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UK study finds evidence of drug abuse behaviour in excessive social media users

FILE PHOTO: Silhouettes of mobile users are seen next to a screen projection of Facebook logo in this picture illustration taken March 28, 2018. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration/File Photo/File Photo

By John von Radowitz, Press Association Science Correspondent

A link has been found between excessive use of social media and behaviour seen in drug addicts.

US scientists conducting a gambling experiment found that the worst performers tended to be those hooked on social media sites such as Facebook.

Precisely the same trend has been seen in people who abuse drugs such as cocaine and heroin.

Lead researcher Dr Dar Meshi, from Michigan State University, said: "Around one-third of humans on the planet are using social media, and some of these people are displaying maladaptive, excessive use of these sites.

"Our findings will hopefully motivate the field to take social media overuse seriously."

The study highlights a connection between excessive social media use and risky decision making, a common feature of drug addiction.

Dr Meshi's team first asked 71 participants to take part in a survey designed to measure their psychological dependence on Facebook.

Questions asked about their pre-occupation with the platform, their feelings when unable to use it, attempts to quit the site, and the impact Facebook had on their jobs or studies.

Participants were then asked to take part in the Iowa Gambling Task, a method of assessing decision-making and risky behaviour widely used by psychologists.

The task involves identifying outcome patterns in decks of cards to choose the best possible deck.

The researchers found that the worse people performed by choosing from bad decks, the more excessively they were likely to use social media.

Those who did better at the task were less social media dependent.

The results mirrored those from other studies showing that people who abuse heroin, cocaine or methamphetamine produce similar outcomes in the gambling task.

"Decision making is oftentimes compromised in individuals with substance use disorders," said Dr Meshi. "They sometimes fail to learn from their mistakes and continue down a path of negative outcomes. But no one previously looked at this behaviour as it relates to excessive social media users, so we investigated this possible parallel between excessive social media users and substance abusers.

"While we didn't test for the cause of poor decision-making, we tested for its correlation with problematic social media use.

"I believe that social media has tremendous benefits for individuals, but there's also a dark side when people can't pull themselves away.

"We need to better understand this drive so we can determine if excessive social media use should be considered an addiction."

The findings are published in the Journal of Behaviour Addictions.

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