But can you really call spending time on Facebook an "addiction"?
Just because a habit is repeated over and over again doesn’t mean it's a full-on addiction, right? Sure. But the brain activity of Facebook addicts is pretty similar to that of gambling and drug addicts, with "similar" being the most important word. Gambling and drug addicts have the same powerful motivating factors lighting up in the brain, but they also lose the ability to inhibit their impulsive behavior. Facebook "addicts" seem to maintain the ability to limit their behavior… they just don't.
Granted, liking a comment on Facebook isn’t going to kill you unless your keyboard short-circuits and explodes, so it might not have the pressing quality of a serious coke addiction. What might be slowly killing you is the context of your Facebook use. If it’s interrupting your sleep, you’re setting yourself up for pretty much every health disaster imaginable. If you’re quicker to react to a notification "ding" than a traffic signal, you should really stop driving and get a cab. With almost 20% of college-age students being either addicted or in the "alert stage" of addiction, and some academic work calling for social media intervention, maybe it’s time to override your stupid brain and acknowledge the risks and signs.
Enough explanation, just give me the antidote!
In a few years you might see Celebrity Rehab: Social Media. For the rest of you, there are a few steps you can take to limit your social media use. Dr. Kimberly Young, founder of the Center for Internet Addiction, says, "If you want to beat Facebook addiction, you need to know how big of a problem it is."
The first is as simple as understanding that you’re being played. The addictive nature of social media is built into its very design: Suggested friends you already know pop up seemingly magically, ads are perfectly tailored to your interests, your location can be pinpointed and recommendations of restaurants can be made for you. Once you’ve looked behind the curtain, set some rules. Maybe stop doing using it on the toilet, during dinner, or in bed? "Keep a list of just how much time you’re spending," Dr. Young advises, "and take the list with you." Always ask yourself what your purpose is for checking Facebook. If you don’t have a good reason, maybe it can wait.
One effective measure that might take some getting used to: responding offline. Try calling someone on his birthday, instead of leaving a half-assed comment on Facebook. It’ll knock his socks off. Since you’re already offline, Dr. Young suggests asking loved ones if they feel like you’re addicted to social media. You may not like the answer, but it might improve your relationship with these people once you’ve gotten through your knee-jerk reaction to punch them in the face.
And if you’re in serious need of some intervention, it’s pretty simple to change your alert settings, delete apps, or even install programs that block sites during certain hours. There are plenty of theories, steps, and techniques that could do the trick, but only you know what’ll work for you. It may take some trial and error.
What if none of this works?
Finally, Dr. Young recommends a good old-fashioned purge. That doesn’t mean you have 24 hours to murder your neighbors without consequence. Instead, ask yourself if having 300 “friends” is more work than it’s worth, and is your feed suffering the consequences? Don’t be that jerk who posts something like, "I'm cutting friends, so if you’re seeing this, you’re one of the lucky ones" Just do it, and you may find yourself with fewer dings to salivate over.
The siren song of social media is hard to resist. We’re hardwired to become addicted, and it’s been designed to keep us that way. It’s undoubtedly opened up a whole new world of connections, and with that comes a whole new world of problems not studied before. The science is still young, but it’s probably a good idea to pay it some attention before you hop back on Facebook.
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Nicholas Knock is a freelance writer for Thrillist who just wants one more notification ding, please. You can follow him on Twitter @nickaknock even though he doesn’t say much.