Tag Archives: addiction

Addictive Social Media Behavior

Plenty of research has demonstrated that the addictive quality of social media is very real. And according to a new study, heavy social media use may also contribute to a different type of addiction.

Psychologists at the University of Albany found that not only is social media (particularly Facebook) itself potentially addictive, those who use it may also be at greater risk for impulse-control issues like substance abuse.

The researchers surveyed 253 undergraduate students, asking questions about their social media use, Internet addiction, emotion regulation and alcohol use. They found that roughly 10 percent of users experience “disordered social media use,” meaning that they exhibit addictive behaviors in the way they use platforms like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. To assess disordered social media use, the researchers included questions that reflected modified diagnostic criteria for alcohol dependence, such as, “How good does Facebook make you feel?” and “Do you check Facebook first thing when you wake up in the morning?”

Those who were struggling with social media addiction were more likely to report Internet addiction (as measured by scores on the Young Internet Addiction Test), challenges with emotion regulation (such as poor impulse control), and drinking problems.

Psychologist Julia Hormes, who led the study, said that Facebook was found to have especially addictive properties. The respondents spent an average of one-third of their online browsing time on Facebook, and 67 percent received Facebook push notifications on their phones.

“New notifications or the latest content on your newsfeed acts as a reward. Not being able to predict when new content is posted encourages us to check back frequently,”Hormes said in a statement. “This uncertainty about when a new reward is available is known as a ‘variable interval schedule of reinforcement’ and is highly effective in establishing habitual behaviors that are resistant to extinction. Facebook is also making it easy for users to continuously be connected to its platform, for example by offering push notifications to mobile devices.”

The researchers hypothesize that disordered social media use is likely a symptom of poor emotion regulation skills, which heightens susceptibility to a variety of types of addiction.

“Our findings suggest that disordered online social networking may arise as part of a cluster of risk factors that increase susceptibility to both substance and non-substance addictions,” Hormes said.

The new findings join a growing body of research investigating the addictive potential of Internet social media use. MRI data has shown that the brains of compulsive Internet users to exhibit similar changes to those seen in people with alcohol and drug addictions. Harvard research conducted in 2012 provided some insight into why using Facebook in particular seems to be so highly addictive. Disclosing information about ourselves, the researchers found, is intrinsically rewarding. It activates the Nucleas Accumbens, a brain area that also lights up when cocaine or other drugs are ingested. But it’s not just posting on Facebook that’s addictive — it’s also receiving all those likes and comments. Another study found that receiving positive feedback about ourselves also activates the brain’s reward centers.

However, Hormes’ and other research can’t be taken as conclusive evidence that disordered social media use constitutes a full-blown addiction.

“The question of whether or not disordered online social networking use can be considered a ‘true’ addiction is a tough one,” Hormes said in an email to the Huffington Post. “I think the answer really depends on your definition of ‘addiction.’ Many people think of addictions as involving ingested substances. However, if we think about addiction more broadly as involving some kind of reward then it is easier to see how behaviors may be addictive.”

The new findings were published in the December issue of the journal Addiction.

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Medication And Addiction

Drug treatment providers in California and elsewhere have relied for decades on abstinence and therapy to treat addicts. In recent years, they’ve turned to medication.

Faced with a worsening opiate epidemic and rising numbers of overdose deaths, policymakers are ramping up medication-assisted treatment.

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President Barack Obama at the end of April 2016 said he’d allocate more money for states to expand access to the medications. He also proposed that physicians be able to prescribe one of the most effective anti-addiction drugs, buprenorphine, to more patients.

California already plans to expand access to medications as it launches an overhaul of the state’s substance abuse treatment system for low-income residents. The state recently embarked on a five-year demonstration project on the premise that addiction is a chronic disease and should be treated as such.

While medication is not for everyone, it can be critical for some people with severe addiction, said Marlies Perez, chief of the substance use disorder compliance division for the state Department of Health Care Services. The medications, she said, “have been proven as the gold standard for really helping people recover.”

The best-known medication, methadone, blocks the effect of certain drugs and lessens withdrawal symptoms. It is highly regulated and can only be prescribed by clinics that have government approval. Buprenorphine, which can be prescribed in doctors’ offices, produces mild opioid effects while also easing withdrawal symptoms. Another medication available by prescription, naltrexone, blocks the effect of opioids.

The medications are available across the country but must be prescribed by physicians with special training. There are only about 30,000 authorized doctors nationwide, and they can only prescribe to a limited number of patients.

Obama’s proposal would allow qualified doctors to prescribe buprenorphine to 200 patients, up from 100.

That could make a big difference in California, Perez said. The state is also trying to better link treatment centers with trained prescribing doctors so that physicians can consult with one another on treatment options for their patients. “Not all physicians, even in the substance use field, have that clinical knowledge,” she said.

The use of medication in treatment conflicts with the 12-step and Narcotics Anonymous philosophy of addiction recovery, which is based on abstinence, experts said. For many, experts said, simple abstinence doesn’t work.

“You would hope that just by talking to somebody, they could get rid of their problem with drugs,” said James Sorensen, a University of California, San Francisco professor and interim director of the substance abuse and addiction medicine program at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital. “The reality is, that is simply not efficient, so we look for other tools.”

Medication is one of the most successful, evidence-based treatments available, and more access should have a big impact on those with substance abuse disorders, said John Connolly, deputy director for substance abuse prevention and control for the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health. But, he cautioned medication should be used alongside more traditional treatment methods.

“The medication has tremendous effect, but it is most impactful when it is prescribed with the necessary counseling and social supports,” he said.

Stephen Kaplan, director of behavioral health and recovery services for San Mateo County, said the county has increased its use of medication. About two years ago, the county began a pilot project to prescribe naltrexone to people with severe alcoholism who hadn’t been successful in traditional treatment.

The medication reduced people’s cravings and drinking, Kaplan said. The county recently began expanding the project to include people with opiate addictions.

Kaplan said he respects providers who believe that replacing one drug with another is not true recovery. But from a policy standpoint, Kaplan said, the medications are effective and should be more integrated into overall recovery for people with substance abuse disorders.

“We need to make available to them every possible option,” he said.

Perez of the state Department of Health Care Services said she believes that Obama’s focus on the opiate epidemic — and his recognition that it is a disease and not a moral failing — helps reduce the stigma.

“That makes a huge difference in folks coming forward and looking for treatment,” she said