STUDY: Alcoholics and Social Media Addicts Have Similar Personality Traits

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Sober Recovery Expert Author

Traditionally, the word “addiction” is thought to be related to drugs, alcohol, or gambling. Now there is a new kind of addiction emerging; social media addiction. And an interesting, newly published study sheds light on how the modern-day trend of compulsive social media activity be predicted by some of the same characteristics of risky alcohol use. [1]

It appears from this current research that there are both similarities and differences in personality traits when comparing these addictive behaviors.

Traditionally, the word “addiction” is thought to be related to drugs, alcohol, or gambling. Now there is a new kind of addiction emerging; social media addiction. And an interesting, newly published study sheds light on how the modern-day trend of compulsive social media activity be predicted by

Past data from psychologists discovered that not only is social media itself potentially addictive, those who use it may also be at greater risk for substance abuse.[2] In fact, the brains of compulsive Internet users appear to exhibit similar changes to brains in people with alcohol and drug addictions.

Compulsive Social Media Engagement

The world today offers a variety of Social Networking Sites (referred to as SNS). These are virtual communities where users can create individual public profiles, interact with others, and “meet” other people based on shared interests (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and more).

This global phenomenon has experienced incredible growth within the last few years. Statistics show that there is over an eight percent prevalence of compulsive social media news.[3]

Although there is no official medical recognition of social networking addiction as a disease, there are specific behaviors associated with compulsive social media use. Generally, it's characterized by an uncontrollable urge to engage in social media to the point that it impedes with important life activities.

A leading study revealed that social media addictive behavior leads to harmful actions including the neglect of personal life, escapism, a decrease in real life social participation, reduced academic achievement, as well as relationship problems and mood-modifying experiences.[4],[5]

The similarities to substance abuse cannot be denied.

Risky Alcohol Use

Alcohol abusers typically continue drinking regardless of the consequences and no matter how harmful their behavior is to themselves or others.

Nearly one-third of Americans have been found to have risky alcohol behavior in their lifetime.[6] The widely accepted definition of Alcohol Use Disorder(AUD) includes eleven criteria. Any person meeting any two of these within a year is classified as having a diagnosis of AUD.[7]

The Relationship Confirmed by Research

Published research found that college students who binge drink are frequently posting on Snapchat, Instagram, and Twitter, while intoxicated and show signs of social media 'addiction.[8]

And in this most recent study, disordered social media use and risky alcohol use were both predicted by two major behaviors [9]

  1. narcissism (the tendency to think very highly of oneself, exhibit selfish behavior, and to have little or no regard for others)
  2. impulsivity (the tendency to act spontaneously, displaying behavior characterized by little or no forethought, reflection, or consideration of the actions)

There were additional important observations noted in this investigation:

  • obsessive social media activity was also predicted by reward sensitivity (behavior that is motivated by obtaining a perceived reward)
  • alcohol abuse was found to be predicted by alexithymia, the inability to identify and describe one's own or another person's emotions.

The Connection

The powerful connection between these two addictions have implications for diagnosis and treatment. Like most dependency disorders, both compulsive social media and risky alcohol addiction appear to affect the pleasure center of the brain.

The addictive behaviors trigger a release of dopamine, increasing the pleasure received from the activity.

Both these addictions exhibit three similar characteristics:

Pleasure-Seeking: Pursuing the substance or performing the act to obtain pleasure or reward

Withdrawal: Experiencing a surge of mental, emotional and physical unrest upon quitting the substance or the act

Compulsive Behavior: Using the substance or performing the act persistently without it leading to pleasure or reward, even when it costs their health, finances, work, or relationships

The Next Steps

Tackling impulsiveness and other symptoms of dyscontrol syndrome is key for substance use disorder treatment. Through this study, researchers have come to believe that the same approach is also relevant for people with substance use disorder.

Researchers also emphasized that people struggling with compulsive social media use who also exhibit narcissistic behavior could benefit from focusing treatment on the person's drive for positive social reward.

Total abstinence is often the goal in the treatment of many addictions, but it may not be possible to completely abstain from social media usage. One of the most difficult aspects of social media addiction is that our lives are endlessly surrounded by technology.

However, understanding how the abuse affects others as well as being able to control impulse behavior should be considered in the development of treatment programs for both compulsive social media use and problem drinking.

References:
[1] https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/ajpy.12236
[2] https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/add.12713
[3] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3480687/
[4] https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohol-health/overview-alcohol-consumption/alcohol-use-disorders
[5] https://www.mdpi.com/1660-4601/8/9/3528/htm?hc_location=ufi
[6] https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamapsychiatry/fullarticle/2300494
[7] https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-athletes-way/201506/what-are-the-eleven-symptoms-alcohol-use-disorder
[8] https://www.jsad.com/doi/10.15288/jsad.2018.79.868
[9] https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/12/181219075824.htm

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