent annually, with a dramatic 15.4 percent increase from 2013 to 2015. The use of opioids played a major role in this uptick.
In addition to an increase in overdose deaths, an NIH report from 2018 found that 14.4percent of 18 to 25-year-olds and 4.9 percent of 12 to 17-year-olds reported misusing prescription drugs within the past year. The misuse of stimulants like Adderall has become increasingly relevant among students in high school and college, with 60 percent of users admitting they used them without a prescription and bought them from a friend or relative.
It’s Not All Bad For Gen Z
The study fortunately found that overall opioid usage has sharply declined since 2002, while misuse of depressants has remained stable. Another report showed that overall illegal drug usage among young people has been cut in half since 2001, and that Gen Z overall drink, smoke, and do drugs less than previous generations. Broadly speaking, “Zoomers” also seem to prefer hanging out with a smaller circle of friends, place their family as a higher priority, and are much more interested in getting good grades, social activism, or building a personal brand. But this doesn’t mean they are not at risk. With higher potency drugs more readily available, drug prevention education and access to support services are more important than ever to prevent teens from developing a substance abuse problem or overdosing while “experimenting” with substances.
How to Help a Teen Who May Be Suffering
Generation Z experiences higher rates of isolation and loneliness, which can have detrimental effects on their overall health in the long term. It’s up to older generations to help teens and young adults cope with anxious or depressive symptoms in constructive ways – before they turn to harmful coping responses like participating in the Benadryl challenge or other online trends. We know anxiety is often linked with addiction, and addressing the root issue can help prevent drug misuse and despair.
It is important for those who have a younger loved one to empathize and try to understand their overall mental well-being. Gen Z’s stressors are numerous. The stress of growing up under constant surveillance, the necessity to meet an increasingly difficult level of academic and professional thresholds in a competitive market, social media addiction, and facing the unsolved political issues of previous generations might be leading teens and young adults to feel so anxious. While every young person is unique, taking the following steps can help:
- Start conversations and listen to the concerns of young loved ones.
- Address the stressors that may lead to feelings of anxiety, depression, or isolation. If left unaddressed, anxiety is often linked to self-medication.
- Look out for the signs of teen drug use.
- Give space when needed and do not project blame inward or on them. Being overbearing or making a loved one feel guilty will not help no one.
- For a loved one that is using, determine if professional help is needed, whether that is in the form of counseling, a support group, or an addiction treatment center.
Where to Get Help for Teenage Drug Abuse
In short, headlines about the Benadryl challenge are not indicative of an entire generation strung out on drugs, as many studies show Gen Z overall abuses opioids, alcohol, and hard drugs less than previous generations. However, it is important to address the anxiety many younger people feel within themselves and about the world they have inherited.
If there is a young person in your life that is struggling, it is important to be a support beacon and help them get the help they need. Mountainside’s Adolescent Services provides young people struggling with addiction with individual therapy, recovery coaching, and free support groups during their recovery.