Social Media Addiction

Some studies report that too much time on social media can reduce work performance and even lead to job loss.

Some studies report that too much time on social media can reduce work performance and even lead to job loss.

by Dr. Larry Wilson —

Social networking sites such as Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter and dozens of others allow people to stay in touch as never before. However, some people spend so much time on these sites that it begins to interfere with their lives. Psychologists are referring to this as a social networking compulsion or addiction.

What is addiction?

Addiction is a habit or behavior that causes some kind of pleasurable sensation and/or weakens a person in some way, with more of it needed to get the same pleasurable effect. When the habit or behavior is discontinued, symptoms of withdrawal can occur. Attempts to stop the habit are often unsuccessful.

Another sign of addiction is that the habit or behavior conflicts with everyday responsibilities, such as family, work or social obligations. To maintain the habit or behavior, the addict may begin to lie, steal or engage in other negative actions. Ultimately the person’s life is controlled and consumed by the habit.

Signs of a social media addiction or compulsion 

Some people are able to handle the social media revolution that is sweeping the planet, just as with alcohol or caffeine. However, more and more people are unable to keep it in perspective. Some signs to look for that might indicate an addiction/compulsion to social media sites include:

1. Spending more than one hour per day on social media sites.

2. Checking Facebook whenever possible. Some people keep social media sites open all day and switch back and forth to them, even while at work. Others use a phone app to check in while eating lunch with friends, which can be construed as extremely rude, even if this has become a social norm.

3. Sharing too much information. In an age when many people are concerned about their privacy, some people are sharing excessive personal information or photos with their Facebook friends and on other sites. A possible explanation for this is to gain approval or acknowledgment from peers — the need for social affirmation.

4. Hearing from friends and family that too much time is spent on the social networking sites.

5. Interfering with work, school performance or an offline social life. Too much time on social media sites can cause a decline in school grades, reduce work performance and even lead to job loss.

Some people also become more comfortable with the superficial banter on the social networking sites than they are with real face-to-face social relationships. Anyone who becomes overly reliant on Facebook to fulfill social needs may start sacrificing real-life socialization.

6. Experiencing withdrawal symptoms if the time spent on social media sites is curtailed.

7. Obsessing about social media friends or other aspects of it. For example, some people spend too much time deciding what to post, how to update their page or how to answer a friend’s posts. Often, they try to think of happy and clever statements, even if this is not how they really feel. In reality, they do not want friends to know their true feelings, as they believe they might lose them as friends.

Another example is if one spends more than 15 minutes thinking about what to type for a social media status update or obsessing about how others will respond to it.

8. Reporting too much information. Social media friends often appear on a newsfeed with a status update, check-in or photo posts. These posts tend to be on very mundane matters like their daily routines, check-ins to uninteresting places, such as the street they live on and uploads of self-portraits.

9. Looking for new Facebook friends as a competition. Research by psychologists from Edinburgh Napier University found that Facebook users with more friends on their network tended to be more stressed when using Facebook. In fact, the more friends people had, the more pressure they endured to maintain appropriate etiquette for posts while keeping them entertaining. In other words, the competition about adding friends to one’s social media sites can result in a vicious cycle of increasing Facebook-related tensions, thus resulting in worse addiction outcomes.

10. Escapism by using time on social media sites to avoid real-life conflicts or problems. Facebook or other social media sites are often used as a boost when feeling down.

11. Losing sleep to sign on to Facebook or other sites. It is bad enough when social networking interferes with daily work and studies, but even worse to purposely stay up late at night or wake up early in the morning to check the sites. Some studies indicate staying up late as a similar characteristic in those who overuse social networking sites.

The Bergan Facebook Addiction Scale

Spearheaded by Dr. Cecilie Shou Andreassen, researchers at the University of Bergen in Norway have identified six basic criteria to measure Facebook addiction. They call it the Bergen Facebook Addiction Scale (BFAS). Participants select one of the following responses to each statement: (1) Very rarely, (2) Rarely, (3) Sometimes, (4) Often and (5) Very often. If “often” or “very often” is the response to four or more of the following criteria, a social media compulsion or addiction likely exists.

  1. You spend a lot of time thinking about Facebook or planning how to use it.
  2. You feel an urge to use Facebook more and more.
  3. You use Facebook in order to forget personal problems.
  4. You have tried to cut down on the use of Facebook without success.
  5. You become restless or troubled if you are prohibited from using Facebook.
  6. You use Facebook so much that it has had a negative impact on your job/studies.

Other studies of social media effects

The International Business Times (UK) reported on research from Tel Aviv University in Israel. Researchers there found that social networking sites can have a great deal of negative influence on the user’s mental health.

They have linked psychotic episodes and delusions in their patients to Internet addiction and virtual relationships cultivated on social networking sites.

The researchers studied three patients who were involved in intense virtual relationships in order to escape loneliness. Each participant had an underlying problem of loneliness, but none were drug abusers or had any prior history of psychosis. “As Internet access becomes increasingly widespread, so do related psychopathologies,” said lead researcher, Dr. Uri Nitzan.

The study suggested that although the virtual relationships initially did bring solace to the patients, feelings of hurt, betrayal and invasion of privacy soon followed. “In each case, a connection was found between the gradual development and exacerbation of psychotic symptoms, including delusions, anxiety, confusion and intensified use of computer communications.”

Nitzan added that patients experienced delusions that were brought on by the person behind the screen and the connection through the computer. Two of the patients felt especially vulnerable because of the personal information they shared with a stranger, while hallucinating that the person on the other side of the screen was physically touching them.

“Some of the problematic features of the Internet relate to issues of geographical and spatial distortion, the absence of nonverbal cues and the tendency to idealize the person with whom someone is communicating and becoming intimate without ever meeting face to face,” Nitzan added.

Nitzan also warned medical professionals not to underestimate the influence of the Internet on patients while speaking with them. “How people conduct themselves on the Internet is quite important to psychiatrists, who should not ignore this dimension of their patients’ behavior patterns.” He said that being too much in touch with the virtual world can “contribute to a patient’s break with reality,” subsequently leading to a psychotic state.

A recent addiction withdrawal study by researchers at the University of Winchester concluded that addicts of Facebook and Twitter faced withdrawal symptoms when they were denied access to their accounts for four weeks. The good news is that all of the patients who willingly sought out treatment on their own behalf made a full recovery with proper treatment and care.

In a 2012 study at the University of Gothenburg, researchers concluded that women spent an average of 81 minutes per day on Facebook and men spent an average of 64 minutes. The study also found that less educated users were more likely to become social media site addicts.

Another study by German scientists concluded that one in every three Facebook user experienced feelings of jealousy and envy after spending time on the site. It revealed that significant emotional damage was experienced by users who were looking at positive photos and posts of Facebook friends who appeared happy. In some respects, Facebook has become the place for people to flaunt their successes. It is rare that people post something negative or embarrassing about themselves.

Among individuals in their mid-30s and -40s, Facebook envy was most often experienced by women who looked at postings or photographs related to family happiness or physical attractiveness.

The recent German study was not the first on the social effects of Facebook. A study published in December 2012 found that the more time college students spent on Facebook, the worse they felt about their own lives. Also, the numbers game of how many “likes” one has on social media sites was found to contribute to a compulsion or addiction.

It would be interesting to evaluate through a functional MRI if new areas of the brain light up as more likes and acceptance on Facebook increase, and whether or not those areas are the same ones that light up when we satisfy our craving for food or drugs.

The International Business Times (UK) reported on research from Tel Aviv University in Israel. Researchers there found that social networking sites can have a great deal of negative influence on the user’s mental health

The International Business Times (UK) reported on research from Tel Aviv University in Israel. Researchers there found that social networking sites can have a great deal of negative influence on the user’s mental health

What to do if you have a social media addiction 

If you notice you are spending too much time on social media sites or they are interfering with the rest of your life, here are some tips:

  • Admit you have a problem and do not deny it.
  • Calculate exactly how much time you are spending on a particular social site. Then decide to spend only up to one hour daily on the site and time it. Set aside a fixed time each day to check Facebook and stick with this schedule.
  • Turn off message notifications from the social media site.
  • Figure out or ask others if you have a problem or issues that you are running away from in your daily life by going online. Deal with any real underlying issues.
  • Take a break from social media sites for one month. See how you feel without them, and work on enhancing your offline social, school and work life. You may be surprised at how rewarding this can be.
  • Make a list of things you could be doing rather than spending time on social media sites — start planning and implementing them.
  • Try totally blocking Facebook and other social media sites. This is similar to deciding not to use alcohol, cigarettes, caffeine or other temptations of the body and mind.

Summary of problems with overuse of social networking sites

Wasting time. The social media habit can become a massive distraction and time waster. However, this does not necessarily refer to using social networking for business purposes.

Leaving reality. Social networking sites can take a person out of physical reality and into a fantasy world overpopulated by friends, who often are not really true friends. Divorcing oneself from reality can be very dangerous and detrimental.

Lowered self-esteem. Social media sites tend to exaggerate other people’s success and happiness, which can contribute to low self-esteem, especially if you feel you do not measure up.

Danger from predators. Predators can be of a sexual nature, identity thieves and others. Sharing too much information about your activities, along with photos of yourself, is just not prudent.

The bottom line is, if you feel you must connect with others using Facebook or other social media sites, limit your online time and look for any signs that you might be overdoing it.



Dr. Lawrence Wilson has a medical degree, has been in the health field for more than 25 years and is the author of several books. or 928-445-7690.

Reprinted from AzNetNews, Volume 32, Number 3, June/July 2013.

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