Social Media: The New Addiction?

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During a presentation at the start of June, I had a discussion with an attendee concerning his grandson’s use of social media and a specific video game. As with so many of these conversations with grandparents, this gentleman – whom I will call Jim,  had taken custody of his grandson due to the addictions and poor mental health of his  37 year-old daughter. At age 74, this task would involve not just love but a tremendous amount of time, money, and energy.

Jim told me that he thought buying the iPhone would bring him closer to his grandson – and that it would help his grandson forget about the many things he had seen during his Mom’s addiction, mental health breakdown, and loss of her a six-figure income.

The phone worked wonders for him initially, until Jim began to see many of the same traits with his grandson as he had witnessed with his daughter’s self-medication with bourbon and pot and eventually cocaine and heroin. These traits surfaced in his grandson as irritability, poor hygiene, lack of respect for others, skipping school, poor decision-making, and being bullied by classmates.

Despite what some might call obvious similarities between the boy and his mom’s addictions, the subject of whether an overindulgence in social media use can be categorized as an “addiction” remains debatable for some in the mental-health field.

Let’s face it,  irritability, poor hygiene, lack of respect for others, skipping school, and poor decision-making is often the hallmark of being a teen boy – or girl. But certainly, these traits often are reflected in an individual with substance use disorders. Moreover, as was the case with Jim’s grandson and daughter,  both struggled with learning from their mistakes —  leading to poor outcomes after poor outcomes.

Jim’s grandson repeated these mistakes until he was eventually suspended from school. Jim’s daughter, a high-ranking engineer at a Fortune 500 company, repeated poor decisions until she was fired from her job and lost custody of her son.

So, can we compare the behavior of Jim’s daughter  who is addicted to drugs to that of his grandson’s overuse of social media and video games?

Until a 2019 study by  Dar Meshi, Lead Study Author and Assistant Professor at Michigan State University there was no clear evidence of such a parallel. Their research asked 71 participants to take the Bergen Facebook Addiction Scale (BFAS) survey to measure their psychological dependency on Facebook. The study contained queries about their obsession with the social media platform, their reactions when the app was unavailable to them, failed attempts to abandon the app, and the impact that the app had on their overall life.

The participants were then asked to participate in a 100 trial of the Iowa Gambling Task (IGT). The IGT is a psychological task thought to simulate real-life decision-making. Users had to distinguish outcome patterns in decks of cards to select the best possible deck. Each was presented with four virtual decks of cards on a computer and was told that each deck contains cards that would either compensate or penalize them in the form of money.

So, what were their finding? The results illustrated that higher hourly use of social media might be related to poor decision-making skills and more risky decisions. This is the same outcome often associated with users of Opioids, Cocaine, and Meth.

Interestingly, about two months before meeting Jim at my presentation, I was contacted by Chris Carberg, Founder of Addiction Help.

Chris Carberg grew up as a creative performer, actor, and writer and had a great family life. While a student in college, Chris was prescribed painkillers to help him deal with debilitating migraines, and he soon found himself out of control. In 2005, Chris was hospitalized after a near-death overdose and came to terms with the fact that he had become addicted to prescription drugs.

Following a stay in addiction treatment, Chris began his recovery in his senior year of college. With his mother and father’s incredible help and support, Chris achieved a year of sobriety, which set him down a path to help people like himself.

What I have learned in the 14 years of speaking at our A Wired Family presentations, and meeting people such as Jim and Chris, is the incredible pain that addictions bring to individuals and their families. Sadly, I believe that we are just now at the start of recognizing another addiction: Social media. Although different, the pain, strength and support that it requires is virtually identical. The solutions might very well be similar.

Below is a link to Chris Carberg’s story and his website. I hope that you and your loved ones will find this helpful should you be in such need.

Chris’ website:


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