The Effects of Scientific and Technological Advances on Addiction and Recovery Part 3 Social Media Addiction
Ongoing ONE80CENTER Series
The Effects of Scientific and Technological Advances
on Addiction and Recovery
The Science Of Replacement Addictions -
New Nigerian Study Shows The Technologies Of Facebook, Twitter, And Texting To Be Addictive
Facebook, Twitter and other forms of social media, including texting and the general use of Smartphone technology, can be as addictive as cocaine according to a new Nigerian study. Experts caution that obsessive use of social media is addictive and dangerous. ONE80CENTER believes this study also contributes to the emerging science of replacement addictions. Replacement addictions is a term used to describe how addicts find other outlets of escapist behavior once they become sober. Whether the obsessive problem revolves around posting on Facebook, constant Tweeting, texting as the central method of communication or incessant pinging, all of these social media technologies have rapidly become part of the fabric of the society, especially among the younger generation.
It is true that these are all beneficial communication tools for technology-savvy individuals that can be employed for social, commercial, and political purposes. But for many young people in particular, these tools are replacing traditional forms of communication. They are more comfortable using mobile technologies to interact, making an effort to avoid face-to-face encounters. Such new forms of communication quickly become connected to an obsessive-compulsive need that mirrors addiction. Through the Internet and mobile technology, social media has created a realm where users constantly share information, track responses, and explore news and opinion in a transparent environment. Is it surprising that a 2011 report by CNN stated that Facebook accounted for more web traffic than Google?
Is Social Media Addiction A Replacement Addiction?
As a replacement addiction, social media fools the recovering addict into a belief that they truly are reaching out and being part of a community. Although such virtual communities are valid, they cannot replace the fellowship and presence provided by 12 Step meetings and direct forms of identification and empathy. How often have you seen people at the same table avoiding any form of direct interaction by focusing on their Smartphones. In fact, the younger generation often communicates through texting each other and updating their Twitter while sitting at the same table. But is this an indication of an addiction to the technology? Does it actually imply that social media can be as addictive as cocaine?
Researchers at the University College Hospital in Nigeria compared brain scans of 17 men and women who were diagnosed with Internet addiction disorder with the brain scans of 17 people who were not addicted to surfing the web. The subjects were between the ages of 14 and 21 and lived in China. The report said that the researchers found more “abnormal white matter” in the Internet addicted individuals. Abnormal white matter can disrupt pathways in the brain related to emotions, self-control and decision-making.
The first type of individuals that were recognized as having serious Internet addiction were gamers who spend long hours playing computer and video games to the extent that the gaming impairs their quality of life. The addiction in some gamers results in an inability to emotionally connect with anything outside the game. It can interfere with school, work, family and social relationships. It is similar to social media addiction. Individuals with obsessive Facebook and social media addiction may experience withdrawal symptoms when they are prevented from having their usual amount of Internet access. When they wake up, the first thing they often need to do is check their Facebook account or update their Twitter. And this is also the last thing they do at night, reflecting the behaviors of an addict. The first and last thing heroin addicts do in the morning and at night is use. Many cocaine addicts cut out a line by their bed to snort when they wake up in the morning.
Like such addicts, social media-addicted individuals are not able to go for more than a day without access to their computers and Smartphones. Even if they are not updating their Facebook status constantly, they check Facebook to see the updates of their friends many times during the day. A study involving students who sought to go without social media and Internet connections for 24 hours recorded what happened to them. The result was the following list of feelings and reactions: fretful, confused, anxious , irritable, insecure, nervous, restless, crazy, jealous, angry, lonely, depressed and jittery and paranoid. This is exactly what the video gaming studies found as well. What is even more surprising is that other studies have found similar changes in “white matter” in people who are addicted to alcohol, cocaine, heroin and marijuana.
Nigerian Study Validates Social Media Addiction
Professor Oye Gureje, a consultant psychiatrist at the University College Hospital in Nigeria, described addiction as anything that is done in excess that leads to repetitive behaviors. The general public’s understanding of addiction seems to be growing, with a more general acceptance of the scientific reality that it is a disease, not a personal weakness. At the same time, non-chemical addictions such as gambling, sex, food, even video games or the Internet are misunderstood and often denied by the general public. “Certainly not all people that use the Internet end up becoming addicted,” explained Professor Gureje about social media addiction, “ but like every habit, some people are more vulnerable to developing an addiction than others. Some people have a higher a vulnerability to different kinds of stimulating or exciting habits. Vulnerability can be genetic, meaning it can be personality based and those who have that kind of predisposition or vulnerability may become addicted. It is the same way that not everyone who experiments with illegal drugs, alcohol or any addictive substance who will eventually become addicted.”
What is so intriguing is that ONE80CENTER has witnessed the same behaviors in the evolution of the science of replacement addictions. When addicts in early recovery become uncomfortable, they look for ways to find relief. With the prevalence of Internet connections and Smartphones, it is not surprising that social media and texting obsessive behaviors are on the rise as replacement addictions. What is essential is to recognize that all new technology that is widely adopted is a double-edged blade. Although a definite bonus with positive implications, it also can be a serious problem with negative potential and addictive outcomes.
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