Have you ever posted a photo, a poem, even a simple thought on a social network and then found yourself checking – perhaps even compulsively – if you were getting any notifications for new comments and likes?
Who doesn't “feel better” when a photo gets 70, 80, 100 likes or, on the contrary, feel a little saddened if it's not very successful?
Feeling happy due to receiving others’ approval is a normal phenomenon (though without idolizing the esteem of others to the point of losing your own identity). Feeling supported and well-regarded is an inherent human need.
But why are we so sensitive to likes on our posts?
The answer is chemical too: the brain, in fact, releases dopamine, the so-called “pleasure and reward hormone,” whenever we receive gratification.
Dopamine is the neurotransmitter involved in our body's reward mechanisms.
When we receive positive stimuli (such as eating our favorite food, listening to good music, cooling off in the pool, etc.), the body releases this hormone, transmitting a feeling of well-being.
Dopamine also influences our relationship with social networks: when someone shows interest in something we have posted, what we get, in fact, is a feeling of pleasure.
This process – in itself completely natural – can, however, be triggered in an artificial way (for example, by taking drugs) or take over, throwing reasoning out the window (for example, when we compulsively gamble): in these cases, we encounter addictions.
Social media addiction
Addiction, as already explained on our portal thanks to the help of two therapists , is always a “compensation mechanism,” which arises from a natural need for gratification, which was not satisfied at the right time in the right way.
Dopamine plays a key role in the development of addictions to drugs, alcohol, gambling, pornography... and even social media.
In fact, it is scientifically proven that even these virtual platforms can be addictive.
A 2014 study shows, for example, that as many as 4.4% of European adolescents are affected by a type of addiction to social networks.
The very mechanisms of social networks (based on likes, shares, comments, followers, etc.) keep us glued to the screen and evermore present in the virtual realm.
Getting sucked in (sometimes a little more than we should) by social networks happens quite commonly (I, too, am guilty of it unfortunately).
We know, now, that we have dopamine to “blame” for this. On top of dopamine, we add misdirected human tendencies, as LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman acknowledges: “Social networks work when they represent one of the seven deadly vices.” He added, bluntly, "LinkedIn responds to greed. Facebook, to vanity." No wonder, the “old seven deadly sins” are also in action when we are dealing with social networks.
How is it triggered?
It is explained well in this article (in italian) that the mechanism is quite simple: it starts in the precise moment you share something (a photo, a video, an image, a thought).
When you receive likes, the brain interprets that information as a “reward” and releases a rush of dopamine. This “pleasurable event” leads to doing it again: you share more content and wait, glued to the screen, for new reactions.
In a full-blown social addiction, the loop continues potentially indefinitely, sucking up energy that should be spent in real life.
When you realize you're a slave to a social media addiction, there's no shame in asking for help—on the contrary, doing so is a sign of courage, strength, and maturity—as you would for any other addiction.
If we have a compulsive attitude, if we can't live a normal life, if we take away too much time from work, friendships, family, housekeeping or other “non-virtual” activities, just to receive new likes and comments, it's time to face reality—not only to put an end to the addiction, but to understand how it began in the first place.
In fact, as the therapists in the article published on our portal linked above explained, “addiction is always a symptom of a deeper wound that needs to be healed.”