In psychology and mental health in general, the concept of addiction is very centred on chemical dependence on substances; in fact, in the main diagnostic manuals the only case of addiction to something other than a drug that is mentioned is that of gambling, that in which one cannot stop playing games of chance.

However, outside the clinical setting there are other conceptions of what is meant by “addiction”, and these tend to change more rapidly than the more or less rigid categories reached through scientific consensus. This is especially noticeable in the field of new technologies, where we are already beginning to talk about a relatively new phenomenon: addiction to social networks . This is because the generalisation of Internet use has its advantages, but also its risks.

What is social media addiction?

As its name suggests, addiction to social networks is a relationship of dependency that someone develops towards these virtual platforms of interaction with others, although in reality there is more to it than this. People who become obsessed with social networks do not think all the time about the pleasure that using the social network makes them feel, but about what is achieved through that platform.

This means that the use of these services does not generate a “peak of pleasure” , but rather what is gained is the avoidance of disappearing from the social map. Normally you don’t look for a reward, but you try to prevent yourself from missing events, not knowing about certain news, etc. It is something that reminds us of the phenomenon of FOMO (fear of missing out) syndrome, with which this kind of addiction is related.

On the other hand, we must bear in mind that addiction to social networks is not simply the creation of a dependency on the use of computers. In fact, if something characterises social networks now, it is that they are everywhere: tablets, smartphones, PCs and other conventional computers… even in virtual networks accessed through video consoles.

The appearance of this problem on the Internet

One of the most negative aspects of social media addiction is that many people can become addicted to it. The reason is that these tools do not have the bad reputation of, for example, illegal drugs , and the fact that others use them creates more reasons to join the phenomenon. Even for professional reasons, in many sectors it is advisable to open a profile on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.

Secondly, as social networks have gone far beyond the computer, they can follow us everywhere from the tablet or smartphones, from which they can periodically invade our lives through vibrations and sounds. In Psychology, this can be understood as a learning process that leads to only one result: thinking all the time in terms of social networks, since they constantly remind us that they are there.

In the case of adolescents, their tendency to be impulsive and their need to have a broad and expansive social influence can cause them to fall quickly into this kind of tendency. Facebook, for example, offers the added value of bringing together all types of social interactions in one place: publishing photos and selfies, sharing links and multimedia content such as songs or videos with which one identifies, publishing the existence or not of a romantic relationship, etc.

What kind of person falls into this obsession?

If a few years ago the stereotype of a person obsessed with new technologies was an adolescent or young adult male with a small number of friends who could not get rid of the computer, today social network addicts present a much more heterogeneous profile to which young women and adolescent girls with relatively good social skills have been added en masse.

Social networks are now understood not as a limitation on relationships, but have become the public “showcase” through which one must pass almost obligatorily to be someone relevant in a community of friends and acquaintances, whether large or small, or to become famous for places one will never visit.

In this way, a profile on Facebook is much more than a means of keeping in touch with acquaintances: it is the ecosystem in which everything relevant in social terms will occur. It is not for nothing that a concept has been created to refer to the fact that a courtship does not really begin until it appears in a Facebook status: there is talk of “official Facebook” relationships.