Social Networking Addiction

Q: What are some of the causes of addiction to social networking? How and why do people get hooked? What is the allure of social media compared to attachment to people in a three-dimensional context?  How many Americans are addicted to social networking?

A: Social networking addiction is like any other: the dependent person gauges their self-esteem and regulates their emotions through their addiction rather than through direct connection with their "real" interpersonal surround.  

The causes for this type of addiction runs the gamut from depression, despair of making contact with people face-to-face, to anxiety disorders, fear of disappointment and potential confirmation of a core identity that is neither strong enough nor worthy enough to gain the attention of others without the use of the addictive medium as a go-between.   

If one is neglected in a Facebook foray, in contrast to a get-together with a friend, no other person is privy to the reality of this defeat.  The shame and loneliness that a person who uses social networking to shield themselves from the risks that contact with others can - at least for a time - remain private. Issues such as facing humiliation at one's need for others can
seem to be under control despite a characteristic sense of desperation that is the hallmark of addiction.

Current Facebook users number at approximately 30 million!   Because social networking addiction has not been formally recognized as a diagnosable condition there are no reliable studies or statistics on how many of users are addicted.  

I'd estimate that between five and ten percent of social media users - conservatively pegged at 5 million - are addicts.  


Teenage son with addiction problem

Q: My teenage son has got an addiction problem. The counselor we are working with suggests a tough love approach. Can this be harmful? My husband is less willing to go along with it. Can it still work? Why do you think someone would resist a tough love approach? Please advise.

A: Tough love means firm boundaries.  Without firm boundaries, addiction runs rampant.  Tough love alone won't produce sobriety though.  Tough love must be coupled with understanding, acceptance, encouragement and faith that the addict can regain control; all of these without the firm boundaries would be less than sufficient. Remember:  addicts are addicted to lying as well as substances.  Tough love demands honesty.  That's why it's an essential part of recovery.  What is tough may not, necessarily, be harsh.  There's got to be "love'" in the toughness.  

If one parent agrees to a tough love strategy and another doesn't it sometimes means that the parent who is unwilling to engage in the strategy is in denial about how brutal addiction can be to a teen's body and soul. The tough love stands to protect the teen from the addiction.  The recovery strategy must be 
tough enough to withstand the addiction's ruthlessness. 

Sometimes refusal to sign on to a tough love strategy results from a parent being in denial about whether their child is addicted.  Admittedly, this is an excruciating realization. too painful for some.

Given your differences it is questionable whether any approach will work. That will depend to a large degree upon whether you and your husband can strike a balance between the strengths in your willingness to apply a tough love strategy and his unwillingness. In other words, you can completment OR undermine each other. Is there a way in which he can support you without agreeing one hundred percent in the way you see the situation? Is there some way to extend a softness to your son ON THE CONDITION that he is following the rules set out to prevent him from using? And can your husband agree that firm boundaries – regardless of whether you call it tough love or adequate support – are needed. If you can not come to an agreement about this point supporting your son’s recovery will be difficult. Your best option: talk things out with your husband and make sure that he sees that, in your caring for your son and your need to see your son get better – you are, despite differences, on the same page.