You Might As Well Face It: You’re Addicted to Facebook?

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Many of us know the feeling of being addicted to our devices. Walking down the streets of Manhattan, I’ve done head counts of the percent of passers-by that are either clutching (like a security blanket) or using their handheld devices –the number ranges between 20% and 75%. And I usually have to count myself!

But recently, researchers have come out with a Facebook Addiction Scale, suggesting that it might not only be an addiction to our devices, but an addiction to what social media do for us and make us feel – an addiction to being connected.

A simple and elegant definition of addiction is The continued use of a mood altering substance or behavior despite adverse consequences.” Does this apply to Facebook use? Here are some of the things to look out for:

  1. You’re preoccupied with Facebook when you’re not online – This has to do with spending “a lot” of time thinking about Facebook or making plans to use Facebook. I’m not sure what counts as a lot – and I don’t think the measure specifies – but this is about the feeling that you are putting excessive mental energy  into Facebook.
  2. You need more Facebook time to get the same pleasure from it – This is called tolerance in the addiction literature. It includes getting “sucked in to” and spending more time on Facebook than intended: like when you’ve logged on to Facebook and then all of a sudden two hours have gone by; or when you feel the compulsion to check Facebook every two minutes.  And key to this is that you often have the urge to use Facebook, and find that you have to use Facebook more and more to get the same pleasure from it. Has anyone ever felt a Facebook high? ……
  3. You use Facebook to feel better or forget about your problems – Like others might drink a glass of wine, pop a pill, etc.,… Personally, I don’t use Facebook in this way, but I imagine it’s like my feeling when I log on to Amazon. I’m not much of a shopper, but being able to get exactly what you want immediately – whether it’s socks or a power wheel for your kid (yes, a big green, awesome power wheel car; all terrain!) – is extremely soothing to me. A study showed that when people use Facebook, physiological signs of stress are reduced. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing – it might even be good – but it could be part and parcel of the addictive process.
  4. You have tried to reduce your Facebook use without success – Here, the questionnaire is sussing out whether you’ve identified it as a problem, and have tried to cut down on your use of Facebook, but have fallen off the wagon. This is the “uh-oh!” moment.
  5. You experience withdrawal feelings when you don’t use Facebook – This is one that might make more sense for younger people, because one of the key questionnaire items for this issue is “Become restless or troubled if you have been prohibited from using Facebook?” I presume they mean prohibited by parents, but perhaps loved ones could be doing the same (see #6 below). These feelings of dis-ease are a sign that dependence is present.
  6. You find that your use of Facebook has had a negative impact on your life – This final dimension is important for putting the label of addiction on Facebook use – it’s getting in the way of having a healthy life. This includes using Facebook so much that your job/studies/or relationships are suffering. It also includes Facebook taking the place of other important things, such as hobbies, leisure activities, and exercise. Have you ever ignored your partner, family members, or friends because of Facebook?

I bet many of us have shown at least one of these warning signs at some point. Should we be worried? Probably not, unless Facebook use is getting in the way of being a functional person. On the other hand, having even one warning sign should perhaps give us pause.

Some preliminary studies suggest that Facebook addiction occurs more frequently in people who have other addictive problems (no surprise there), as well as among the younger and older. People who worry or are socially anxious also may be at more risk, perhaps because they find Facebook to be an easier way to connect with others. Procrastinators beware – Facebook addiction may also be just another way to avoid work.

So, consider this a public service message. If you feel these warning signs apply to you, it might be time to give it a rest. Or just switch to Pinterest.