social_media_addictionAddiction has evolved as a consequence of technological advances. The intensity of the craving has remained the same; it’s simply the poison that has changed.

Social media has become the new substance of choice and its abuse is running rampant. It has redefined the addiction landscape because it’s not chemical and it cannot be ingested, but it can be just as fatal as drugs and alcohol.

Can it be controlled?

What makes online addiction difficult to control is that it isn’t illegal, it isn’t illicit, it’s accessible to practically everybody, and, for the most part, it’s free.

The old street corner, which once served as the go-to place to get your fix, has relocated and can now be found in just about every home. Most households have at least one type of electronic device with online access; in fact, most have two or three (per person).

With a simple click, we enter a world of networks and conversations in which we partake with relish.  What with new social media platforms being created at a rampant pace, social media addiction is becoming a growing concern for psychologists and families alike. Especially when the hours invested into logging into and perusing social networks becomes so excessive that the line between the real world and the virtual one becomes blurred.

Social media has taken addiction one step further

It has allowed people to create surrogate personas that last a lot longer than a high from alcohol or drugs. Eventually, though, the social aspect of the virtual world loses all sense of reality, and social functioning in real time becomes dysfunctional. Unplugging for even a day causes panic, agitation, confusion and even physical distress. For some, logging off even evokes feelings of anxiety and depression. For others, the craving to plug back in is akin to an itch that simply cannot be scratched. This reiterates the point that although social networks are a different drug, the yearning for them remains the same.

In order for change to come about, offline exchanges need to be maintained so that a healthier relationship with social media can develop. General guidelines do exist which can help bring about behavioural change in social network addicts, these include:

  1. Invest as much time in offline interactions as you do on social media websites. You need to try and strike a balance between the two.
  2. Rather than starting off or ending your day engaging in social media usage, spend that time with family and friends.
  3. Choose friends on social networks that exist in the now, rather than waste time reading updates from former acquaintances or distant family you don’t know.
  4. Put a limit on the amount of time you spend on social media. Too much of something is not always a good thing; the cliché holds true.
  5. Take a break from social media altogether. Everybody needs some time off to spend with their nearest and dearest. So, unplug and interact with those people away from all things online.

Addiction comes with a heavy price. It’s like a parasite that consumes its host and takes over rational control. Time, emotion and privacy are what we are putting at risk with social media addiction. The number of hours invested in online chatter has just about exceeded face-to-face banter.  We disclose so much of ourselves in the quest for all things social, but we forget that we have an audience who can take that information and share it with a million other people, leaving the channel open for abuse.  A single post has the power to render someone helpless, as has been evidenced by the spate of teenage suicides worldwide due to online bullying.

It’s all just an issue of control

Social media is not a bad thing. Social media interactions can be meaningful. Just learn to moderate your usage. Invest your time wisely. Remain in control.  And always remember, like any other addiction; seek help if you feel the line between the virtual and real has been compromised.

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Eleni Hoplaros writes for a Cape Town-based therapeutic community centre that provides holistic alcohol abuse treatment programmes, which include detox, group therapy and spiritual counselling.