I hear people say this a lot: “I am soooo addicted to Facebook!” I think they typically mean to say that they like Facebook and spend a lot of time on it. But as one of my readers recently asked, is it possible to be really and truly addicted to Facebook? As in, bad things start happening in life because of a user’s Facebook time? This is a great question and one I have been thinking a lot about since my reader asked. So, first things first: What does “addiction” really mean? According to the DSM-IV, ONE of the following things need to be present in order for one to qualify for a diagnosis of substance abuse (and let’s just assume for a moment that Facebook can be considered a substance):
- Recurrent use resulting in a failure to fulfill major role obligations at work, school, or home (e.g., repeated absences or poor work performance related to substance use; substance related absences, suspensions, or expulsions from school; neglect of children or household). This one is definitely possible when talking about Facebook. Again, this isn’t going to apply to the vast majority of Facebook users, even the die-hards. But for those who find themselves constantly checking their friends’ statuses, playing games, searching for new friends – to the detriment of their other duties in life – they may indeed meet this criteria.
- Recurrent substance use in situations in which it is physically hazardous (e.g., driving an automobile or operating a machine when impaired by substance use). At first I thought this point wouldn’t apply to Facebook use, but then I thought of Facebook-ing while driving. In very extreme cases, it would be possible for folks to have gotten into legal trouble because of Facebook-ing while driving and yet continuing to engage in the behavior.
- Recurrent substance related legal problems (e.g., arrests for substance related disorderly conduct). I don’t know about this one. Can one get into legal trouble on Facebook?
- Continued substance use despite having persistent or recurrent social or interpersonal problems caused or exacerbated by the effects of the substance (e.g., arguments with spouse about consequences of intoxication, physical fights). This is one I have actually seen in real life. Husbands complaining that they never see their wives anymore because they spend so much time on Facebook. Wives complaining that their husbands won’t stop playing Facebook games long enough to engage with their families. Perhaps these things can be warning signs of troubled Facebook use, and the possibility of more serious problems down the road.
So, what’s the conclusion; can we become addicted to Facebook? I think the answer is yes. While Facebook is not a mood or mind-altering substance (like alcohol or drugs), its overuse can cause “clinically significant impairment or distress.” Concerned about your own Facebook habit? Try curtailing your use – or totally abstaining – for the next week or two. Set specific “Facebook time” in which you can enjoy checking up on your friends, but declare Facebook off limits during other times of the day.