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Dr. Cassidy Blair, Psy.D. Licensed Clinical Psychologist | PSY 22022

Dr. Cassidy Blair, Psy.D.

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Is Social Media Addiction The Same As Other Addictions?

Is it possible that all addictions are the same? 


Social media addiction has proven to be an actual illness in need of real treatment for residents of Beverly Hills and beyond. Social media addiction is defined as meeting the criteria for social media disorder, which require that the addict experience the following 9 symptoms: preoccupation, tolerance, withdrawal, persistence, displacement, problem, deception, escape and conflict in terms of managing their interactivity with social media. 



This isn’t the norm for the vast majority of social media users, of course, but studies show that up to 10% of the United States population may in fact be social media addicts. Part of the problem with social media addiction is that it is very frequently likely to become a secondary or cross-addiction for addicts exhibiting more typical addictive behaviors, such as the misuse of drugs or alcohol. 


The Trouble With Cross-Addiction


A common theme in social media addiction research is the likelihood of cross-addiction. This refers to an addict becoming addicted to something besides their primary addiction, such as a sex addict becoming hooked on social media or a heroin addict becoming addicted to alcohol. Evidence suggests that cross-addiction — sometimes referred to as addiction substitution — happens quite easily and readily.  


Cross-addiction occurs when a person has worked towards sobriety or being clean from their primary addictive substance or behavior, only to start using, and subsequently abusing, another addictive substance or behavior. For example, take a heroin addict who has been clean for five years. This guy’s been consistently and readily working on his sobriety from heroin. At some point, the stuff of life stacks up on him and he thinks man, I wish I had some way to relieve some of this tension. And then he logs into his Facebook or Snapchat account, wanting to maybe air his grievances and seek out some support. He finds that support, some funny memes, and much more. Soon he is spending hours and hours on a popular social media platform to help relieve his stress. After all, it’s not like it’s heroin, right?


The Dangers of Cross-Addiction


Unfortunately, as any addict knows, it may as well be heroin. Or gambling. Or anything other addictive activity. Addicts often suffer from cross-addiction because the vulnerability created by the brain’s wiring around one addiction can easily accommodate a different one. This is true for both behavioral and substance abuse addictions, and can be used interchangeably, i.e. a gambling addict may easily become a social media addict once the addiction to gambling has been treated, if they were to start using social media in an addictive manner. 


Part of the problem with this occurrence is a lack of awareness. Most addicts don’t know that they are extremely vulnerable to the problem of cross-addiction. They may feel that, as they have kicked one habit, it’s gone for good and they don’t need to worry about any others. Sadly, this is frequently not the case.


Another issue may be lack of alternative therapies. While research has shown that alternatives like massage, mindfulness, meditation and other holistic practices can be beneficial for those in recovery, these treatments are often not discussed or implemented as part of their recovery plan. While these treatments may be proven therapeutic, they do no good unless the people in need of them know about them, understand their efficacy and how to use them, and have external support and further helpful measures to lean on in case of triggers, stressors and the like. It’s especially important to note the extent to which social media addiction takes away from mindfulness and coping strategies. 


The greatest problem that we are able to trace, however, is that social media addiction affects the same parts of the brain that are affected by substances. These parts of the brain are called reward centers. Brain studies conducted by fMRI scanners have proven that both addictive substances and social media hijack systems used to process feelings of happiness and satisfaction in the brain. Continued misuse of addictive substances or behavior leads, therefore, to addiction. 


How To Cope


Coping mechanisms are many and vary widely. They are extremely effective when applied properly…and frequently. They can range from exercises in mindfulness and meditation to fellowship with other addicts, support communities and beyond. They are highly individualized and extremely useful.


Therapy is a great way to begin seeking out coping mechanisms to substitute for previously destructive behaviors. Building a relationship with a trusted counselor or therapist can help you access networks of assistance and advocacy you may not have ever known were present. 


Blair Wellness Group


The Blair Wellness Group can help you recover from social media addictions, cross-addictions, toxic relationships and more. Whatever your concerns are, we are here to provide concierge-style, highly individualized support for you. Dr. Cassidy Blair has spent her career cultivating a practice of empathy and appreciation for her patients and their circumstances. 


Managing your recovery from addiction isn’t always easy. It doesn’t have to be a constant struggle though. Residents of the greater Beverly Hills area, please reach out and let us help you.

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