Social Network Addiction – A Scientific No Man’s Land?

The last decade witnessed an explosion of social networks such as Myspace and Facebook, which added a new social dimension to the web.

While such networks have made people, communities and groups with shared interests stay more “connected,” Internet addiction and social network addiction in particular also started being recognized as psychological disorders all over the world. While several 90’s studies focused on Internet addiction, the next decade saw the growth of a new addiction related to all manner of social networking sites, especially the current king of the jungle: Facebook.

In a recent study from the University of Athens, Greek psychiatrists argued that a woman who had gone as far as losing her job on account of her compulsion to check and update her Facebook, could be identified as a “social network addict.”

Of course, there are different levels of social network addiction. Another recent study carried out at a Czech University analyzed Facebook-related academic procrastination. Though based on a sample too small to draw any general conclusions, one interesting finding of the research was that people tended to be unaware of just how much time they really spent on Facebook, and the effect this might have on their academic performance.

On the other hand, it has been noted that there may be a correlation between low self-esteem and a sense of social inadequacy and social network addiction. It seems that many types of social interaction which would present great challenges in the real world for certain types of individuals have been rendered much easier for them in the virtual world, thus putting them at a higher risk of becoming addicted to Facebook and the like.

A Mexican study found that Facebook addicts (a category defined by reportedly spending over four hours everyday on Facebook) had a higher incidence of depression and lower physical and general self-esteem levels than less frequent Facebook users.

There are many factors that determine the characteristics of Internet and social network addictions in different parts of the world. The nature and scope of these problems are not only affected by technological advancement and the number of computers connected to the Internet per capita and other such quantitative data, but cultural factors are also key in determining the local incidence of these addictions.

While social network addiction is not included in the DSM IV, many researchers advocated its inclusion in DSM V, which is currently under way. For example, in a 2008 editorial for the American Journal of Psychiatry, IAD (Internet Addiction Disorder) inclusion advocate Dr. Jerald Block cited the case of South Korea, stating that:

After a series of 10 cardiopulmonary-related deaths in Internet cafés and a game-related murder, South Korea considers Internet addiction one of its most serious public health issues. Using data from 2006, the South Korean government estimates that approximately 210,000 South Korean children (2.1%; ages 6–19) are afflicted and require treatment. About 80% of those needing treatment may need psychotropic medications, and perhaps 20% to 24% require hospitalization.

Since the average South Korean high school student spends about 23 hours each week gaming, another 1.2 million are believed to be at risk for addiction and to require basic counseling. In particular, therapists worry about the increasing number of individuals dropping out from school or work to spend time on computers. As of June 2007, South Korea has trained 1,043 counselors in the treatment of Internet addiction and enlistedover 190 hospitals and treatment centers.

Nevertheless, the DSMV V draft released earlier this year revealed “work group members decided there was insufficient research data” to include Internet addiction in the newly created “behavioral addictions” category.

It has been over 13 years since pioneer Kimberley S. Young adapted the DSM IV criteria for gambling addictions to define Internet addiction. While her proposed diagnosis criteria have virally spread (to use a familiar term related to social networking) all over the world, it seems that the scientific community is not yet ready to reach a consensus as to what this type of addiction entails.

Social networks have changed the ways we interact with each other enormously. One thing that has changed dramatically is the concept of meeting people. This was brought to my attention a couple of weeks ago, when I met a musician for the first time, whom I had casually crossed online a couple of times. Oddly enough, none of us acted as if this were a “first meeting.” Another thing that called my attention was when another musician said from the stage “thank you for coming; because a lot of people say they are attending on Facebook but they never show up.” This also made me think about how much time we are devoting to talking about Facebook, even when we are offline, and how many times we log on to Facebook to show our friends something, even during actual person-to-person meetings or social gatherings.

Every drug has a gratification component, and, if social networks are causing an addiction, they must have one too. A very interesting study from the University of Bath tried to identify these gratifications, concluding that:

Users derive a variety of uses and gratifications from social networking sites, including traditional content gratification alongside building social capital, communication, surveillance and social networking surfing. The different uses and gratifications relate differentially to patterns of usage, with social connection gratifications tending to lead to increased frequency of use, and content gratifications to increased time spent on the site.

While the incidence of social network addictions in other parts of the world may not be as dramatic as Internet gaming addictions, for example, seem to be in some Asian countries, the rapid growth of social networks both in reach and in the number of interaction possibilities, poses new problems everyday for the elaboration of solid diagnostic criteria. From academic procrastination to social impairment as far as real physical interactions are concerned, diminished productivity at work and physical problems associated with a sedentary lifestyle; there seem to be enough problems related to Internet and social network addictions to give researchers enough to work on for many years to come.


Karaiskos, D., Tzavellas, E., Balta, G., & Paparrigopoulos, T. (2010). P02-232 – Social network addiction : a new clinical disorder? European Psychiatry, 25, 855-855 DOI: 10.1016/S0924-9338(10)70846-4

Holbova, P. Academic procrastination on Facebook. Masaryk University, Czech Republic.

Herrera, M., Pacheco, M., Palomar, J., Zavala, D. Facebook Addiction Related to Low Self-Esteem, Depression and Lack of Social Skills. Psicología Iberoamericana, Vol. 18 No.1 (2010).

Block, J. (2008). Issues for DSM-V: Internet Addiction American Journal of Psychiatry, 165 (3), 306-307 DOI: 10.1176/appi.ajp.2007.07101556

Report on the American Psychiatric Association’s revisions for DSM V.

YOUNG, K. (1998). Internet Addiction: The Emergence of a New Clinical Disorder CyberPsychology & Behavior, 1 (3), 237-244 DOI: 10.1089/cpb.1998.1.237

Veronica Pamoukaghlian, MA

Veronica Pamoukaghlian, MA, holds a Masters in Creative Writing. She has directed two documentaries shot in psychiatric wards and a feature documentary about the 77-year old senior Decathlon champion of the world, Raul. Her last production is Monstruo, a short film about non-voluntary euthanasia. She is the CEO of Uruguayan film production company Nektar FIlms. You may visit her blog at The Wander Life
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