Social media hurts young people just as much as drugs and alcohol, expert argues

For millennials, addiction has a new object: social media, Tony Rao writes for The Conversation.

Rao is a visiting lecturer in old age psychiatry at King's College London. He writes that previous generations were most commonly faced addiction to drugs or alcohol, but use of these substances is declining among millennials. He cites research from the U.K.'s Office of National Statistics finding that the number of 16- to 24-year olds who abstain from drugs and alcohol has risen 20% in the past 10 years.

97% of college students are distracted by phones during class

Instead, he argues, the millennial generation is addicted to social media. Rao concedes that the word "addiction" may seem like an exaggeration, but he argues that it's an apt description for a behavior that a person views as "pleasurable [and] the only reason to get through the day… everything else pales in significance."

Social media may not cause the physical harm that drugs and alcohol can cause, but Rao argues that it can be just as damaging to mental health as other addictions.

People who are addicted to social media spend more and more time engaging with it and limit the amount of time and attention they give to other tasks, he writes. He cites research showing that social media addiction is correlated with depression and loneliness, risky decisions, and misplaced trust in online acquaintances.

Rao notes that, unlike substance misuse, social media addiction is not classified as a mental health disorder and there is no recognized treatment for it. He argues that much more research needs to be done—and there needs to be a cultural shift about how we view technology use—before we can make progress (Rao, The Conversation, 6/12). 

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