You may be hounding your teenagers to put down their smartphones and gaming consoles but researchers are wondering if they are actually keeping kids off drugs.

The stimulation of games and social media may be replacing the need for the chemical high of drugs among young people, say experts.

“When people are connected to the internet or playing video games, they can get a high. When people use these devices for too much time, it’s what we researchers would consider could potentially be a behavioural addiction,” said Sylvia Martins, a substance abuse expert at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health.

She says the theory that the near-constant entertainment of devices is replacing drugs among some young people is “plausible” but cautions that research is in its infancy.

“We know that nowadays teenagers are using more and more electronics, (are) more and more connected to the internet and they might be getting their need for novel stimulation through the internet and through their smartphones.”

Martins says there is no consensus among experts that extreme use of electronics is an addiction at all.

But what is clear is that research is showing North American teens are becoming less likely to try or regularly use drugs and alcohol. The overall trend has been apparent for decades but little is known about why it’s happening.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse in the U.S. found in an annual survey that past-year use of illicit drugs other than marijuana was at the lowest level in 40 years for students in grades 8, 10 and 12. The institute vows to study the potential connection between technology and declining drug use.

According to Canada’s Centre for Addiction and Mental Health research, overall drug use among Ontario youth in Grades 7, 9, and 11 has seen a general decline since 1977, with many peaks and valleys over that time.

In 2015, the Canadian Tobacco, Alcohol and Drugs Survey found that 21 per cent of those aged 15 to 19 had used at least one illicit drug, including cannabis, in the previous year. That compares with 23 per cent in 2013.

UNICEF studies found Canadian teens used marijuana more than any other developed country in 2002 and 2009, but the rate of use declined from 38 per cent to 28 per cent in that time.