On modern addiction

Photo by Saulo Mohana on Unsplash

I want to make a bold statement.

I strongly believe that human beings are addicted by nature. And I’m also convinced that the source of the big problems of the third millennium aren’t drugs, alcohol and tobacco. They are not the ones that could have the potential to disrupt modern societies.

The “great dangers” that I’m talking about are pretty recent and have grown rapidly in the past ten years. They are the drugs of the third millennium and their abuse is creating a new form of addiction.

As stated by Wikipedia, addiction is a brain disorder characterised by compulsive engagement in rewarding stimuli, despite adverse consequences.

Nowadays a person is literally surrounded by an endless number of rewarding stimuli, not so different from the ones given by drugs or alcohol. I am talking about social media, Youtube, pornography.

In modern societies everything is ready to use, any person with an internet connection can satisfy most of the cravings of the human brain without leaving the chair in front of his computer.

Addiction can be described with two consequential phases:

  1. The dopamine phase: the brain identifies something that is needed by it in order to make the person feel happy or fulfilled, releasing dopamine.
  2. The stress phase: if the person doesn’t satisfy the craving then he’ll feel discomfort, anxiety or even pain.

The brain is stimulated by these 3 elements:

  1. Availability
  2. Novelty
  3. Stimulation

With a brain that is constantly craving for new informations, these 3 factors combined are the perfect ingredients in order to create an addiction by the book.

And guess what? Social media functioning is based on these 3 key elements.

Let’s take Instagram, for example: it is a free and always available service, it offers every minute new content and continuously rewards the brain with nothing else that useless junk. It often creates a compulsive behaviour where a person checks Instagram dozens of times a day only to satisfy a false need. The brain basically comes to learn that checking Instagram is a pleasant activity (supposedly) capable of lowering the stress level or distracting the person from more urgent (but unpleasant) matters.

Facebook, on the other hand, is the origin of the modern meaning of “feeling blue”, as demonstrated by a research published in “Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking”.

Pornography follows the same pattern with an important extra. It creates an endless circle where not only your brain but also your body will crave for more and more stimuli. The result will be an addiction even stronger than the one caused by social media.

Of course, pornography addiction hasn’t become (yet) a worldwide issue. But can we say the same thing about Facebook, Twitter or Instagram? The stats about users and daily accesses far exceed those of porn sites.

Modern studies are showing that addiction is nowadays an essential part of our lives. Anne Wilson Schaef, in her book “When society becomes an addict”, wrote that life in the States is so stressful that it is almost physiological to become addicted to something.

Back in the old days…

I said that human beings are addicted by nature. That means that even two thousand years ago men and women fought with addiction.

Well… yes and no.

Sure, years and years ago they had their own problems and their own sources of stress (and I’m willing to bet that their problems were much biggers than ours).

But they didn’t have all of the “instruments” to escape from reality that we have today. They had to face every problem right when it showed up in front of them.

I believe it is not a coincidence that we are witnessing a rise of books that talk about mindfulness, control over life and emotions, peace of the mind.

Who doesn’t know about Stoics and their ways to face life’s adversities?

We are, consciously or not, trying to regain the ancient wisdom.

What can we do now (?)

So, what can we do about the new threats posed by the new addictions of the third millennium?

We can surely look back in the past, try to revive old ways to retrieve some sort of peace of the mind.

But first of all we have to develop awareness, here and now.

We have to search for a purpose every time we take our smartphone out of the pocket.

Let’s try not to anaesthetise ourselves by looking at a screen even when we are hanging out with friends.

Let’s allow ourselves to feel bored, shitty, anxious, angry from time to time without the need to silence those feelings like they were some kind of dangerous emotion.

They are part of us, like happiness, excitement and every other positive sensation that our brain gives us in every moment of our lives.

I think it’s simple. Not easy, but it’s worth to try.