How social media addicts are similar to drug users

There is a link between excessive social media use and behaviour seen in drug addicts, researchers have found.

Scientists carrying out a gambling experiment found the worst performers tended to be those who regularly used platforms such as Facebook.

The same trend was also observed among people who are reliant on drugs such as cocaine and heroin.

“Around one-third of humans on the planet are using social media, and some of these people are displaying maladaptive, excessive use of these sites,” said lead researcher Dr Dar Meshi, from Michigan State University.

“Our findings will hopefully motivate the field to take social media overuse seriously.”

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The US study, published in the Journal of Behaviour Addictions, shows a connection between risky decision-making – a common feature of drug addiction – and excessive social media use.

More than 70 participants were asked to complete a survey to measure their psychological dependence on Facebook.

The questions ranged from their pre-occupation with the platform, their feelings when they could not access it, their attempts to quit social media and the impact it has had on their jobs or studies.

The group then took part in the Iowa Gambling Task, a method widely used by psychologists in which decision-making and risky behaviour can be assessed.

It involves identifying outcome patterns in decks of cards to choose the best possible deck.

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Image: Results mirrored findings from those using heroin, cocaine or methamphetamines

Scientists found people who performed badly were more likely to use social media excessively, while those who performed better were less reliant on social media.

The results were similar to those from other gambling task studies, which included heroin, cocaine or methamphetamine users.

“Decision-making is oftentimes compromised in individuals with substance use disorders,” said Dr Meshi. “They sometimes fail to learn from their mistakes and continue down a path of negative outcomes.

“But no one previously looked at this behaviour as it relates to excessive social media users, so we investigated this possible parallel between excessive social media users and substance abusers.

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“While we didn’t test for the cause of poor decision-making, we tested for its correlation with problematic social media use. I believe that social media has tremendous benefits for individuals, but there’s also a dark side when people can’t pull themselves away.

“We need to better understand this drive so we can determine if excessive social media use should be considered an addiction.”

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