Social Media Addiction: Assessment and Treatment
Given the accessibility and ease of use of Facebook whenever and wherever you are, it is no wonder more and more people are addicted to the popular social networking site. You may ask, what’s wrong if you use Facebook frequently as a means of entertainment, or as a means to relieve your stress? Well, there’s nothing wrong. However, when Facebook activities start interfering with your everyday life and become detrimental to your daily functioning at work or in school, you might have a problem.
The Signs of Facebook Addiction
Although Facebook Addiction is not a formal clinical diagnosis, it is fair to say that many people spend far too much time on Facebook and may at the very least describe themselves as being "obsessed", if not addicted. In recent years the mental health community has become increasingly interested in the impact that modern technology has on our lives - both positive and negative. On the positive side, technologies such as Skype, Facetime, and Facebook allow us to stay in contact with family and friends on the other side of the planet. Yet, unfortunately, people spend hours every day updating their status, uploading pictures, commenting on walls, playing Facebook games, reading updates from others, and searching for new friends to add. What I have termed as “Facebook Moms” has become real when many women, in particular, neglect other important responsibilities, commitments, or their children in favor of Facebook.
In my practice, I have found five key signs of Facebook addiction that hold true for those who suffer from this problem. The signs demonstrate obsessive or compulsive behavior:
- You spend a lot of time thinking about Facebook or planning how to use it. You feel a preoccupation to using Facebook or the immediate need to share. This may result in over-sharing. In an age of privacy, over-sharing stems from saying too much and then regretting what we said. Those who suffer from an addiction do not always judge what is appropriate or inappropriate to post due to their preoccupation with checking and responding, which leads to a constant engagement in the activity.
- You feel an urge to use Facebook more and more. This means checking out for any updates to your newsfeed or responses to your posts every time you do not know what to do. In other words, the default choice for your free time activity is to be on Facebook. You may leave your Facebook open in the background, switch between work or class assignments to the page every few minutes. Even when you are outside enjoying a drink with a friend, you log in to the Facebook app on your smartphone every now and then during brief moments of non-interactions.
- You use Facebook in order to forget about personal problems. One aspect of addiction is the ability to use the behavior as a psychological escape from problems. A person may had job or relationship problems and the addiction becomes a convenient way to temporarily soothe the underlying stress created by the problem. When using Facebook as an addiction, the user is distracted in whatever it is he or she is doing and finds it hard to be fully present at the moment. For addicts, they may take a significantly longer amount of time to complete simple tasks or maybe some of their friends may complain that they don’t pay enough attention to what they say. The use of Facebook then becomes a distraction from problems because one’s attention is always diverted with its use.
- You become restless or troubled if you are prohibited from using Facebook. With addiction, there is an element of withdrawal. We associated with withdrawal from drugs and alcohol and not necessarily behaviors but studies show that people can also go through withdrawal from additive behaviors like Pathological Gambling. When we talk about Facebook addiction, you may start to feel anxious if you can’t access your network. Perhaps you are someplace without cell service, people who feel addicted start to become restless or feel depressed when they are forced to go without access to Facebook.
- You use Facebook so much that it has had a negative impact on your relationships. As you get used to communicating on Facebook via messaging, sharing photos and posts, commenting and ‘liking’ others, it may come to a point when you get more comfortable socializing online than offline. You become over-reliant on Facebook to fulfill your social needs and may start sacrificing the time spent on real-life meet-ups for coffee with your friends. The behavior becomes unhealthy such that you become uncomfortable or fearful with face-to-face communication, which is a far richer experience than communicating online where one cannot actually see non-verbal communication as in the body language, gestures, and voice tones.
The Risk Factors of Social Media Addiction
In our work at the Center for Internet Addiction and Recovery, I am often asked about the nature of social media addiction. At first, being addicted to sites like Facebook and Instagram doesn’t sound very serious. A lot of people throw around the term “addicted” pretty lightly, but behavioral addictions, like those to spending time on social media, can be serious. We treat many young people with an addiction to social media. Often, it is correlated with other Internet applications that a teenager is addicted to such as online gaming or sexting. The focus becomes the digital world and the person is less engaged in the physical world of relationships.
Often, we treat teenagers with social anxiety and they use the social media sites to find validation and companionship missing in their real life or the physical world. Trends in our clinic suggest that certain teenagers are particularly at risk for developing an addiction to social media. This includes if a teenager struggles with an anxiety disorder or depression, he or she may be at risk for a social media addiction because he may use it as a way to distract himself from negative emotions and troubling thoughts. It can become an unhealthy habit. As with anxiety and depression, a teen with high stress may turn to social media to decompress and then develop a pattern that becomes addictive. Also a teen with a limited social life is more at risk. It may seem counterintuitive, but people with poor social skills are more likely to jump online to socialize and meet friends only to feel more comfortable opening up online to become an unhealthy habit.
We also frequently treat teens who suffer from a failure to fit in. When a teen doesn’t feel like he fits in, going online to socialize means he has access to a larger world than is available at school. This can be exhilarating for a shy teen who feels like an outcast among his peers. The issue of social media is by nature being social and this becomes a substitute for what is missing in the teen’s real life. Finally, teenagers who struggle with addiction, whether to substances or another type of behavior, is at a greater risk for becoming addicted to social media. They often use addictions as a psychological escape and social media becomes another way of achieving that goal.
How can someone get help?
Treatment options for Facebook addicts is limited as clinic specializing in this condition are only slowly emerging. In a general sense, treatment for Internet addiction disorders include inpatient, outpatient, aftercare support, and self-help groups. Treatment options may also include family counseling, support groups, and educational workshops for addicts and their families to help them understand the facets of belief and family life that are part of the addiction. Unlike recovering alcoholics who must abstain from drinking for life, treatment for Internet addiction focuses on moderation and controlled use of the Internet, much in the way those suffering from eating disorders must relearn healthy eating patterns and strategies to address the underlying problems in a person’s life creating the need to use the food or the Internet as a way of escape.
At the Center for Internet Addiction and Recovery, those who are addicted to social media must follow a few initial changes in their use. First, they must admit that they have a problem. Treatment and recovery doesn’t work unless the addict is no longer in denial. Second, they must turn off all notifications so they aren’t tempted to check for new posts and updates. Third, they need to carefully reschedule when they check Facebook. Instead of randomly checking for new likes or posts or updates, they can only access it twice a day. This must be restricted like a digital diet so that their intake is cut down much like a food addict that does not want to eat as much. The first steps is reducing how much time the application is used. Finally, we need to help the addict find alternative ways of communicating, especially using more face-to-face strategies. The addict needs to connect with friends using phone calls instead of text messaging. go out without taking selfies, and get out with friends instead of being on Facebook.
Overall, treatment strategies focus on a balanced use of technology in general and limitations to social media in general with an encouragement for engagement in offline activities and relationships. Treatment also should look at ways that Facebook addicts can develop a healthy digital diet so that when they go online to moderate their overall daily use of technology and devices. For more information on treatment, please visit the Center for Internet Addiction and Recovery at http://netaddiction.com which includes assessment tools and educational resources.