Compulsive Social Media Use May Be Linked With Substance Abuse
The study evaluated 292 undergraduate students, aged 18 or older, using modified diagnostic criteria that are commonly used to assess alcohol use disorders. The questions were adjusted to assess the students’ behaviors, thoughts and emotions during the use of social media websites like Facebook to see whether they were comparable to the behavior and mental state of people who are addicted to alcohol.
Compulsive Social Media Use Creates Symptoms Similar to Alcoholism
The students were asked about the frequency of their Facebook use and whether they received instant notifications of Facebook activity on their phones. They were asked questions such as “Do you check Facebook first thing in the morning?” and “How good does Facebook make you feel?”
Ten percent of the students who participated in the study met the criteria for disordered social media use. These individuals reported behaviors such as cravings for Facebook use, irritability when they were not able to access the site and gradually spending more and more hours surfing Facebook. These are classic symptoms of addiction that are seen with addiction to substances like alcohol.
The Albany research team identified certain characteristics of Facebook that may be helping to generate addiction-like behavior. New notifications, messages or friend requests stimulate feelings of reward that users want to experience again and again. In addition, the appearance of these rewards is unpredictable, which can encourage users to check Facebook repeatedly throughout the day.
Compulsive Facebook Users More Likely to Have Substance Use Disorders
In addition, Hormes and her fellow researchers found that the 10 percent of students who met the criteria for disordered social media use were more likely to have substance use disorders involving alcohol. The team hypothesizes that disordered social media use may be a symptom of poor emotional regulation. Strong susceptibility to outside emotional stimuli and poor regulation of emotions are risk factors for the development of both substance and behavioral addictions.
Hormes believes that the results of her study may help compulsive social media use to eventually be officially classified as a behavioral addiction. Mounting evidence that disordered social media use and substance addictions share both risk factors and symptoms may eventually convince the medical community that social media can lead to genuine behavioral addiction that requires expert recognition and treatment.
Currently, the only behavioral addiction officially recognized by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) is gambling addiction. However, the inclusion of gambling addiction in the most recent edition encouraged researchers who are currently exploring other sources of compulsive behavior.
Social Media Is Potentially Addictive, and Everywhere
The addictive potential of social media is particularly relevant and worrisome because of the incredibly widespread use of social media in developed countries, particularly among young people. Eight hundred million people log onto Facebook on a daily basis, and 90 percent of the respondents in the Albany study had active Facebook accounts. In addition, social media is increasingly with us wherever we go, with approximately 71 percent of Facebook users now accessing the site through smartphones and other mobile devices.