For anyone who has quipped that they are hooked on social networks like Facebook and Twitter the latest research suggests it might be no joke.
The statistics are mind-boggling.
Those two networks alone boast well over a billion users between them. Every day, there more than half a billion ‘likes’ on Facebook and 350-million Twitter tweets.
It is perhaps no surprise then, that researchers from the University of Chicago found last year that social networking can be more addictive than nicotine and alcohol.
Experts say there are several symptoms, among them: spending more than five hours per day on a social media website; withdrawal symptoms if the sites are not working or your internet connection is down and if you have used a smartphone to check while at the wheel of a car you are both hooked and a menace to other road users.
Anxious over a lack of likes
It is a phenomenon that has fascinated several groups of scientists.
Researchers at the University of North Carolina found that if your posts get a ‘like’ on Facebook or are re-tweeted on Twitter, a shot of dopamine is released into the brain – a chemical strongly linked with moods.
So a lack of ‘likes’ can lead to jealousy and anxiety.
Many of the participants in the Chicago study didn’t want to spend too much time on social media sites as it would distract them from work but they found it very hard to resist nevertheless.
Help though, is at hand. At least it is if you live in north west London. Dr Richard Graham sees around 100 patients a year at the Tavistock and Portman clinic. He says the condition is linked to gaming and internet addictions and his patients range in age from children to adults of 35 years old.“They start to miss or avoid doing the necessary things in life, even at a fundamental level of self-care,” he explained. “They delay eating or avoid eating or drinking, delay sleep, miss meetings or delay getting into work or college.’‘
Dr Graham says teenage girls are the most susceptible to addiction, because of pressure from their peers and the need to be seen online.
Treatment begins with complete abstinence and a timetable of organised activities.
Confessions of an addict
Author and illustrator Gemini Adams is a self-confessed addict who has tried to replace her addiction to Facebook by shunning the website and taking up yoga, an activity deemed to be part of her digital de-tox.
She will not use Facebook now for more than half an hour at a time – and once a week she will go 24 hours straight without the internet altogether.
“I work from home and as a writer and someone who does a lot of research I found that it was on permanently and I might write for 20 minutes and I would go on Facebook for a moment just to check a few things,” she said. “But I think what’s dangerous about it is that you do go on for a few seconds just to check, or a feed or something. And yet somehow you’re still sitting there 30 minutes later and half an hour of your time has just disappeared.
‘‘That little sensation would come up to see if someone commented on something I wrote earlier. And I used to be a smoker and it’s very similar, that sort of sensation. Needing to have something, needing to go and do something.”
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