Are you an addict?

Addiction is not just limited to drugs or alcohol. There are addictions known as ‘process’ addictions, such as sex, love, codependency, gambling – and social media. Addiction is defined by CAMH as having the four c’s:

  • Craving
  • Loss of control of amount or frequency of use
  • Compulsion to use
  • Use despite consequences

Sound familiar? Thinking about these criteria makes social media addiction feel much more real; the symptoms laid out are fairly obvious in many people’s lives. For instance, feeling exhausted because of staying up on the phone the night before, and doing the same thing that night. Or, looking at pictures of your ex on Facebook, feeling sad about it, but feeling the need to keep going. These are compulsive behaviours that we still do despite the consequences.

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A poll I posted on Twitter (SOURCE: Twitter)

“Facebook depression” is a new term proposed by researchers, defined as “depression that develops when preteens and teens spend a great deal of time on social media sites, such as Facebook, and then begin to exhibit classic symptoms of depression” (O’Keeffe and Clarke-Pearson, 2011). Using social media can lead to feelings of isolation and loneliness – for example seeing a group of your close friends hanging out without you, or not getting enough ‘likes’ on your profile picture. Social acceptance is a huge part of adolescent life, and comparing yourself to others on social media can have dangerous effects, so why do we still do it?

Addiction has damaging consequences (SOURCE: Alice Stobart)

Last year, I decided that I had had enough of having social media in my pocket, and I ditched my smartphone for a Samsung ‘brick’ phone – capable of texts and calls only. I have to say, it was liberating, but also highly frustrating. On the one hand, I was more focused, I was getting more sleep, I was able to have proper conversations with people and I was more present in day to day life. But I also realised just how much social media and smartphones have taken over society. While I was sitting ready to have a real conversation with people, they were using their phones. Not being connected at all times made me realise just how important social media seems to be to peoples’ lives; more to the point, it made me realise how important it had been to my life.

The BBC quoted a therapist who specialises in social media addiction, who said that it can be worse than substance abuse due to the lack of stigma. People don’t believe that it’s an addiction because there are no obviously devastating effects. Social media doesn’t render someone homeless, or directly kill them. However, there have been reports of teen suicides at the hand of social media, which is a harsh reality.

Scientifically, addiction comes from the desire to get the dopamine kick that comes with social media. Think about getting those little red notifications: you don’t know what they are, you don’t know who they’re from… You want to click on it to find out. Think about the likes flowing in on your new profile picture. Who’s liked it? Who’s loved it? Who’s commented? The need to know becomes compulsive, and each like, comment, share, retweet and favourite gives us a little shot of dopamine. This dopamine makes us happy, and so it reinforces the behaviour that has caused it – hence dopamine having received the nickname “reward molecule” from scientists. Over time, the dopamine reward isn’t enough and more is needed; therefore, more of the behaviour is needed to get it.

A clinical psychologist explained her thoughts on digital addiction to me, and said that the amount of access had to the internet puts the young and vulnerable at risk of “inappropriate superficial interactions that can be dangerous and high risk, contributing to depression, self-harm and other mental health issues”. She said that many of her clients’ problems with their children revolve around the amount of time spent on social media and the internet, and the aggression that the child shows when the parent limits the time period or tries to remove the devices.

It’s not surprising that social media is so addictive – there are hundreds of developers whose sole job is to update the software to get more users, and keep those users hooked. According to YCHARTS, Facebook has spent 1.8 billion on research and development in the last quarter.

I ran an open survey to find out how people used social media.

31% of people said they check their social media within five minutes of waking up, and 64% said within ten minutes. When it came to the phenomenon of ‘Facebook stalking’ – scrolling through someone’s social media – 88% of participants said that they do it. I asked if people had ever used social media to check up on an ex-partner.

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My survey (SOURCE: Surveymonkey)

20% said this did not apply to them, but 75% of people said yes – leaving only 5% of people that had not ‘social media stalked’ an ex-partner. This ability to so-called ‘stalk’ someone online is another danger of the social media generation, and one that we’re pretty much all secretly guilty of.

99 Days Of Freedom is a website that acts as a social experiment to see if you can last 99 days without Facebook. Unsurprisingly, most people cannot do it. Could you?

So I ask again: are you an addict?

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