5 ways to know you are a digital addict and how to escape..

How to know if you are addicted to social media, and how to break the cycle.

I might be addicted. You also are most likely addicted. The question is not if, but “at what level” are we are addicted.

No I don’t drink. Don’t smoke. Opioids, nope. My, and most likely your addiction, is to social media and/or digital entertainment –netflix, hulu, etc. Particularly on our phones.

Questions to ask yourself to determine if you are addicted.

  1. When I’m bored, do I check my “insert preferred digital media.”
  2. When I’m relaxing, do I check my “insert preferred digital media.”
  3. When I see something I want to remember, do I share to …
  4. When I am offended do I…
  5. When I get distracted, is it by…

Researcher Simon Sinek singles out millenials in this interview as having digital addictions to social media. It’s worth your time. But I think Sinek misses the bigger picture. Grandmas and grandpas are addicted. Middle aged soccer moms.

Addiction is characterized by inability to consistently abstain, impairment in behavioral control, craving, …, and a dysfunctional emotional response.

As a society, we are increasingly turning to digital consumption to unwind, to relax. Similar to the alcoholic who wants “just one drink,” we’ll “just pop on” to FB, just watch “one show” on Netflix. Three hours later, well, it’s 1 am, and you gotta get up at 5:45.

From the American Society of Addiction Medicine

Short Definition of Addiction:

“Addiction is a primary, chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory and related circuitry. Dysfunction in these circuits leads to characteristic biological, psychological, social and spiritual manifestations. This is reflected in an individual pathologically pursuing reward and/or relief by substance use and other behaviors.

Addiction is characterized by inability to consistently abstain, impairment in behavioral control, craving, diminished recognition of significant problems with one’s behaviors and interpersonal relationships, and a dysfunctional emotional response. Like other chronic diseases, addiction often involves cycles of relapse and remission. Without treatment or engagement in recovery activities, addiction is progressive and can result in disability or premature death.” (http://www.asam.org/quality-practice/definition-of-addiction)

I current teach a couple classes at North Central University. Each semester, students in my Cultural Anthropology class write a paper reflecting on NCU culture as though they were an alien. One common theme runs throughout almost 200 papers now. 200 papers. 1 theme.

Sadness. Sadness at their connection to their digital lives. Particularly to this slavery to smart phones.

Charles Duhigg wrote an important book called “The Power of Habit” in which he identifies the habit loop. To break our addictions, we have to identify this loop, and break it. The loop is simple.



In the case of media, the cue might be dead space in our lives. Waiting in line. Waiting at the Red light. CUE.

HABIT> Reach for the phone.

Sadness. Sadness at their connection to their digital lives. 

Identifying the reward is much more subtle.

According to Sinek, the reward is the little shot of dopamine we might get from a “like” or a “comment.” Its why text messages are more rewarding if we have a sound associated with them. Ding… little shot of Dopamine.

Dopamine is the highly addictive feel good chemical release by our brain.


How do we then change the cycle?

  1. Practice self disciple. I know it sounds easy, but self discipline means putting the phone out of reach in the car. Practice. Work at it. Daily. Embrace the idea as though you were joining a self help group, or a sports team. Practice, practice, practice.
  2. Replace your single stop shop. Our phones have now become our complete life assistants. GPS, media player, movies on the go, alarm clocks and communication devices. How do you get out of the dependance on all that? You may need to pull out that old GPS. You may need to pull out the old iPod and load it with music. Or even unbox those old CDs. Prepare ahead of time to cut our need for the phone.
  3. Struggle. Character is formed through struggle. There is no other way. Resisting the urge will grow the muscle… if…
  4. Rewire the CUE-HABIT-REWARD cycle. Replace the habit with another. For example, boredom in line. That’s the cue. New habit- mindful breathing. Practice intentional deep breathing. Reward- infusion of long lasting health beneficial oxygen.

We are creatures of habit. We want to systematize our lives. But we want to be creatures of habit, not addition.

What are some of your suggestions for breaking the cycle?

Post feedback on our FB page.







Leave a Reply