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The simple answer is: Yes, it can. To the extent where it might even require professional intervention.

True, in a world where online communication has reached an all-time high, it is, in many ways, impossible to keep away completely from social media. But if our obsession with going online is taking a toll on our lives, then it is an addiction.

An addiction is “Any activity, substance, object, or behaviour that has become the major focus of a person’s life to the exclusion of other activities, or that has begun to harm the individual or others physically, mentally, or socially is considered an addictive behaviour”. (http://www.indiana.edu/~engs/hints/addictiveb.html)

According to Dr Kirin Fiona Hilliar of LifeWorks Foundation, addictions are often maladaptive strategies for coping with deeper issues such as anxiety, depression or trauma. Addictive behaviours, therefore, are not restricted to excessive indulgence in drugs and alcohol. Bingeing on food, pornography, gambling, sex, online gaming or social media over a period of time are also forms of addiction. Though the object of addiction may vary from individual to individual based primarily on availability and personal inclinations, the principles of addictive behaviours are the same. This means that if online gaming or social media is occupying too much of your thoughts and time, then it is time for conscious action.

It is good to understand at this point that online gaming and social media apps have addiction designed into them. From the ‘likes’ and ‘shares’, to the sound of a notification received in Messenger, to the dots that tell you that someone at the other end is typing, each aspect is meant to keep you ‘hooked’. According to recent research by Sang Pil Han at Arizona State University, mobile social apps can foster more dependency than cocaine or alcohol!

Now, ask yourself:

  • Am I unable to focus on my studies/work because I keep thinking about gaming or social media?
  • Is it keeping me from going out with family or friends?
  • Do I lose sleep and appetite over it?

If your answer to any of these is “yes”, maybe it’s time you acted on the information. Here are some tips:

  • Make conscious lifestyle changes that include activities that keep you away from your addiction.
  • Exercise, develop hobbies that keep you motivated.
  • Rope in your family and friends. A good support system is vital to adopting a healthy lifestyle.
  • In case you are unable to do it on your own, seek professional support from a counsellor or psychologist.

According to Dr Hilliar, identifying the root cause and addressing it is vital to achieving lasting results. A therapist can help you understand the root cause, and work with you towards resolving it.

We shall discuss more about addictions, their causes and interventions soon. In the meantime, if you have any queries regarding addictions, reach out to LifeWorks Foundation at info@lifeworksfoundation.com or +971 4 224 5736. Our expert team of counsellors, psychologists and psychiatrists is always ready to help you help yourself.

By Dr Kirin Fiona Hilliar
Psychologist