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Is Social Media an Addiction or Illness ?

6 April 2018 10:41 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}


 It’s difficult to recall a period in the past which was similar to the past few weeks where the attention of the Sri Lankan general population was on social media and the internet. This was because of a temporary ban on social media, brought upon due to a lot of hate mail and visuals posted on this type of media which was threatening the peace in the country. The ban was extended to such a level that some even sought the assistance of the law, claiming it was a violation of human rights. In our attempt to reminisce and analyse this ‘blackout’ of social media we decided to obtain the views of Dr. Kosala Amaranayake, MBBS, MD (Psychiatry) Consultant psychiatrist, Lecturer at the Teaching Hospital Peradeniya and Department of Psychiatry and Faculty of Medicine, Peradeniya.   

Q Is there any good in social media ?   

One can argue that there is no good at all in social media. However in a superficial outlook people tend to infer that there are more advantages in social media than disadvantages. For example if you want to get hold of a childhood friend that you haven’t seen for years, all it takes is a matter of a few seconds of doing a search and one can locate this friend in social media. These efforts can be followed by sending a friend request. If the friend is operating under his true name, definitely you will find the friend on the social media within seconds. Then if you want to send a message you can send it within a fraction of a second. Not just the message if you wish to send that particular person a photo of yourself, you can use your phone with high definition camera and send a high quality photograph. However if social media is used responsibly only for the above reasons there is no doubt that there are more advantages compared to disadvantages in using social media. However is this the real picture of social media today?   

Q Can someone be addicted to social media? Is it an illness?   

Some of the recent research studies reveal that people can be addicted to social media. But the recent classification systems of psychiatric disorders (ICD 10 and DSM 5) do not categorize these kinds of addictions as illnesses. However there are enough reports which suggest that some who are addicted to social media and the internet are being treated by psychiatrists considering the harmful effects caused by such tools in communication to the user. 

If you want to check whether you have issues with social media, internet or to find out whether these tools have affected your life, ask the following question from yourself ?   


  • Are you obsessed with thoughts of using social media ?   
  • Has the time you spend with social media increased over time ?   
  • Do you use social media despite knowing its harmful effects?   
  • Do you feel lonely when you don’t use social media ?   
  • Do you neglect other alternative pleasurable activities to use social media?   
  • Do you use social media to distract your loneliness?   
  • Do you find it difficult to stop having access to social media ?   

  If your answer is yes to many of these questions there is a high possibility that you are negatively affected by social media or Internet.   

Q What are the negative effects of social media?   

American Journal of Preventive medicine reports that people who use social media more often are more likely to be isolated in society. The Forbes journal reports that social media stimulates the feeling of sadness in many folds compared to the feeling of happiness. And at the same time it reports that social media curbs the skill of assessing the success of life correctly due to the fact that social media, most of the time, over estimates your achievements and underestimate your weaknesses.   

Many researchers worldwide report the detrimental effects of social media on children and adolescents. Sabatini and Sarracino from Italy report their research findings by using 50,000 social media users. They have come to the conclusion that people who use social media more often lose the trust they have in society.   

On the other hand people who excessively use social media may be having psychiatric conditions like depression and anxiety disorders for which they are using social media to cope up with the symptoms of these mental conditions.   

The electronic equipment used to access social media like computers, smartphones, tabs are an integral part of social media. Childhood and the adolescent period are the times that children acquire life skills. Therefore whatever negative effects their psychological development brings during this period can badly affect their whole life.   

When there was no social media or electronic equipment, children used to spend time with their parents, peers, siblings or the environment. This led them to acquire new social skills and improve existing skills. It is a known fact that the new generation of children and adolescent are spending most of their time with electronic equipment. This leads to poor development of physical as well as psychological skills leading to physical disorders like diabetes and psychological disorders like depression, anxiety disorders and etc.   

Poor impulse control is a major contributing factor of various types of problems seen in the modern society. This can range from a simple road traffic accident to a murder. Some of the studies revealed that social media, computer games and the internet can have negative effects on impulse control. These effects can be either direct or indirect. 

Some studies identify anger in people who use violent games. These past times cause changes in the ‘brain anger control centres’. On the other hand the patience we acquired from waiting till the postman delivers the letters to the doorstep has vanished with the technological development. Now we are used to getting a reply in the form of a message, email or as a post on social media in double quick time. Some researchers hypothesize that these effects can impair a person’s ability to control anger.   

The child who watches or experiences the violent character in the computer games or cartoons he or she watches, tries to mimic it. The shooting incidences occurring in most of the countries around the world provide good examples of these effects. Most of the countries are now in the process of making legislations either to ban or control violent cartoons, computer games etc.   

Due to lack of experience and considering only a limited number of factors when they make decisions, children tend to draw wrong conclusions and try to believe fully in what they see. Some capitalise on this psychological concept and operate with fake profiles in social media and to abuse children physically and psychologically.   

Q If you or your child is addicted to social media or using electronic equipment what must you do?  


  • Set the maximum time limit to one hour of using electronic equipment if your child is between 6 years and 12 years   
  • Set the maximum time limit to half an hour of using electronic equipment if your child is between 2 years and 6 years   
  • Do not allow children under 2 years to use such equipment 
  • Don’t use your smartphone to ease the feeding of the child   
  • Always let children use the electronic equipment with ‘Parental Control’ option.   
  • Don’t allow children to be isolated with electronic equipment and always make them use it under supervision.   
  • Do not allow children at all to watch violent content in films, cartoons, social media or in games   

Q What message would you give to the public on the careful use of social media?   


  • Limit the time you spend on social media   
  • Have self control when using social media   
  • Do not post all your activities on social media   
  • Be cautious when you communicate through social media, specially when you are depressed and anxious   
  •  Do not watch violent, impulsive content on social media   
  • Do not believe everything as it is when you see something on social media   
  • Do not believe what you see in social media as the reality   
  • Always think that excessive social media usage is a waste of time   
  • Do not compare your life with what you see in the social media.   
  • Minimize exposing your personal life matters through social media   


The recent advancements in technology, the use of social media and the electronic equipment has been rapid. Using them without control leads to various physical and psychological consequences. If you are cautious and use them with control the detrimental effects of using social media and electronic equipment can be minimized. Dr. Amaranayake concludes this discussion leaving you to carefully think over whether the advancement of the technology has presented you with advantages or disadvantages.   


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