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Social media obsession: Harmless addiction or mental health issue?

I want you to imagine something. You’re miles away from civilization, out in a countryside retreat and you’ve got no mobile reception. There’s no wi-fi, no mobile data and even your battery is running out because you forgot to pack your charger. In other words, there is no way to check Facebook at all. Or twitter. Or even Pinterest. How does it make you feel? A bit panicky? If so, you’re not alone – it’s becoming more and more certain that social media acts like an addictive drug. The more you get of it, the more you want it. A study by Harvard University last year showed that social media use released endorphins – the “pleasure” chemical – and that someone with an addictive personality will naturally want that hit again and again. 

And people really do use social media a lot. As far back as 2011, the AAP researched social media use among teens and found that 22% of them logged onto their favourite site more than 10 times a day. The results? Disrupted sleep, difficulty in maintaining real life relationships and even cyber-bullying. Yet, those teenagers kept going back. 3 years on, with all the enhanced features that are available now, the stats are likely to be even more worrying.

Another aspect that should concern parents is the link between social media addiction and real-life drugs. A study by CASA Columbia looked at the habits of teenagers who used social networking on a daily basis and found that they were 5 times likelier to smoke, 3 times likelier to drink and twice as likely to use marijuana as their peers who didn’t use Facebook every day. Something about seeing pictures of other people smoking and drinking inspired these teens to take up the habits themselves, not something teens need encouragement to do.

So what’s the attraction? Well, the Harvard study also revealed that we are naturally narcissistic, the areas of the brain associated with reward were more stimulated when talking about ourselves than when talking about others. Subjects even chose talking about themselves over the offer of money. It seems we just can’t get enough introspection, and sites like Facebook are a natural platform for egotists.

What’s the cure? Same as any addiction, either cold turkey or a gradual weaning process. It’s always worth taking a few days away from social media every now and then, just to remind yourself that you existed fine without it a few years ago. Get out to that countryside retreat and see if you can cope with the idea that no-one else will be sharing the same view as you because you can’t take a photo and upload it straight away. See if your ego survives a few days without the bolstering effect of “like”s and comments. Social media can be a great tool when used sensibly and in moderation but never underestimate how addictive it can be…

Until next time,

Peace, love and vitamin C!


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