Social media: a substanceless addiction

Social media: a substanceless addiction

WHO (World Health Organization) describes pathological addiction as that psychological, and sometimes even physical, condition caused by the interaction between a person and a toxic substance. This interaction determines a compulsive need to take the substance to feel its psychological effects and perhaps avoid the discomfort caused by not having it.

In recent years, new forms of addiction have developed, so-called “substanceless addictions”. Gambling and excessive exposure to television were the first, but now a new addiction has emerged: web addiction. This potential social disorder has been catalogued under different names: Internet Addiction Disorder (to underline the aspect of psychological dependence), Fear of Missing Out (which highlights the fear of being excluded from social interaction), Nomophobia (term taken from the English “no mobile” that refers to the anxiety of being without a mobile phone).

Until recently addictions were based on unnecessary behaviour (it is not necessary to gamble or resort to the use of drugs or smoke), while in this case the basic condition, being connected with the world and other individuals, today risks becoming, in an increasingly digitalized world, a real “functional” need.

In a certain sense, we all suffer from this addiction: we just have to lose our mobile phone or find its battery dead, or that a loved one does not respond to our messages, or that there is no network coverage and we immediately feel a slight discomfort, a sense of loss. Some time ago, for example, a malfunction in the American servers led to three-quarters of the planet being disconnected from WhatsApp and anxiety spread almost everywhere.

However, the road from slight loss to addiction is long and passes through unconscious use of the tools. This is especially true if social networks are involved because in addition to a “functional” addiction, they can also generate a distorted emotional bond.