Can You Be Addicted to Facebook or is it Just a Bad Habit?

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Six questions that indicate when a Facebook habit (or any other habit) is getting out of control.

From my new book:

“We don’t know her name, but her problem illustrates a new fear. According to a short case report in an academic journal, a 24-year-old woman presented herself to a psychiatric clinic in Athens, Greece. She had joined Facebook eight months previously, and since then, her life had taken a nosedive. She told doctors she had 400 online friends and spend five hours a day on her Facebook page. She recently lost her job as a waitress because she kept sneaking out to visit a nearby Internet cafe. She wasn’t sleeping properly and was feeling anxious. As though to underline the problem, during the clinical interview she took out her mobile phone and tried to check her Facebook page.”

It seems we live in an age of paranoia about what the Internet is doing to our minds. Inspired by this, some psychologists are now creating scales designed to measure whether the Facebook habit is getting out of control.

One of these asks you to answer the following questions on a scale running through very rarely, rarely, sometimes, often, up to very often (Andreassen, 2012). Note that you should decide how often these have happened during the last year:

  • Spent a lot of time thinking about Facebook or planned use of Facebook?
  • Used Facebook in order to forget about personal problems?
  • Felt an urge to use Facebook more and more?
  • Become restless or troubled if you have been prohibited from using Facebook?
  • Used Facebook so much that it has had a negative impact on your job/studies?
  • Tried to cut down on the use of Facebook without success?

According to the author, if the answers are either ‘often’ or ‘very often’ to at least four of these six questions, then the Facebook habit may well be getting out of control.

This is described as a ‘Facebook Addiction Scale’, but can you really be addicted to Facebook? It’s debatable and I’ve discussed this before (see: Does Internet Use Lead to Addiction, Loneliness, Depression…and Syphilis?). Technically, probably not because Facebook gathers together all kinds of activities, like gaming and social networking, and these need to be tested individually (Griffiths, 2012).

That said, some aspects of Facebook use (likely the social networking) do certainly come to rule some people’s behaviour, such that it starts to interfere with their everyday lives.

Bad habit or addiction?

Although I’m a little skeptical about the scale, you can use it to check up on whether any of your habits, not just Facebook, are getting out of control. Try replacing ‘Facebook’ in the questions with any other routine. This is a good informal way of working out if a target routine behaviour might be slipping over into the danger zone.

There is certainly a lot of crossover between bad habits and addiction. For comparison, here is what we classically think of as an addiction:

  1. They dominate thoughts and behaviour,
  2. They change the way we feel,
  3. You need more of them to get the same initial effect,
  4. You suffer withdrawal when they are reduced or removed,
  5. They conflict with our everyday responsibilities, whether at work or socially.
  6. After abstinence, the pattern of behaviour reasserts itself.

When you look at this you can see why the confusion about whether some behaviours are addictions has arisen. Suddenly even very benign behaviours like reading, watching TV or, indeed Facebook use, can start to look like addictions.

It’s important to remember that we’re talking about a sliding scale here. It’s only at the top end, when these behaviour are seriously interfering people’s lives that habits become pathological.

Image credit: nate bolt

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About the author


Dr Jeremy Dean is a psychologist and the author of PsyBlog. His latest book is "Making Habits, Breaking Habits: How to Make Changes That Stick". You can follow PsyBlog by email, by RSS feed, on Twitter and Google+.

Published: 14 January 2013

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Images: Creative Commons License