Achilles Healing Hypnotherapy

Hypnotherapy in Glasgow

Social Media Addiction

Describe a Person, Real or Imaginary, Whom You Think Would be Diagnosed with an Addiction to Social Media (Facebook, Twitter, Etc., etc).  Give a Fully Reasoned Account of Why You Think They are Addicted Rather than Normal or Anything Else.

 

This essay will describe a person thought to be addicted to social media, particularly Facebook.  The client described, Ms Paige Turner (pseudonym), is divorced, in her early 40s and recovering from a serious illness.  She has a history of agoraphobia with panic attack.  Therefore, she is mostly housebound. The background of this case will illustrate what led up to the addiction, and will go on to demonstrate the enjoyment the addiction first provided.  Throughout the essay the common components of addiction will be outlined, that is: tolerance – the need for more to produce the same effect; salience – the increased importance of the addiction in their lifestyle; conflict – the increasing awareness of negative consequences; withdrawal – distress after a period of non-engagement; craving – distress associated with desire to re-engage; and relapse – reinstatement after decision to stop or reduce (Kilpatrick 1997 171).  The essay will also clarify why Ms Turner should be diagnosed as having an addiction rather than a disorder or regarded as behaving ‘normally’.

Initially, Ms Turner experienced a time of depression when she was first divorced, and diagnosed with breast cancer.  A double mastectomy had a further impact on her confidence, and she began to socialise less and less.  She found herself drawn to social media sites where she could communicate with her friends and make new friends, without having to leave her house.  This was especially enjoyable because she had not been comfortable in outside spaces since experiencing a panic attack immediately after her diagnosis.  Thereafter she always took a taxi back and forwards from the hospital for treatment.  She never discussed her phobia or depression with anyone.  During this time she took full advantage of cyber space, and looked forward each day to communicating with family and friends via the internet.

Prior to her divorce, a typical day would entail getting up, getting dressed, having breakfast and going to work as a hotel receptionist.  Whilst ill and off work, Ms Turner began to get into the habit of getting up and immediately switching on her computer, logging into her Facebook account and reading her messages whilst having breakfast.  At first, she would read through the messages, then go and get dressed.  As she was ill, and reluctant to leave the house, she would cook, bake, have guests over for lunch or dinner, watch television, listen to music, use her exercise bike, knit or do some internet banking and shopping.  She also decided to do some online courses to gain more qualifications and pass the time while she was ill.  Sometimes, later on, she would go back onto Facebook before going to bed.  As the months went by, however, she began to spend more and more time on Facebook, not just reading emails and posting status updates, but also playing games, joining groups, signing petitions for various causes and taking part in various applications designed for entertainment.  Eventually she found herself on the site all day, every day, sometimes not getting dressed and always eating her meals whilst still looking at Facebook.  Most other activities now took a back seat to her preference to be on Facebook most of the day.  This shows a definite salience, as Facebook had become of increased importance in her lifestyle.

As Ms Turner became less mobile, she began to put on weight, further lowering her confidence and self-esteem.  She began to see her friends less and less.  She managed to do her necessary shopping and banking, but would quickly return back to see what had been happening on Facebook.  She had even began, what she termed a ‘relationship’ with someone who had sent her a private message via the site.  She had never met the person, but she felt they were destined to get married as they had so much in common.  It was only when her first assignment was due for her online course that she began to realise that something was wrong.  She found it difficult to start, or concentrate on, the assignment because she wanted to know what was happening on Facebook.  She then realise that because of Facebook she had let many other areas of her life slip.  She realised that it had been at least 3 months since she had really spoken to anyone properly face-to-face.  When friends or family called she would speak to them as briefly as possible before getting back to Facebook.  She also did not cook any more, but instead phoned for take-away food to be delivered.  All this began to have a serious impact on her financially.  As well as not having a healthy, balanced and nutritious diet, Ms Turner was beginning to accrue debt and finding it difficult to pay bills.  She knew she ought to stop using it so much and join the ‘real world’ again, but she also felt her pastime was too enjoyable to give up.  She was very seriously conflicted by her immense enjoyment of using the site and the adverse effect it was having on her life, relationships with family and friends, health, activities, career and education.

Eventually, Ms Turner decided she must focus on her studies, lose weight, get back her social life and get on with her studies, although she still did not feel psychologically ready to return to work yet.  She saw that the only way she could do this was to stop using Facebook so much and return to her normal activities.  She decided not to use the site again, but by the afternoon of the first day she desperately wanted to know what was going on with all her Facebook ‘friends’ and acquaintances.  She resisted the temptation and tried to get on with her assignment.  However, she did find it difficult to concentrate.

This withdrawal phase lasted a few days, during which time Ms Turner felt extremely bored and unfulfilled.   She could not get thoughts of how much information she had missed in the previous two days out of her mind.  Facebook dominated her thinking.  It had been an activity she had enjoyed immensely, despite her life in the real world taking second place.  Every time she tried to do something else she would feel a strong desire to go and sign in just to check what was going on in the world of Facebook.  She described this feeling as a craving or ‘urge’ and was very distressed by her desire to log on, even though she knew she must get on with her course work.

Eventually, as she convinced herself that she was not going to get any work done anyway, she logged on to the site and began using it as before.  Therefore she might be described as having relapsed and the activity was reinstated.  To date she has still not finished her assignment, continues to put on weight, has not socialised for a total of six months, does no activity associated with her life prior to finding Facebook and has no desire to return to work.

Ms Turner feels a sense of pleasure when using Facebook, despite the negative consequences to other areas of her life.  Therefore it could not be classed as obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), where the sufferer is avoiding what they anticipate will be a negative experience.  She did suffer panic attacks and depression prior to the addiction, which troubled her less when she was using Facebook.  However, she did not return to Facebook to avoid those feelings, so much as she did because she missed the good feelings Facebook provided.   She did not experience panic during the withdrawal phase, but instead feelings of frustration at missing her preferred activity.

The decision to return to using Facebook was, to Ms Turner, a completely rational one.  She rationalised that she would not get any work done anyway and her decision to start using it again was absolutely intentional, rather than a compulsion.  She missed keeping up-to-date with the daily news, both personal from friends, and globally.  Facebook, she believed, is her connection to the outside world, without which she feels incredibly isolated.  Being on Facebook is a relief, which not only relaxes Ms Turner, but also stimulates her mind and imagination.  Despite there being negative effects to her real world in the area of study, career and relationships, Ms Turner gets a clear sense of enjoyment from using the social media site.  Nevertheless, before long she does realise the impact it has on her real life and starts, once more, to have feelings of conflict about the amount of time she spends on the site every single day.

The addiction has no relationship whatsoever to the concept of attachment, as Ms Turner does not feel insecure and Facebook does not give her a sense of protection.  There is no suggestion that she feels able to get on with other activities so long as her access to Facebook is within easy reach.  She simply feels happier with her Facebook world, than with the real world.

Ms Turner does manage to eat her meals, but is at a point where she now gets very little, if any, exercise.  Her sleeping patterns are also very unhealthy.  She loses track of time and often stays on Facebook until three or four o’clock in the morning, not getting up again until late morning and immediately going back on to the site.  This is her usual pattern of use most days.  Although the activity centres on other people, places and ideas, she says it is the entire experience of being in a world where she can be who she wants to be at any given moment, which is so appealing.  Even though she regards herself as being in a relationship with one particular Facebook Friend, she feels far from attached.  In fact, she feels very much the opposite, and is more comfortable with this arrangement for the time being.

Neither is this a habit.  Ms Turner desires to use Facebook, and knowingly uses it even although she is aware there are negative consequences.  Her decision to use it is completely conscious and not automatic.  Even as she is turning on the computer, she is bargaining with herself how long she will stay on before trying to get on with her course project.  She has frequent feelings of conflict about being on Facebook rather than working, but the enjoyment is too big a pull to resist.  Instant gratification over-rides possible long-term achievements.

In conclusion, Ms Paige Turner fulfils all the items on the checklist of addictions.  She has shown salience, conflict, withdrawal, craving, relapse and reinstatement of her addiction.   Facebook has completely taken over her life, with serious impact on her ability to interact with the outside world, hold down a real relationship, and return to work or study.  She is getting into financial difficulty, as well as causing some serious problems to her health due to lack of proper diet and exercise.  The use of Facebook has a negative effect on sleep hygiene, further compromising her ability to return to a normal, well-functioning, existence.

Furthermore, there are clear differences between Ms Turner’s addiction and obsessive-compulsive disorder, attachment or habit, as has been highlighted above.  Namely, her use of Facebook is to retain good feelings, rather than avoid bad feelings (as would be the case with OCD); she is also able to rationalise why she needs to use it.  The use of social media does not give Ms Turner a sense of security and protection; although it is true to say that she has little confidence in the real world.

There is also no reason to conclude that Ms Turner is using Facebook habitually.  She is completely aware and conflicted about the amount of time she spends on her addiction, leading to bargaining techniques which will allow her as much time as possible to spend socialising on-line.

Unfortunately, it has to be concluded that Ms Paige Turner has a serious social network addiction, which is caused by her detachment from the outside world (which is also intensifying and reinforcing the detachment).  This possibly results from her earlier physical illness, untreated depression and lack of confidence, all of which may be tackled with cognitive-behavioural approaches in an effort to return Ms Turner to a more normal and healthy lifestyle.

 

References

Brown, I (1998) Boundaries of the Concept of Addiction Las Vegas

Kilpatrick, R (1997) Joy-Riding: An Addictive Behaviour in Addicted to Crime Ed by Hodge, J. E. et al John Wiley & Sons Ltd.

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