Can Facebook Be Like Cocaine Addiction?

woman shocked at computer screen

In a letter accompanying Facebook’s initial public offering, founder Mark Zuckerberg clarified the underlying goal of the social network was to bring people together, “to make the world more open and connected.” Based on the extraordinary popularity of the service, it appears they are well on their way to exceeding that goal.

According to recent statistics, 1.44 billion users access Facebook on a monthly basis for a combined total of more than 10 million hours. With numbers like these, it’s undeniable that for many users, Facebook consumes enormous amounts of time, and their daily usage may very well constitute an obsession.

Facebook and Depression

This fact has not escaped mental health experts, who are increasingly concerned about the harmful psychological effects associated with compulsive or excessive use of social media and Facebook in particular.

Studies have been conducted that indicate a link between Facebook use and depression. Potential explanations for how Facebook may contribute to or cause depression include things like emotional distress as a result of negative comments or cyberbullying. You will find more interesting facts about depression here.

But the strongest evidence that heavy Facebook use leads to depressive symptoms has to do with social comparisons. Frequent users may develop intense feelings of inadequacy or failure by comparing themselves to others online. Those who logged more Facebook time had a greater likelihood of depressive symptoms, regardless of whether they were making upward, downward or neutral social comparisons.

Facebook Addiction

Even in light of this evidence, disagreement still exists over whether someone can truly have a Facebook addiction. But studies are finding compelling similarities between known addictive behaviors and the use of social media.

One report investigated the impulsive and inhibitory brain systems typically associated with addictive behaviors. It attempted to gauge common addiction symptoms, such as anxiety, conflict and withdrawal as it related to Facebook use.

The study found that the levels of addiction-like symptoms in technology-based obsessions shared some neural features with other forms of addiction, like substance abuse or gambling. Compulsive Facebook users showed increased activity in the brain regions involved in impulsive behavior, similar to those who abuse cocaine.

This may warrant the label of “Facebook addiction,” but the report also indicated a significant difference in the effects of the noted brain activity. With addictions like cocaine, there is an abnormal suppression of brain systems that are responsible for inhibition. Those with the potential Facebook addiction showed no such reduction in the inhibitory function.

A Self-Evaluation Quiz

Although experts continue to study the harmful effects and debate the reality of a Facebook Addiction Disorder (FAD), as it is sometimes called, you may be wondering if your own participation in social media has reached an unhealthy level.

Joanna Lipari, a clinical psychologist at the University of California offers some simple questions you can ask yourself. Your honest responses will help identify signs that you are hooked on social media and may be at risk for more serious dysfunction.

  • Do you spend more than an hour a day on Facebook? It’s difficult to define how much is too much, but suggested time for an average person is half an hour a day.
  • Do you lose sleep over Facebook? Has Facebook become a compulsion that keeps you up at night, causing you to become tired the next day?
  • Do you become obsessed with people from previous relationships with whom you reconnect on Facebook?
  • Do you ignore work in favor of Facebook? Are you neglecting your job or responsibilities in order to spend time on Facebook?
  • Do you become anxious when not using Facebook? Does it stress you out if you try going a day without using Facebook?

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