September 19, 2013
Understanding Why We Have A Facebook Addiction: Exclusive
Lee Rannals for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
We now live in the age of addiction, whether it is to pain medications or the latest Call of Duty installment; in this day-in-age, it seems as though everyone has something they are addicted to. So, in order to understand a little more about how addiction afflicts us, redOrbit reached out to a Denver Health neuro-technologist for answers.
The Limbic System, or primitive brain, is the area of the brain that lies on both sides of the thalamus, right under the cerebrum. Although this location may seem like neurology jargon, what really matters is that this is the area of the brain in which addiction is found, and Gil Solano says this region is all about survival.
"It's the part of the brain in which we have in common with all mammals," Solano, a Senior Electroneurodiagnostic Technologist in the Neurology Department at Denver Health, told redOrbit. "This ancient part of the brain called the Limbic System, (100 million years old or older) is all about survival. Most importantly, when talking about addiction, this area governs emotions and desires."
A chemical imbalance is theorized to be associated with the cause of mental illness, and Solano says the chemical balance of our Limbic System shapes how we see this world.
"If the chemicals in our Limbic System are out of balance, so is our decision making ability. In a nutshell, our Limbic System's primary goal is to avoid pain and repeat pleasure," Solano said. "Emotional and physical avoidance of pain is very important for survival. The repetition of pleasure is also a main component. I.e. bite from a dog: bad. Steak dinner: good. When we experience positive emotions, dopamine (the gasoline for pleasure) activates what is called the reward circuit."
This "reward circuit" is what keeps us greedy, wanting to keep coming back to that same fix we got previously, whether it be from getting a high score on Candy Crush Saga, or having a routine 2:00 coffee pick-me-up.
"There is really no difference in the gratification one would experience via caffeine or iPhone addiction. They both generate a release of dopamine that stimulates the main neurotransmitter of 'reward'," Solano told redOrbit. "In terms of an addict, their main goal is feeding the habit regardless of the consequences. Taking risks to receive the 'reward' often times becomes the 'reward' in itself."
ADDICTION OR OBSESSION
One big question redOrbit wanted to get down to the bottom of is whether or not Facebook and other social media sites were an addiction or an obsession. While some who habitually check their friends' status updates like a crazy person may flip on-and-off a light switch, others crave their social media fix like a crack-addict stealing copper from an abandoned warehouse.
"In aspects of someone suffering with OCD, they take drastic, often unrealistic measures to avoid risk. This can become debilitating to someone's ability to partake in the positive things in life and often become home bound because they are not able to overcome the stress of the incessant need to avoid risk," said Solano.
In other words, Solano says a rehab facility would be more beneficial to the Facebook addict than the mental hospital. However, he says more research needs to be done in order to help patients overcome their alcoholism or caffeine addiction in these facilities.
"Addiction is a very complicated disease that has limited effectiveness being treated medically. The majority of addicts usually have a history of addiction within their family. In my opinion, a better understanding of the 'addiction gene' would be highly beneficial. If researchers could somehow pin point that genetic code of addiction, medical treatment might be more effective," Solano told redOrbit.
For the immediate problem solver, Gil recommends addicts control the "routine" component of addiction. He says there are three major components of addiction, including triggers, routine, and reward.
"Now it is very difficult to avoid triggers i.e. food addict seeing a fast food ad, however, the routine of the individual is completely up to ones self [sic]. The knowledge of this power can help overcome the behaviors that lead to the ultimate 'reward' one would receive from the act of the habit."
Although alcoholism and drug addictions have been undoubtedly shown to exist in the brain, UCLA researchers challenged the idea of sexual addiction back in July. The scientists from this study said sex addiction is more-or-less likened to someone with a highly active libido rather than an actual addiction. This study was unable to link hypersexuality with the Limbic System, but Solano says this group of researchers could have taken more steps to find evidence for the "Tiger Woods" ailment.
"Although interesting findings were generated by the study, its major flaw is the assumption that sexual images are the primary trigger. They are not taking into account any alternative triggers one may experience such as habitual routines, or using hypersexuality as a coping mechanism. You see, addiction is not just an automatic response to one superficial stimuli. It's deeper than that. Addiction often times if not always, is a means to escape or fill in a void in which in most cases is difficult for the addict to identify."
As an example, Gil said a person trying to cope with loneliness may find solace in pornography when alone, which would involve three triggers: the "emotional state of loneliness, the sexual images of pornography, and being alone in his room. It would be hard for the addict to identify loneliness and solitude as triggers," he added. More often than not, the addict would identify the sexual images as the lone trigger. The setting and mental state of the addict are just as important objects of research as the stimulator itself.
While alcoholism may not be everyone's affliction, the growth of technology is bringing new light to the subject of addiction. Whether it’s due to the reward we receive for beating your best friend in "Words with Friends", or that Red Bull that helps us keep awake when our body tells us to go to sleep, scientists' understanding of this subject is becoming more necessary every day.