Connection Between Addiction, Excess Social Media Use Explored

By Kelly Burch 01/15/19

A new study's results could potentially change the way excessive social media use is treated.

girl using social media excessively

There’s been a lot of debate over whether technology and social media can be addictive, and a study has strengthened the connection between the behaviors of people with substance use disorders and those who use social media excessively. 

“This result further supports a parallel between individuals with problematic, excessive [social media] use, and individuals with substance use and behavioral addictive disorders,” the authors of the study wrote in the Journal of Behavioral Addictions

As part of the study, researchers asked individuals about their social media use and its effects on their lives and had them complete the Iowa Gambling Task, a measure used by psychologists to determine decision-making abilities. They found that people who performed poorly on the task were more likely to have excessive social media use. People who abuse drugs also generally performed poorly on the task. 

"With so many people around the world using social media, it's critical for us to understand its use," lead study author Dar Meshi, an assistant professor at Michigan State University, said in a press release. "I believe that social media has tremendous benefits for individuals, but there's also a dark side when people can't pull themselves away. We need to better understand this drive so we can determine if excessive social media use should be considered an addiction.”

Meshi added that with one-third of people on the planet using social media, researchers and health care providers need to better understand the ways this can affect health and social functioning. 

"Our findings will hopefully motivate the field to take social media overuse seriously,” Meshi said. 

People with substance use disorders are known for not making the best decisions, something that was also found in people who used social media heavily. 

Meshi explained, “Decision-making is oftentimes compromised in individuals with substance use disorders. They sometimes fail to learn from their mistakes and continue down a path of negative outcomes. But no one previously looked at this behavior as it relates to excessive social media users, so we investigated this possible parallel between excessive social media users and substance abusers. While we didn't test for the cause of poor decision-making, we tested for its correlation with problematic social media use.”

In the study, authors concluded that the results could change how we as a society perceive and potentially treat excessive social media use. 

“Our results have important societal implications,” they wrote. “Taking this into consideration, our current finding, which demonstrates a behavioral similarity between excessive [social media] use and substance use and behavioral addictive disorders, can influence the beliefs and practices of policy makers, therapists, and tech industry leaders.”

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.