4.13.2018

Addiction Remission and Substitution

When people with alcohol addiction stop drinking, they often start consuming larger quantities of other things, like sugar, caffeine, or nicotine to fill the void left by the absence of booze [SOURCE].

I recently quit using Facebook, my primary "addictive drug" of social media. I quit cold turkey and, notwithstanding some mild withdrawal symptoms of irrational anxiety about "missing something/someone important," it's been more positive than negative. Principally, I've noticed a massive increase in the productive time available to me and also a release of significant mental bandwidth to devote to more useful pursuits than simply being a "product" bought, sold, and manipulated by online advertisers (the actual "customers" of the giant social media platforms). I've been playing more music and writing prolifically to fill the void, and it's been awesome.

I had considered quitting Twitter as well as Facebook, but upon reflection, I decided that since I almost never use Twitter, except passively to auto-share blog post links, I could leave that alone. I did decrease my Twitter presence from three separate accounts (two for music and one for health and wellness coaching) to one aggregate account for all three (SEE IT HERE). I assumed that my Twitter use and engagement would remain essentially nil. But an interesting thing happened. Without Facebook to provide the pleasure centers in my brain with microdoses of norepinephrine and dopamine, I found myself turning to Twitter more frequently than in the past. Much like the person who quits drinking alcohol and increases coffee consumption, I had subliminally begun to substitute Twitter for Facebook.

Obviously, I had good insight on this phenomenon when it occurred, thanks to my ongoing clinical training in marriage and family therapy, and took remedial steps to prevent one vice substituting for another. I still have not deleted my one remaining Twitter account and probably won't, unless I find it starting to negatively impact my social and occupational functioning. One could argue that the fact that I have devoted an entire blog post to the topic of my social media addiction is solid evidence that I am still in the withdrawal phase, and that argument would have solid circumstantial evidence to back it up. However, a decent case could be made that I am simply exercising my creative writing abilities here, since I am not currently engaging in the active social media use that would normally suck this time period into its gaping black whole maw from which no creativity can ever escape.* Instead, I am rather furiously writing on the first topic that came to mind when I sat down for my usual hour or so of creative journaling today. Analogously, the person abstaining from alcohol may, for quite a long time, still think about booze and getting drunk. This is a symptom of withdrawal, but as far as the DSM-5 diagnosis of Alcohol Use Disorder is concerned, it is not necessary nor sufficient to diagnose the disorder (two or more diagnostic symptoms are required, one of them involving actual use or symptoms of dependency), and the subject is considered to be "in remission" as long as they are not actively using alcohol, nor suffering the negative effects of withdrawal (dependency) [SOURCE]. I am not arguing against the fair case that I am in remission from Facebook use. I am. And indeed, I am well aware of the risk of relapse.**

Interestingly, journaling is a therapeutic intervention used in the professional treatment of people with a variety of mental health disorders, including post-traumatic stress and alcohol or drug abuse. As such, writing this post is a form of catharsis and treatment during my recovery from social media addiction.*** It acts as a medium to "externalize" thoughts and feelings relating to the problem so that they can be made explicit and tackled cooperatively by the client and the therapist (both of whom are personified in a single individual, in this case...ME!). Another intervention for addiction disorders is mindfulness techniques, such as meditation or exercise. And, in fact, meditation is what I am going to go do right now, before starting an afternoon of DEEP WORK on school stuff. Ciao!

*Note: Indeed, you are probably accessing this post by way of a social media platform, so in that sense I am passively engaging social media.

**Note: There are degrees of abstinence from social media, just as there are for chemical substances. Some people recovering from alcohol addiction and dependence can enter a tavern and resist the urge to drink with varying degrees of discomfort. Others must avoid bars and social situations with a pro-drinking demographic. Likewise, a social media addict can will themselves not to use social media while still maintaining an "active" social media account. I tried that for a while, but relapsed often. So, I finally had to "delete" my account. This is not as simple as it sounds. To do so, one must first "deactivate" the social media account. Once deactivated, the account remains in existence, albeit "offline," for 30 days before being "permanently" deleted. And any login to the account, purposeful or accidental, within that 30 days reactivates the account back to fully functional and online. That 30 day window is the "danger zone" for the recovering social mediaholic, during which the subject approaches all electronic devices with the "white knuckled" fear and anxiety of an addict (an exaggeration...but not a large one).

***Note: The DSM-5 does not currently recognize social media addiction as an official mental health disorder, but it soon may...and should! If a use addiction is globally diagnosed by its negative impact on social or occupational functioning, social media addiction would definitely qualify. Naysayers would argue that the fact that it is "social" media automatically implies an improvement in social interaction, but any survivor of social media bullying would probably discourage such a claim. Indeed, addictive gambling is a recognized DSM-5 disorder, but you would not argue (I hope) that gambling improves social functioning simply because it happens in a public space in the presence of other like-minded gamblers. A visit to any casino would quickly illustrate the social isolation experienced by gamblers, and in fact, the monofanatical scrolling through social media news by users has been equated to the repetitive pulling of slot machine levers by gamblers...surely, your next cat meme or baby picture is going to garner a ton of dopamine spiking likes and comments [SOURCE 1, SOURCE 2].

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