SOCIAL MEDIA ADDICTION

By Dr. Lawrence Wilson

© March 2015, L.D. Wilson Consultants, Inc.

 

All information in this article is for educational purposes only.  It is not for the diagnosis, treatment, prescription or cure of any disease or health condition.

 

Social networking sites such as Facebook, MySpace, Twitter and dozens of others allow people to stay in touch like never before.  However, some people spend so much time on these sites that it begins to interfere with their lives.  Psychologists are referring to this as a social networking compulsion or addiction.

 

WHAT IS AN ADDICTION?

 

Signs of an addiction include:

 

1. The habit or behavior causes some kind of pleasurable sensation.

2. However, in reality the habit is weakening the person in some way, because one begins to need more of the habit to get the same effect.

3. Symptoms of suffering or withdrawal occur when the habit is stopped.  As a result, stopping the habit is not so easy, and often unsuccessful.

4. The behavior or habit conflicts with everyday responsibilities, such as family, work or social obligations.

5. Often one will begin to lie, steal or exhibit other negative behaviors, if needed, to maintain the habit or behavior.  This indicates that the habit or behavior now controls the person’s life, and not the other way around.

 

SIGNS OF A SOCIAL MEDIA ADDICTION OR COMPULSION

 

As with alcohol or caffeine, some people are able to handle the social media revolution that is sweeping the planet earth.  However, more and more people are not able to handle it.  Here are some signs to look for that indicate a problem with social media:

 

1. Spending more than one hour daily at social media sites.  Some would say one should not spend more than half an hour daily.

 

2. Checking Facebook whenever possible. Some people leave the program open and switch back and forth to it while working, for example.  Others use a phone App to check it while eating lunch with friends, for example.  This is extremely rude, but one observes it a lot.

 

3.  Over-sharing.  In an age when many people are very concerned about their privacy, some people are sharing very private information or photos with their Facebook friends or on other sites.  A possible reason for this is to gain approval or acknowledgment from peers.  This is sometimes called the need for social affirmation.

 

4. Hearing from friends and family that you are spending too much time on the social networking sites.

 

5. Interference with work, school performance or your offline social life.  Some studies report that too much time on the social media can reduce work performance and even lead to job loss.  It can also cause lower school grades. 

Some people also become more comfortable with the often superficial banter on the social networking sites than they are with real face-to-face social relationships.  One can become over-reliant on Facebook to fulfill social needs, and one may start sacrificing real-life socializing.

 

6. Withdrawal symptoms if you try to cut down on the time you spend on social media.

 

7. Obsessive thoughts about “friends” or other aspects of the social media.  For example, some people spend much time deciding what to post, how to update their page, or how to answer “friends” on Facebook.  Often, they try to think of happy, clever and fun ideas or statements, even if this is not the way they really feel.  However, they do not want friends to know how they really feel, as they might not continue as friends if they knew.

Another example is spending more than fifteen minutes thinking about what you ought to type for your status update.   Afterwards, do you eagerly anticipate how others will respond to it?

 

8. Reporting.  There are “friends” who often appear on our newsfeed with some status update, check-in, posting of their photos and such.

Their posts tend to be on very mundane matters, much like how someone reports to another what he or she is doing at any given moment. They report to you their daily routines (e.g. taking a piss), broadcast check-ins to uninteresting places like the street they live in, upload self-portraits and such.

 

9. Looking for new Facebook friends in an almost competitive way.  Research by psychologists from Edinburgh Napier University found that Facebook users with more friends on their network tend to be more stressed when using Facebook. The more friends you have, the more you feel pressured to maintain appropriate etiquette for different types of friends while remaining entertaining. In other words, the competition in adding friends may result in a vicious cycle of increasing Facebook-related tensions, resulting in worse addiction outcomes.

 

10.  Escapism.  If you are using your time on the social media to avoid conflicts or problems that are occurring in your real life.  You can know this because when you are “down”, you turn to Facebook or another social media site to feel better.

 

11. Losing sleep to go on Facebook or other sites.  It is bad enough if your social networking interferes with your daily work and studies.  However, it is really out of hand if you stay up late at night to check Facebook, for example, or must wake up early to check it in the morning.  Staying up late is one characteristic of those who overuse social networking sites, according to some studies. 

 

THE BERGEN FACEBOOK ADDICTION SCALE

 

A Dr. Andraessen and colleagues in Norway have suggested a scale to measure Facebook addiction.  They call it the BFAS or Bergen Facebook Addiction Scale.  It contains six basic criteria.  Participants are asked to give one the following 5 responses to each one: (1) Very rarely, (2) Rarely, (3) Sometimes, (4) Often, and (5) Very often. 

If you mark “often” or “very often” on four or more of the following criteria, it is likely you have a social media compulsion or addiction.  Here are the criteria:

 

1. You spend a lot of time thinking about Facebook or planning how to use it.

 

2. You feel an urge to use Facebook more and more.

 

3. You use Facebook in order to forget about personal problems.

 

4. You have tried to cut down on the use of Facebook without success.

 

5. You become restless or troubled if you are prohibited from using Facebook.

 

6. You use Facebook so much that it has had a negative impact on your job/studies.

 

OTHER STUDIES OF SOCIAL MEDIA EFFECTS

 

The International Business Times (UK) reported on research from Tel Aviv University in Israel.  Researchers found that social networking sites like Facebook can have a great deal of negative influence on the user's mental health.

The researchers have linked psychotic episodes in patients to internet addiction and delusions caused as a result of virtual relationships cultivated on social networking sites.

For the study, the researchers studied three patients who were involved in intense virtual relationships, in order to escape loneliness.  All the participants had a common underlying problem of loneliness, but none of them were drug abusers or had any history of psychosis.

"As internet access becomes increasingly widespread, so do related psychopathologies," said lead researcher Dr Uri Nitzan of Tel Aviv University's Sackler Faculty of Medicine and the Shalvata Mental Health Care Centre.

The study suggested that though the virtual relationships did bring solace to the patients initially, feelings of hurt, betrayal and invasion of privacy soon followed.

“In each case, a connection was found between the gradual development and exacerbation of psychotic symptoms, including delusions, anxiety, confusion, and intensified use of computer communications.

The good news is that all of the patients, who willingly sought out treatment on their own, were able to make a full recovery with proper treatment and care.

Nitzan added that patients were experiencing delusions brought on by the person behind the screen and their connection through the computer.  Two patients also felt vulnerable because of the personal information they shared with a stranger, while hallucinating that the person on the other side of the screen was physically touching them.

"Some of the problematic features of the internet relate to issues of geographical and spatial distortion, the absence of non-verbal cues, and the tendency to idealize the person with whom someone is communicating, becoming intimate without ever meeting face-to-face," Nitzan added.

Nitzan also warned doctors not to underestimate the internet's influence on patients while speaking to them.

"How people conduct themselves on the internet is quite important to psychiatrists, who shouldn't ignore this dimension of their patients' behavior patterns," Nitzan said.

He said that being too much in touch with the virtual world can "contribute to a patient's break with reality," subsequently leading to a psychotic state.  The paper was published in the Israel Journal of Psychiatry and Related Sciences.

 

Withdrawal study.  A recent study by researchers at University of Winchester concluded that "addicts" of Facebook and micro-blogging site Twitter faced withdrawal symptoms when they were denied access to their accounts for four weeks.

Another study by German scientists concluded that one in every three Facebook user experiences feelings of jealousy and envy after spending time on the site. 

 

Men versus women. In a 2012 study at the University of Gothenburg, researchers concluded that while women on average spent 81 minutes per day on Facebook, men spent 64 minutes. The study also found that the poorly educated were most likely to be addicted to the site.

 

Envy And Jelousy. A German study revealed that significant emotional damage was experienced by users who were looking at positive posts and posts of Facebook friends who were smiling and looking happy.  In some respects, Facebook has become the place for people to flaunt their successes.  When was the last time you saw anyone post something bad or embarrassing that happened to them?

For individuals in their mid-30s and 40s, Facebook envy was most often experienced by women looking at postings or photographs related to family happiness or physical attractiveness.

The recent German study is not the first to study the social effects of Facebook.  In fact, a study published in December 2012 found the more time college students spent on Facebook, the worse they felt about their own lives.  Some may argue that Facebook is efficient in disbursing virtual empathy since people feel good when a lot of people wish them on their birthday.  The reality, however, is that the numbers game of “likes” can create a compulsion or addiction.

It would be interesting to evaluate through a functional MRI if there are new parts of the brain that light up as we get more likes and acceptance on Facebook and whether they are the same areas that light up when we satisfy our craving for food, sex or drugs.  

 

WHAT TO DO IF YOU HAVE A SOCIAL MEDIA ADDICTION

 

            If you notice you are spending too much time on Facebook or another site, or it is interfering with the rest of your life, here are some tips:

 

1. Admit you have a problem.  Do not deny the problem.

2. Figure out exactly how much time you are spending on the social site.  Use a kitchen timer, perhaps, to find out. Then decide you will only spend up to one hour daily at the site and time it to make sure.

3. Turn off notifications.

4. Set aside a fixed time each day to check Facebook, and stick with this schedule.

5. Figure out or ask others if you have some other problem of issue that you are running away from by spending time on Facebook or elsewhere.  Deal with the real underlying issue and stop running away.

6. Perhaps take a breather from Facebook for a month.  See how you feel without it, and work instead on your offline social life, school life and work life.  You may be surprised at how rewarding this can be.

8.  Make a list of things you would rather be doing than spending time on Facebook.  Then start planning and doing these things.

9.  In some cases, the best idea is to just block Facebook and do not tempt yourself with it.  This is like deciding you don’t need alcohol, cigarettes, caffeine or other things that just tempt the body or mind.

 

SUMMARY OF PROBLEMS OF SPENDING TOO MUCH TIME ON FACEBOOK OR OTHER SOCIAL NETWORKING SITES

 

1. Wasting time. The social media habit can become a massive distraction and time waster.  I am not referring to those who use social networking for business purposes.

 

2. Leaving this reality.  The social networking sites can take a person out of physical reality and into a fake world populated by so-called friends, even if they are not really one’s true friends.  They are generally a happy-go-lucky bunch of people who share your own world view, which is usually a limited one, in my experience.  Divorcing oneself from physical reality is often dangerous and stupid.

 

3. Lowered self-esteem. This has been explained above.

 

4. Danger from predators.  These can be sexual predators, identity thieves and others.  Sharing too much information and photos about yourself and your activities is just not that safe.

 

WHO IS ON FACEBOOK?

 

Studies indicate there are three groups of people, primarily, using Facebook.

Lonely.  The first, and largest group, are what some people call the lonely people.  They like the social interaction and often the safety of the internet.

Some, particularly women, prefer the internet over personal relationships, which many are afraid of due to past abuse, trauma, rape or other problems.  However, their lack of a real social life makes them a little lonely.  Most are lower middle class or poor, often liberally-oriented, loose sexually, and on government welfare programs.

Hustlers.  The second group I will call the hustlers.  These people also like the social interaction.  However, they are usually business people such as real estate agents or sales people who use Facebook to sell their wares.   There are many fewer of these. 

Some are quite successful with it, in a business sense.  They take advantage of the first group, at times, by sending out messages and being friends with many of them, in an effort to sell them products.  Some also bargain for sex and other things on Facebook.

Predators. The third and probably smallest group are the predators.  These are the ones to be careful of.  Most are men, and they are up to no good. They scan Facebook, become “friends”, and spot women for rape and dating, usually for sex, though, not for love.

 

As a result of all the above, I do not suggest using Facebook at all.  If you feel you must use it, strictly limit it and look for signs that you are overdoing it.

 

PHONE ADDICTION AND TEXTING

 

Services such as instant messaging and unlimited texting on phones has made texting a simple and inexpensive option that leads some children and adults to overuse it.  Here are 10 signs your child may be addicted to texting:

 

1. Calluses on thumbs – Check your child’s thumbs for calluses. This is a clear sign that texting is getting out of hand. Your child may also start complaining about pain or cramps in the thumbs. This can be caused by severe overuse of the common digits used for texting, and warning bells should be ringing.

2. Runs into things – Is your child constantly running into things?  Children who are addicted to texting pay more attention to their phones than where they’re going, and take little notice of any obstacles that may be in their way.

3. Deformed neck – Does your child have a permanently bowed head because of a neck deformity? By looking down at a phone for extended periods of time, growing children can end up with a deformed neck.

4. Speaks in acronyms – When your child actually talks to you instead of texting, do they speak in acronyms? Are they commonly saying things like OMG and LOL? If you find yourself beginning to wonder if they’ve learned a new language, you’re right. The inability to speak in complete sentences using real words is a clear sign of texting addiction.

5. Attached to phone – Has your child’s phone become a part of their anatomy? Are they continually within arm’s reach of their phone at all times? Are they constantly checking it for new messages? This is another sign you should be concerned.

6. Unaware of surroundings – Is your child somewhat oblivious to his surroundings?  For example, is the child unaware of spectacular sunsets? Children who are addicted to texting become so focused on their phones they ignore everything else.

7. Takes phone to bed – Is your child taking his phone to bed? Some kids will spend all night texting with their friends while their parents are completely unaware. This can lead to serious sleep deprivation and teachers will find them nodding off at school. If you suspect this, make sure the phone stays with you at bedtime each day.

8. Panics attacks – If your son or daughter loses their phone, do they go into a panic attack? Children who are addicted to texting become completely unhinged when separated from their phones. This is a serious sign of addiction that needs to be addressed.

9. Unable to function otherwise – If you take the phone away from your child, is he completely unable to function without it? Kids with serious texting addictions can have trouble functioning without the constant connection to others texting gives them.

10. Combative behavior – Does your child become combative when you confront him with his texting problem? This behavior is another sign of addiction.

 

SIGNS OF PHONE ADDICTION IN ADULTS

 

1.  Texting because you are bored and desperate to talk to anyone.

2.  Texting when eating out with friends at a restaurant, or while eating at home.

3.  Texting someone who is in close proximity to you, such as someone sitting next to you in the car or in a room.

4.  Paying more attention to your phone, than the people and surroundings around you.

 

WHAT TO DO ABOUT TEXTING ADDICTION

 

            This can be difficult in some cases.  For children, do not allow children to have the texting function.  Also, do not give a phone to a small child who may be less in control of his behavior.  Also, do not substitute the idea that your children carry a phone for knowing exactly where your children are at all times. 

While the phone can be a safety device, it can be dangerous if not used correctly.  Definitely do not allow teenagers to use a phone while driving, for example, either for talking or texting.  If you find out your teen is using a phone while driving, I would take away the phone and ground the teen for a month.  This is how dangerous using a phone while driving can be.  You, of course, must set the example for your children in all of this.

If you have the texting addiction, do not use the texting function, preferably do not carry a phone around with you, or use the phone for emergency purposes only when away from home.  Perhaps sign up for a plan that limits your use of the phone, or does not permit or charges for texting.  Seek professional help if the addiction persists, as usually there is an underlying issue that needs attention.

 

References

1. The Psychology of Facebook

2. http://www.foxnews.com/health/2013/01/24/addicted-to-facebook-study-shows-users-are-lonelier/#ixzz2UWxpPs00

 

 

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