While Facebook itself might not be addictive, those who find themselves chained to it could be experiencing issues associated with impulse control disorders, the same kind of impulse control problems that can lead to substance abuse.
A University of Albany research team, led by Julia Hormes, evaluated the addictive nature of Facebook in a sample of undergraduate students, all over 18 years of age. The study showed that around 10% of users had a “disordered” relationship with Facebook, meaning they experienced addiction-like behaviors including an overwhelming desire to use the website, an increase in the amount of use over time and irritability when the website was inaccessible. While not in the same way life-devastating as addiction to alcohol or heroin, these are the same types of responses and could indicate that a person has a tendency toward addictive behaviors.
Researchers also found that those who had impulse control issues with regard to Facebook were more likely to report drinking problems than their peers in the study. Hormes said:
“New notifications or the latest content on your newsfeed acts as a reward. Not being able to predict when new content is posted encourages us to check back frequently. This uncertainty about when a new reward is available is known as a ‘variable interval schedule of reinforcement’ and is highly effective in establishing habitual behaviours that are resistant to extinction.”
While these findings do not yet indicate that social media over-use rises to the level of addiction, this study may have interesting implications. For example, if you notice that your children are absolutely obsessed with social media, even more so than their media-obsessed peers, this could indicate a predisposition for other impulse control disorders, like addiction. Social media and internet use should be monitored. As with anything, with regard to use, moderation is the goal.