In a strange twist of social media, heroin addicts are using Instagram to share pictures of their addiction. With hashtags like those above getting thousands of posts, this isn’t a fad. It looks like using social media to document addiction is here to stay.
The Daily Mail, and other news outlets, have run stories about this new trend.
What exactly are the junkies of Instagram (their words, not mine) sharing pictures of? Why isn’t Instagram removing these pictures? More to the point, how can social media be used to influence both addiction and recovery?
Pictures of Syringes & Heroin
The most popular posts are pictures of syringes and of heroin itself. There are also pictures of pills, pipes, and tinfoil. There even seem to be a few pictures advertising drugs for sale. I’ll touch on that last one later.
The first question that comes to mind is why? Why would someone in the depths of active addiction post pictures of their addiction? Why would they document their downward spiral and then show the world?
As a former heroin addict myself, I think the answer has to do with alienation and loneliness. Addiction isolates us from everyone. I cut off my family (to be more accurate, they cut me off) and friends. The people I was using with, buying from, and hanging around weren’t my friends. They were just warm bodies who happened to be in the same boat as me.
Addiction is a disease of isolation, among other things. Ever hear that saying “I can be alone in a crowed room?” That’s addiction’s mantra.
So, sharing pictures of a loaded syringe may be an attempt at connection. Having people comment on that picture may be a twisted form of friendship.
Drug Dealers on Instagram
And then there are those who’re using Instagram to sell drugs. This seems outrageous to say the least.
Think about it. Someone has to take a picture of, say, a bundle of heroin. Then they have to post it and advertise that it’s for sale. Someone has to comment or message them. Finally, the two have to meet.
That’s pretty involved. It’s also risky for the dealers themselves. You’d think this would stop them, right? Well, it doesn’t seem to. The Instagram drug market is alive and thriving.
Why isn’t Instagram doing anything to stop this?
Why Doesn’t Instagram Remove These Pictures?
Unfortunately, I don’t have an answer to this question. I reached out to Instagram, but didn’t receive any response. Maybe the answer lies in their user guidelines?
I checked and this is what I found:
Do share photos and videos that are safe for people of all ages
Remember that our community is a diverse one, and that your posts are visible to people as young as 13 years old. While we respect the artistic integrity of photos and videos, we have to keep our product and the content within it in line with our App Store’s rating for nudity and mature content. In other words, please do not post nudity or mature content of any kind.
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Don’t share photos or videos that show nudity or mature content
If you wouldn’t show the photo or video you are thinking about uploading to a child, or your boss, or your parents, you probably shouldn’t share it on Instagram. The same rule applies to your profile photo. Accounts found sharing nudity or mature content will be disabled and your access to Instagram may be discontinued. While we know that families use Instagram to capture and share photos of their children, we may remove images that show nude or partially nude children for safety reasons. Even when these images are uploaded with the best of intentions, this content could be re-shared and used by other people in unanticipated and inappropriate ways. You can learn more on our Tips for Parents page.
Don’t share photos or videos of illegal content
If you are reported for sharing prohibited or illegal content, including photographs or videos of extreme violence or gore, your account may be disabled and we will take appropriate action, which may include reporting you to the authorities. Additionally, it is neither possible nor permitted to complete transactions involving regulated goods on our platform. If your photos or videos are promoting the sale of regulated goods or services, including firearms, alcohol, tobacco, prescription drugs, or adult products, we expect you to make sure you’re following the law and to encourage others to do the same.
The gist of these guidelines is to share pictures responsibly. Instagram asks users not to share mature, graphic, or illegal content.
While that primarily refers to nudity, I think we can all agree that a syringe loaded with drugs qualifies as graphic content. Not to mention, it’s illegal!
Social Media for Recovery
Okay, enough of the doom and gloom. If social media can be used to promote, or even glorify, active addiction, then it can be used to help recovery, right?
That’s an interesting idea. It looks like some institutions are even taking it to heart. The Carilion Center at Virginia Tech University was recently awarded a grant to investigate how social media can be used to aid recovery.
I recently wrote about getting sober on Facebook. What about Instagram? Well, it looks like there’s a thriving recovery community there as well.
Search #recovery, #recoveryispossible, #soberlife, and many others. These hashtags are getting thousands and, in some cases, millions of posts. That’s a welcome change from addiction hashtags.
Let’s hope that as the junkies of Instagram (again, their words not mine) reach bottom, they’ll reach out to sober Instagram users. Wouldn’t it be great to see someone’s feed change from pictures of syringes to pictures of them smiling?