eNewsletter - July 2016

Behavioral Health Partners


Social Media Addiction


As Internet use becomes more entrenched in our society, the issue of Internet addiction, and social media addiction in particular, becomes more pressing. Social media addiction is not currently recognized by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders-5. However, research on social media addiction has been taking place over the last decade. Despite this, controversy remains as to whether social media addiction truly is an addiction, and whether it can be treated as one.


Social media addiction is where a user continually checks, posts, monitors, and interacts with social media applications such as Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram and other apps to the point where doing so interferes with daily life.


The DSM-5 classifies basic media addiction under “substance-related and addictive disorders,” and which aligns with gambling addiction and Internet game disorder. But it is still uncertain whether social media addiction specifically triggers the same parts of the brain as gambling or other addictions, or whether the act of constantly checking social media statuses and information is a compulsive behavior.


“When you think about media addiction or any other ‘process addiction’ [behavioral addictions as opposed to chemical addictions], it's important to make a distinction of whether they're addicted to the content being consumed versus a compulsion for behavior itself” said Dr. Nadjeh Awadallah, psychotherapist at Linden Oaks. “People might also compulsively use social media, for example, as a means of escape or distraction from some other stressor. Coping with one’s social anxiety by focusing on their phone so they aren’t engaging the stressful environment around them might be a way to cope; like a digital security blanket.”


Some studies have attempted to find this out.  A study involving students at Sultan Qaboos University (SQU) in Muscat, Oman, measured addiction to individual social networking sites. The study collected data through an anonymous, English-language, six-item, electronic self-reporting survey based on the Bergen Facebook Addiction Scale given to a random cohort of 141 medical and laboratory science university students. Researcher Ken Masters of the university concluded the students needed intervention for their social media habits, and addiction to individual SNSs should be measured.


However, several experts claim this and other studies do not measure addictive behaviors. These same experts also discredit early studies on social media addiction because the studies do not use consistent criteria to define Internet addicts, apply recruiting methods that may cause sampling bias, and examine data using mainly exploratory data analysis techniques to investigate the degree of association, which does not establish a causal relationship.


“When looking at people who are addicted to social media and the Internet, it’s important to determine what the reinforcement is that is keeping them stuck on it,” Awadallah said. “It’s tough to pin-down a root motivator for the behavior that can be generically applied to everyone with non-chemical addiction, because there’s so much variance in what actually might be keeping someone engaged in these behaviors.”


Research published in the journal Current Psychiatric Review hypothesizes digital technology users experience multiple layers of reward when they use various computer applications, with the Internet functioning on a variable ratio reinforcement schedule, similar to gambling.


In addition, Alexander Winkler of the University of Marburg and colleagues wrote social media activities support unpredictable and variable reward structures, with the reward experienced intensified by mood enhancing/stimulating content, such as sound effects or graphics. The researchers also report that a variety of mental disorders co-occur with Internet addiction disorder, and there may be biological and genetic predispositions to it. However, more research is needed.


Because of the uncertainty regarding the details of social media addiction and what type of behavior it is, psychological, non-psychological, or multimodal treatment strategies may be necessary.


Non-psychological treatments for Internet addiction involve the prescription of selective serotonin-reuptake inhibitors, the antidepressant bupropion and the psychostimulant methylphenidate. Psychological approaches to treatment relate to cognitive-behavioral therapy techniques such as motivational interviewing, and reality therapy. Multimodal treatments could include a combination of psychological and non-psychological treatments. The issue is many of these treatments have not been properly studied, according to Winkler and colleagues.


However, there is a consensus total abstinence from social media would be unsuccessful, the researchers said. In general, it would be best to engage in abstinence from the involved programs themselves. 


In the meantime, social media use and overuse statistics are likely to continue increasing. According to Go-Globe, social media users between the ages of 15 and 19 spend at least three hours a day on social media; users between the ages of 20 and 29 spend about two hours on their accounts. In addition, 28 percent of iPhone users check their Twitter feed before getting up in the morning.


Researchers agree that proper research should be done before more conclusions are drawn. “I don’t deny that some small subset of people have behavioral problems with learning how to integrate using parts of the Internet into their everyday lives,” John Grohol, CEO of  Psych Central said. “But people have similar problems with work, the television, and many other things in life, and we can still treat them without demonizing (and labeling) the conduit that brings a person new entertainment, information, or enjoyment.”



Internet Addiction: A Brief Summary of Research and Practice



Social Networking Addiction among Health Sciences Students in Oman.



Does Social Media Addiction Really Exist?



Social Media Addiction: Statistics & Trends [INFOGRAPHIC]