Instagram: The Drug Dealer in Your Kid’s Pocket

Instagram drug dealers

Instagram has taken off since it launched in October of 2010. As one of the most popular photos and video-sharing platforms in the world, you can find anything that you’re looking for on Instagram. That also includes finding and purchasing illegal drugs through Instagram. How is it possible to buy illegal drugs on social media and what should you look out for? Most importantly, what is being done about the influx of drug dealers on social media?

Instagram Drug Dealers: How is that Possible?

You would think that with the opioid epidemic we’re facing and the number of people dying every year from drug abuse, that social media is the last place that drugs would be available. Unfortunately, it’s the opposite drugs are being sold online more often than you would think. It’s simple; the answer is in the algorithms that platforms like Instagram use. The algorithms work for drug dealing online the same way it works for everyday users. On Instagram, if you use a certain hashtag or follow a page whether it be musical artists, fitness gurus or authors, you begin to see more posts and pages involving those interests. Instagram works the same way no matter what you’re looking for or following.

A Breakdown of the Instagram Algorithm:

  1. Interest – The first posts that you see when you open Instagram are based on how much the algorithms think you care about that content. These interests are determined by past behavior with similar content and a slight analysis of what the post contains. For example, if you continually interact with posts that have the same hashtags or from the same account, you’ll be shown those more frequently and higher in your feed when you use Instagram.
  2. Recency – How recently the post was shared. Instagram prioritizes newer content over a week or day-old posts. By keeping the recent posts near the top of your feed keeps you seeing fresh content on your feed and allows you to explore more on Instagram.
  3. Relationship– Your relationship with the account that shared the content. The more interaction you have with an account, being tagged in pictures with them or commenting on their posts, the more often you see their posts and are suggested other accounts with similar content.

While these factors help engineer our Instagram feed to show us the pictures and videos we want to see of our family or the awesome recipes we hope to make, it works the same way no matter what the content is. The average person under the age of 25 spends more than 53 minutes a day on the Instagram app. You may think that it would be hard to find drugs on Instagram to buy, that it would take about an hour of digging to find an account, that’s a misconception. After trying this myself by only searching the hashtag Xanax, it took about three clicks to find a post that was advertising an array of narcotics for sale. If your child is spending almost an hour on Instagram a day, they could easily come across drugs being advertised for sale. While Instagram has banned some drug-related hashtags more specifically related to opioids and opiates, there are plenty more accounts advertising drugs for sale.

How can Illegal Drugs be Bought Over Instagram?

The way that dealers on Instagram are connecting with users is through other texting apps. While the pictures are advertising the drugs that they have for sale in the photos and reaching users through the hashtags that they’re tagging the photos with, most of the transactions aren’t made on the Instagram app itself. The deals and money exchange are talked about in different texting apps. The direct messages on Instagram can be traced easily while it may be more difficult using a different app, such as WhatsApp. Some posts have phone numbers and emails attached, while others have their Kik ID attached in the photo or the text with the hashtags that are used to find these posts.

Kik presents the perfect opportunity for buying and selling drugs on the internet as it doesn’t take any of your data and you can chat anonymously with others who use the app. Now that they have had a conversation, how are teens purchasing the drugs? Buying drugs online isn’t like a handoff on a street corner where the interaction involves little more than a head nod and a couple of words exchanged if that, social media drug deals have to be done over the internet. Most Instagram dealers will use systems like PayPal,, or cryptocurrency like bitcoin – this is more often used on the deep web. There is also instantaneous money sending apps that you only have to link your debit card with and can send money to anyone.

Is Your Teenager Buying Drugs From Instagram?

Teens and kids can be hard to read at times, but if you suspect that they are involved in any dangerous activities, it’s important to know what to do. There are always the obvious signs and symptoms of drug abuse, but with taking out the running around of general drug use and drug-seeking behavior, it may be harder to know what’s going on.

What to do if you Suspect Your Child is Buying Drugs Online

  1. Keep communication open– Teenagers can be difficult to talk to as they’re beginning to go through the stages of trying to find out who they are. Communication is vital at this time in their lives. Stay actively involved in your kid’s lives. Set aside time to talk to them and let them know that you’re available and truly want to know what’s going on with them. When you’re close to your child, you can notice behavioral changes that may point to drug abuse.
  2. Let them know the dangers of drug use – Many teens won’t think too far into buying drugs online since the majority of drugs being sold on Instagram are prescription pills they may not see the dangers. Many people overdose and die from drugs purchased online and from prescription medications. There are other consequences to drug use, they could become addictive or legal consequences.
  3. Check their searches – If you suspect that drug use or illegal activity is going on, look through their search history, if you don’t want to snoop to that point, look at their followers on Instagram. See who they’re following, and who is following them. It may be easier than trying to get into your teen’s account or phone. If there are any suspicious searches or app usage, confront your child. Having this conversation with your teen will be uncomfortable, but it is better to stop any possible drug use before it progresses.
  4. Pay attention to the mail – When drugs are delivered via mail, it is usually in discreet boxes or packages. If your teen is getting packages that you weren’t aware of, ask questions. They may get defensive about it, but it’s perfectly acceptable to want to know what your child is receiving in the mail. If you are suspicious of drug use, ask to see what’s in the package. It may cause an argument, but it’s better to know what’s going on with your child than for them to be experimenting with drugs they’ve bought online.

What’s Being Done to Stop Drug Dealers on Instagram?

There have been some measures to stop drug dealing on Instagram. Instagram has banned many hashtags that pertain to drug use, drug abuse, and drug dealing but it hasn’t stopped completely. They have disabled many accounts that were selling drugs, but dealers often have more than one page with similar usernames to keep their customers connected with them.

Instagram and Facebook have also made it very easy to flag content that’s inappropriate or illegal that way the account can be investigated. Facebook and Instagram are also using a pop-up in the app that will redirect users to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration page. On Instagram, you can opt to see the posts anyway, so it’s easy to evade and continue to your dealers account and purchase drugs online.

How Can You Help?

If you believe that your teen or adult child may be buying drugs off Instagram or any other social media channel, or through the internet, there is help available. Call us today at (855)-448-3588; we can help you.

GateHouse Treatment Editorial Staff
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