When it comes to the global village that makes up our social media interactions, the idea that millions, perhaps even billions, of teens are addicted to this form of communication has always been close behind. Take, for instance, the PC-based mmorpg World of Warcraft – a game which for the last decade has continued to capture the hearts and minds (and most of all, time) of gamers all over the world, has also navigated some tricky territory when news reports began popping up every now and again of players dying from malnutrition and dehydration because they couldn’t tear themselves away from this fantasy world, its unpredictable world, and the inherent player interactions. Likewise, social media sites such as Facebook induce similar addiction mentalities within its members (again, numbering in the billions), a facet that psychologists at the University of Albany have further illuminated in a recent study published in the December issue of Addiction on impulse-control issues and substance abuse addiction.

According to a Huffington Post article, “The researchers surveyed 253 undergraduate students, asking questions about their social media use, Internet addiction, emotion regulation and alcohol use. They found that roughly 10 percent of users experience ‘disordered social media use,’ meaning that they exhibit addictive behaviors in the way they use platforms like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. To assess disordered social media use, the researchers included questions that reflected modified diagnostic criteria for alcohol dependence, such as, ‘How good does Facebook make you feel?’ and ‘Do you check Facebook first thing when you wake up in the morning?’

The findings were very telling: not only did those struggling with social media addiction report suffering from internet addiction and challenges with emotional addiction (the article alludes to poor impulse control as an example), but also issues with drinking problems.

According to Psychologist and lead for the study, Julia Hormes, these “abusers” spend one-third of their online browsing time checking Facebook, with 67% of the 253 undergraduate sample reporting they use push notifications to maintain constant awareness of their friends’ online activity. Hormes goes on to explain that the unpredictability of new content being posted is what drives users back to the site on a consistent basis, while this and notifications act as rewards for the behavior.

In an email correspondence with the Huffington Post, she quips:

“The question of whether or not disordered online social networking use can be considered a ‘true’ addiction is a tough one. I think the answer really depends on your definition of ‘addiction.’ Many people think of addictions as involving ingested substances. However, if we think about addiction more broadly as involving some kind of reward then it is easier to see how behaviors may be addictive.”

What if “internet addiction” was only the tip of the iceberg? We already know that videogames, as touched on in the beginning of this post, share some similar characteristics with substance abuse. What’s next: Sex? Food? Chocolate? Oh, wait…