Hooked on Facebook… that’s one tough pill to swallow! But, has the Heroin Epidemic unwittingly created a whole new addiction?

With all the “awareness” that is being raised to combat the heroin and opioid epidemic, it’s not uncommon to see that many of us who have started out with the best of intentions, get caught up in the Social Media frenzy.

Like, shares, comments, tags, groups, reach, extended reach and the now famous live feed… followers, “haters,” friends, frenemies, and with all this connectedness, somehow, we’ve become disconnected. You can’t go anywhere without it being recorded and shared and most of the time everyone’s face is in their phone.

Is being “Facebook Famous” really worth it? I mean, it’s just a platform. So, why is it consuming us? Or rather, why are we consuming it?

Most of us know that when giving up one addiction, it is often replaced by another. We have to really ask ourselves: is this what has happened with the Facebook Social Movement of Spreading Awareness on the Heroin Epidemic?

Let’s take a look at the science of addiction.

Addiction to social networking is likely caused by a collision of biological, psychological, social and cultural factors.

Social networking sites like Facebook “hook” people using four elements: a trigger, such as loneliness, boredom or stress; an action, such as logging in to Facebook; an unpredictable or variable reward, such as scrolling through a mix of juicy and boring tidbits in the newsfeed; and investment, which includes posting pictures or liking someone’s status update.

“Facebook is a poster child for a company that has these hooks”

Getting “unhooked” is a matter of breaking that chain by putting some friction into the process.

According to new study was published in December 2014 in the journal Psychological Reports: Disability and Trauma, this type of “Facebook addiction” may show up in the brain: The study found that the brains of people who report compulsive urges to use the social networking site show some brain patterns similar to those found in substance use disorder.

But, the parallel isn’t perfect: Compulsive Facebook users may have more activity in impulsive systems in the brain, but the brain regions that inhibit this behavior seem to work just fine, unlike in the brains of a person suffering SUD.

The Impact
Several studies have suggested that Facebook and other social networking sites have a profound impact on people. For example, Facebook can hurt a woman’s body image, allow people to obsess over a failed relationship and even lead some people to fall into depression. In fact, so many people end up feeling left out after seeing pictures of friends at a rooftop party or eating opulent meals, for example, that there’s even a word for it: “fear of missing out,” or FOMO.

Facebook and the brain

In recent years, we have coined the term “Facebook addiction” to describe people with an unhealthy desire to spend hours checking the social networking site.

When researchers used functional (MRI) to study the brains of individuals while they looked at a series of computer images — some Facebook logos, and others of neutral traffic signs, the higher people scored on the Facebook addiction survey, the more likely they were to quickly hit the button when viewing Facebook images compared to neutral images.

Essentially, the Facebook cues were much more potent triggers in people’s brains than the traffic signs and “That’s the power of Facebook.”

The Facebook “addicts” showed greater activation of their amygdala and striatum brain regions that are involved in impulsive behavior. But unlike in the brains of people addicted to cocaine, for instance, the Facebook users showed no quieting of the brain systems responsible for inhibition in the prefrontal cortex.

I’m not a doctor or scientist, but I do know enough about SUD to know that these are the same regions of the brain that are affected when a person is actively using a controlled substance.

Do you have addiction-type symptoms associated with Facebook use, such as withdrawal, anxiety and conflict over the site? Many of us joke that we do, but in reality, it’s not a joke at all. The inability to leave the house without our phones, is unhealthy. And I’m the first to admit that I can’t be without my phone, which is crazy because I was the last of my friends to join Facebook.

How do we stop it? Just like any other addiction:

1. SIGNS: Recognize the signs of a Facebook addiction.
While there is currently no such thing as a medically blessed diagnosable “Facebook addiction” or “Facebook addiction disorder” that a health or medical professional could categorically state you’re suffering from, addictive behaviors have common threads that can lead to dysfunctional socializing and obsessive behaviors.

2. MOTIVE: Start questioning what you’re doing on Facebook.
Rather than simply going on Facebook and “falling under its spell”, start consciously determining what you’re really getting out of Facebook. Asking questions about its value to you in your own life’s context is healthy, especially when you feel that you might have been overdoing it a bit. Whittle down to the things that bring real value, within a defined time limitation. Record what you’re doing on Facebook for a week. Be diligent about this reality check task and don’t spare yourself; buy a small notebook and devote time to its updating.

3. BOUNDARIES: Decide what is of value on Facebook.
Whatever the reason for being a part of Facebook, boundaries matter and knowing what is of value and what is not will help you to rein in poor online habits. If you use Facebook for work and personal reasons, the value will probably be broader, but it is still important to define the value boundaries for work and personal time.

4. ABSTINENCE: Try giving up Facebook for a specific event to see how you fare.
This article is not advocating leaving Facebook entirely unless that’s the choice you feel you want to make. However, it can be very advantageous to choose a special event and to decide that for the duration of that event, that you will not use Facebook at all. You can even warn your other Facebook friends that this event is coming up but whatever you do, stick to it.

5. SOLUTIONS: Target solutions to enable smarter, brighter usage of Facebook in the future.

While we could all just quit Facebook cold turkey, it’s probably far more productive, constructive, and socially useful to manage it and to put Facebook in its place in your life. Keeping your profile stable will build trust in the online environment; not constantly trying to update it will spare you unnecessary loss of time on Facebook.

The amount of awareness that has been and continues to be raised in the face of the Heroin Crisis is without a doubt truly amazing, but we, and I do mean all of us, need to remember that no good deed goes unpunished and the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

The road back is through humility. Unplug… it will be okay.

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