Addiction and bingeing behaviors differ, although they often get lumped into the same conversations. I have been interested in our social media and device behaviors since I listened to a podcast by Dr. Sanjay Gupta titled Chasing Life. If you have yet to listen, it is definitely worth your time. Dr. Gupta is a neurosurgeon, and in the podcast series, he looks at our social media behaviors through the lens of professionals and his daughters. It was one conversation with a professional that had me thinking, are we addicted to social media? Or are we simply bingeing it?
A quick Google search of the definition of the two words provides essential information that seems to focus a lot on food and drugs/alcohol. The definition of binge is a period of excessive indulgence in an activity, especially eating, drinking, or taking drugs. And addiction is the fact or condition of being addicted to a particular substance, thing, or activity. Unfortunately, any further research on addiction and binge behavior as it relates to social media comes up incredibly empty, which reminds me how new we still are to all this.
If we look at addiction, it is considered a brain disorder because it involves functional changes to brain circuits involved in reward, stress, and self-control, which one could argue happens with social media use. Our brains are following a path that is algorithm-driven. It appeals directly to our reward centers, leaving us with what feels like very little self-control. We crave the next “hit.” We often look for the feel-good hit, but we must acknowledge that the “hit” of something shocking or disturbing also holds an appeal. This becomes dangerous for our youth because natural curiosity can replace good decision-making. The more we look, the more we want. And the algorithm continues to support and encourage this behavior, much like a drug addict seeking drugs.
However, it makes sense if we look at our behavior in the context of a binge disorder, such as food. For example, as a drug addict, one can live without drugs. The person can go into rehab, remove the drugs, and place an appropriate support system to remain drug-free. With social media and devices, we have moved into an era where we almost can not function without them. Just as one with a binge eating disorder cannot live without food, everything from work, school, and social life is connected by a device. So, in reality, we can not simply remove the addiction. Instead, we must learn new behaviors and coping strategies, just as one does with a binge eating disorder.
How do we combat this? We learn new behaviors with monitoring systems to support us. It may look like setting a timer on our phone to remind us to get off the device after 30 minutes. Or the phone is turned off and moved to the other room at night. There are, ironically, apps that provide support and reminders to unplug.
If you feel you are addicted or bingeing your social media, please get in touch with a local counselor or coach and ask for help navigating the behavior. Like any disorder, it can feel incredibly difficult to carry and navigate independently.