We hear all the time about how social media and services like Facebook have become an addiction for some people. But how bad is it really? Is it a serious addiction, or just a behavior problem? Itech Post http://www.itechpost.com/articles/72267/20170107/social-media-addiction-studies-find-it-is-as-bad-as-smoking.htm reports that “The need for validation seems to be the main reason for people’s addiction over it.” So what is really happening is that people who get “addicted” to social media are really addicted to the validation that they get from other people. For them, this is how they get a buzz, when people see what they had for lunch and give it a like or a thumbs up.
But this seeking of validation is what is getting people to become miserable. The New York Post http://nypost.com/2016/12/22/your-social-media-addiction-is-giving-you-depression/ says that “A study found that people who use anywhere from seven to 10 social-media platforms are three times more likely to be depressed or anxious, compared to those using no more than two.” So in other words, getting the validation from social media feels really good when it happens, but then eventually the person gets addicted to that good feeling that comes from the validation, and then they are basically dependent on it. They come to define their happiness on the number of “likes” that they receive from a given post. If they are not getting lots of validation on social media then they are not allowing themselves to feel happy.
Does this qualify as a real addiction? That is the topic of much debate, and it is still unfolding around us as we begin to study it more and more.
There are certain qualities of an addiction that need to be considered. One quality would be that of tolerance: When the addict uses social media, they eventually have to use more and more of it in order to get the same effect. In this regard I think you could make an argument that people who are addicted to Facebook have to keep getting new validation every day, but not necessarily in increasing amounts. So it almost seems like in terms of tolerance, social media fails the test and is not a real addiction.
Second of all you have the idea of withdrawal symptoms. When a person stops using social media, do the experience significant mental and possibly physical withdrawal symptoms as a result? It would be difficult to convince anyone that you are suffering physically as a result of Facebook withdrawal, but you could definitely make an argument that you are going through psychological withdrawal.
Then there is the phenomenon of obsessive and compulsive behavior. I think this definitely qualifies, as the mobile device ubiquity has made social media available 24/7, on demand, even while you are working or sleeping. In other words, there are people who are addicted to social media to the extent that they will sleep with their phone at their side and respond to comments as they wake up through the night. This also brings up another good point, which is the continued use of social media in the face of heavy consequences. Just like an alcoholic can lose their job and their family yet continue to drink, the social media addict can be losing sleep and perhaps be fired from a job for excessive cell phone use, yet continue to rely on social media validation every day in order to feel good about themselves.
It is still fairly early in our new world that has become dominated by mobile devices for us to know the full implications of how all of this technology is affecting us. Certainly we can see some trends and some warning signs developing already, and we see some extreme behaviors in certain people. But it is going to be important for us to delineate between a real full blown addiction and what basically amounts to a behavioral problem. The reason we must differentiate is because those disorders are treated differently. If we want to help alcoholics and we also want to help social media addicts then we need to fully understand the nature of their disorder so that we can get them the exact kind of help and therapy that is needed.
In other words, it might make sense to one day throw the Facebook addicts in with the Heroin addicts at a 12 step meeting. Then again, it might not make sense. And until we know more about the exact nature of these new technology based disorders it may just be too early to tell. Video game addiction is another interesting problem that we are still learning about. Again, whether it is a behavior issue or a full blown real addiction has still yet to be determined.
It is easy to make a broad statement and declare that everything is an addiction, from sex to food to gambling to Facebook. But recent studies have suggested that sexual addiction is not actually a real addiction, but rather is simply a behavior disorder and, as such, should be treated somewhat differently.
And that is the real point here: Until we know exactly what the nature of these disorders really are, we cannot hope to give people the best possible treatment for them. Knowing how to help people to overcome their addiction is the first step, then spreading awareness that there is an actual solution available is the second step.
Perhaps in the future we will have a much better understanding of these various addictions and behavior disorders and this will help to dictate the exact treatment that is given. Until then, the best we can do is to identify when a behavior is negatively impacting our lives, and then be aware enough to ask for help and get some sort of treatment or therapy. In any case, action trumps inaction. In any case, asking for help and guidance from others is nearly always the best advice.
One reason for this is because so many forms of addiction involve some level of denial. In other words, with nearly all of these disorders and addictions, we tell ourselves that we are fine, that everything is normal, that other people are just like us, that everyone is doing it, and that there is no real problem. Addiction always comes packaged with denial. Therefore the best course of action is almost always going to be asking someone else for help. We are our own worst enemy.
If you suspect that you may be addicted to social media, or simply using it far too much, you may consider the idea of doing a “media fast.” This can be a useful exercise for anyone, even if they aren’t overusing technology.
The idea is simple: Just stop using all tech for a certain length of time. If you want to get creative, organize a camping trip where there are no cell phone towers, and take your family or friends with you for a few days of blissful silence. Then, as you take this media fast, watch how you feel, pay attention to what your mind does during this time, so that you can learn more about yourself.
Many people even do this on a recurring basis, such as every Sunday. They make a strict rule for themselves and possibly for their entire household: No television, no media, no Internet, no gaming, no computers or mobile devices, no social media. It is astounding to see just how much fun you can still have in life when you are not glued to a screen every 5 seconds!