You probably know a guy who is obsessive about checking his Facebook account. And we all know the stereo-typed woman who can’t stop texting. The way people interact with social media actually shows some vital clues about potential problems. Initial studies indicate that some social media users may need help in the same way that those who abuse substances require drug rehab.

How Social Media Promotes Certain Problems
Things like Facebook and Twitter have made it incredibly easy to stay in touch with people. This comes with some inherent problems because people can easily form some really unhealthy habits. Based on the results of a new study, the behaviors exhibited by those addicted to social media are related to behaviors of those who abuse substances. The study appeared in the December 2014 issue of Addiction.

The study included over 250 undergraduates attending New York’s University of Albany. The researchers took a questionnaire that was used to help determine if someone was alcoholic and changed all occurrences of alcohol with Facebook. An example question was “How good does alcohol make you feel?” With the slight change to Facebook, it was found that many of the largest social media outlets actually have addictive properties.

The final results included some interesting facts about social media users.

  • On average, those who participated in the study spent a third of their Internet time on Facebook alone.
  • Two-thirds of those in the study had set up notifications so that their phone would let them know when someone had either sent them a message or changed their status.
  • Roughly 10% of the 253 students had identifiable disordered social media use, which means that they displayed an actual addiction to using Facebook.
  • The 10% who displayed an addiction to Facebook were also likely to have drinking problems.

While the study was of a small sample of a specific population in a single area, it does suggest that there may be a wider application.

Source of the Addiction
It is believed that the addiction to Facebook is in part caused by poor emotional regulation skills. Those who are addicted to Facebook feel the need to be validated by others and to always know what is going on. The inability to properly manage emotions is also one of the primary reasons why people turn to drinking.

There are several other research studies that have had similar findings. In February, Michigan State University conducted a study that determined the pressures some people felt because Facebook had driven those people to drink. Those who participated in the research at Michigan State University said they felt more inclined to drink alcohol after looking at social media pages, particularly pages that were alcohol related. Other activities that increased the likelihood of drinking include posting messages to alcohol-related pages, adding comments, or liking a page. What was alarming was that this held true even when the participants were looking at an alcohol-related status update at the same time as an anti-drinking message. It is unlikely that a drug rehab message would have proven any more effective.

How the Brain Processes Self Awareness and Addiction
Both of these studies suggest that the nucleus accumbens (the small part of your brain) is activated whenever you openly share personal information. The nucleus accumbens is actually the same part of the brain that drug addiction triggers. A drug rehab uses this awareness to help people be more aware of their actions and habits.

However, accessing the same part of the brain as other activates does not necessarily mean a direct correlation. Researchers were unwilling to say that obsessing over social media use was an actual addiction, the way that substance abuse is. In part, this is because addiction is generally defined as taking something into the body, such as a drug.

Given time and more research, it is likely that social media may be recognized as an addiction at some point, the same way that excessive gambling has been. Based on a definition that is broader than the original, addiction could be said to be as much about being rewarded as ingesting something. In this case, it is easy to see how something like Facebook or Twitter could quickly overstep the bounds between an annoying habit and an addiction. It is far too early to tell what kind of intervention would be required to help those who are addicted, although something similar to drug rehab would likely be a good start.