This post was originally published on December 18, 2014.
We’ve heard it before: social media can be detrimental to your well-being. And yet Internet addicts have come out on this very site. Now, according to a new study out of the University of Albany, there may be similarities between heavy social media use and substance abuse.
Let’s be clear that the study is not reporting that social media causes substance abuse. Rather, it’s saying that social media abuse may be a symptom that the user is at risk for other types of addiction.
In the study, over 290 undergraduates were asked about alcohol, social media, the Internet and their emotions. The participants took an Internet Addiction Test, which is, by the way, well worth the 10 or so minutes it will take you to fill out if you’d like to know how your Internet use is disrupting your life. The researchers found that those who had an intense relationship with social media were more likely to struggle with booze and the Internet at large as well as have trouble with those pesky emotions. Based on the number of messy house parties I attended in college that later had Facebook albums dedicated to the shenanigans, I’m actually surprised that there were undergrads that tested as not having problems in these areas.
Even with this information, Hormes tells the Huffington Post that it’s tough to know whether using social media to the point that it interrupts your life is a true addiction because there isn’t a substance to ingest. Essentially, it’s hard to reconcile that scientific side of needing definitive answers with what we know from studies so far. We now have centers in the world available to treat both Internet addiction and technology addiction. A US hospital has begun a treatment program for Internet addicts. We’ve already heard that being online too much can actually rewire our brains. All of that sounds like terrifying addiction to me. With all of these wheels now turning, it seems like the true addiction status of social media and the Internet might not be debatable for too much longer.
I know of what I speak. When I quit Facebook two years ago—by that I mean deactivated my account because the thought of it going away forever still causes me anxiety—it took me months before the urge to login to Facebook faded. If you ask any of my friends—or me—I was definitely an addict. I was chasing the high of Likes, ending up devastated when I didn’t get the number I wanted. I spent part of my therapy sessions dealing with social media-related anxiety. It might not have been a hard drug but it certainly was making me miserable and as a result I am careful around almost anything that could provoke an addiction of any kind. It’s just too easy. Hormes cites Facebook as having especially addictive properties with new content and notifications acting as rewards, getting us to come back for more of those sweet, sweet Likes.
So look. We know that social media can affect our brains to make us happy and depress us. We know that things are severe enough there are facilities dedicated to recovering from the Internet. Does that mean addicts need to go cold turkey on all their Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts, stifle every urge to #hashtag and beat themselves up every time they get a tiny high of a few Likes? Hell, no. If it’s not killing you, cure the addiction that is.
(Oh and hey, go like this post on Facebook, will you?)