Your Facebook Addiction May Really Be an Addiction

It's hard to believe, but there was a time, less than a decade ago, when Facebook didn't even exist. There was no way to immediately tell everyone you've ever met that you just ate some delicious ribs or that your kid is finally used the big girl potty. (Finally! We all breathed such a sigh of relief on that one.) But in just the few short years since it sprang forth from the mind of Zuckerberg, Facebook has practically taken over our lives, and now it just might be destroying them. Yes, like crack and booze before it, Facebook seems to have a an unbreakable hold on our collective brain. Fortunately, fancy scientists have figured out why we can't stop "liking" everything in sight and have even managed to develop an official test you can use to determine whether you have a genuine Facebook problem. Ready to find out whether you're one status update away from ruining your life?

As for why we have become so dependent on the time-sucking blue-hued vortex invented by entrepreneur Mark Zuckerberg, it turns out that Facebook basically acts on our sad little brains in the same way as anything else rewarding does. Actually, it's not Facebook's ever-changing interface itself but rather the ability Facebook gives us to brag en masse about ourselves that we find so rewarding. A new study by neuroscientists at Harvard found that talking about ourselves brings us the same kind of pleasure as eating food, getting money, or having sex does. So humble brag = humble pie, or something like that.

Anyway, Diana Tamir, the lead researcher on the study, explains, "Self-disclosure is extra rewarding. People were even willing to forgo money in order to talk about themselves." Fortunately, or unfortunately, depending on which side of the disclosure you're on, the internet offers almost limitless ways to talk about yourself 24-7. It's basically one giant game of, "But enough about me, let's talk about you. What do you think about me?"

So how do you tell if your need to brag to your Facebook friends and distant acquaintances has become so necessary for your brain's functioning that it's crossed the line into actual addiction? Well, you can start by assessing yourself using the new Bergen Facebook Addiction Scale. It was developed by psychologist Cecilie Schou Andreassen at the University of Bergen (hence the name), and it reveals that—no surprise—symptoms of Facebook addiction look very much like those of alcohol and drug addiction. Question: why isn't this scale being offered as one of those horrible Facebook quizzes that were all the rage a while back? Anyway, Prepare to be diagnosed.

To rate yourself using the scale, read the following statements and give each one a score of "(1), Very rarely, (2) Rarely, (3) Sometimes, (4) Often, and (5) Very often," depending on how much you do the given thing. Here goes:

−You spend a lot of time thinking about Facebook or plan use of Facebook.
−You feel an urge to use Facebook more and more.
−You use Facebook in order to forget about personal problems.
−You have tried to cut down on the use of Facebook without success.
−You become restless or troubled if you are prohibited from using Facebook.
−You use Facebook so much that it has had a negative impact on your job/studies.

If you scored 4s or 5s on at least four of these items, you might be a Facebook addict. Soooo, how did you do? Feel free to answer this question via status update if you feel the burning need to. Do you need to "check in" at Facebook rehab?

Well, if you are sliding down the slippery slope into the Facebook abyss, you are not alone. Apparently, according to Andreassen's research, Facebook addiction occurs more commonly among young people than older people—makes sense, seeing as most of my older relations seem to only log into Facebook every few weeks, which is an almost inconceivably low frequency to me. NOT THAT I HAVE A PROBLEM. Also the addiction tends to be more prevalent among those who are anxious or socially insecure, and women are also at a higher risk of ending up addicted to the Big Blue Beast. Harumph.

Since a Facebook addiction behaves in much the same way as any other addiction, it's probably only a matter of time before all manner of treatments spring up. Soon we'll be announcing to the world the old-fashioned way—by using our voices—that we've been "clean" for X number of days, and we'll be going to Facebookers Anonymous where our sponsors will gently talk us down from the need to run online and tell everyone that we just had the worst blind date or that it's raining outside. Let's just hope we don't get to the point where we've got people overdosing on Facebook.

Science Reveals Why We Brag So Much [Wall Street Journal]
New Research about Facebook Addiction [University of Bergen via Atlantic]

Image via Grounder/Shutterstock.