Social Media Addiction: Clinical Disorder or Untamed Ego?

By Kelli Byers

There are currently enough Facebook users to form the third most populated country in the world, bumping the United States into fourth. If, or when, this hobby becomes an addiction, therapists could have their hands full.

The latest version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) is scheduled for release in May 2013, and it may be a bit heftier than its predecessor, thanks to sites like Facebook.  The American Psychiatric Association is considering adding “Internet Addiction” to the list of disorders.  The term “Internet Addiction” encompasses many applications, including gaming, pornography, gambling, etc., but does social media now have a place in that category as well?

A recent independent study of 1,000 people conducted by Retrevo Gadgetology found that 32 percent of those under age 25 checked their Twitter and Facebook accounts as soon as they woke up in the morning.  For those that were over age 25, 21 percent were turning to Tweets or status updates before their morning coffee.  This study also uncovered that 12 percent of social media users check Facebook every couple of hours, and seven percent said they would even check these mediums during intimacy, if a notification was received.

Walk into a bar or restaurant, and it is obvious that social media is not only keeping people far more preoccupied these days, but it is also changing the way that we interact with one another.  Seeing a table of six people fixated on their phones, rather than engaging with each other, is not rare.  Where does this incessant need for updates, posts, Tweets, and “Likes” come from, and what does it mean?  And should the term  “addiction” be attached to something as seemingly harmless as social media?

Dr. Seth Houdeshell from Austin’s New Leaf Counseling Center doesn’t think so.  “My definition of addiction is engaging in a behavior that is causing harm to physical, mental, or emotional health,” said Dr. Houdeshell.   “Seeing the subtle, societal shift in communication is generally a bigger issue, in my opinion.”

The New Leaf Counseling Center has treated patients for “Internet Addiction”, but most of those cases involved pornography addiction.  “I haven’t treated anyone specifically for a social media addiction, although I definitely see people that have a problem with it. They will literally check their phones while on the couch.”  He said that clients dealing with a break-up or divorce can especially develop an obsessive, compulsive need to be on social media sites—probably to monitor the activity of their ex.

Researchers at the University of Bath sought to identify the gratification component of possible social media addiction, given that most addictions do offer one or more elements of gratification.  They concluded that users seek communication, traditional content gratification, building social capital, surveillance, and general network surfing.  The gratification that was leading people to use social media more frequently was social connection.

Craving communication, content, social capital, surveillance, and wanting to surf networks isn’t necessarily detrimental to the health of the social media junkie.  Users simply want to feel connected, important, interesting, smart, and popular—similar to being a freshman in high school all over again.

Mark Fabbri, director of the psychology degree program at South University weighed in on the topic.  “Addiction is a word that should not be used lightly to describe a set of behaviors.  Any action can become addictive if it has a negative, significant impact on a person’s life, but I would caution using the term addiction outside its intended definition.”





Posted by at February 20, 2012
Filed in category: Internet, Society, and tagged with: , , , ,

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