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Does Social Media Help or Hurt Recovery?

By Cheryl Steinberg

I recently read an interesting article entitled, Do You Hate Facebook, or Do You Hate Your Life? in which the author talked about a tendency for people to want to “unplug” from social media at times when their lives are under stress or in a state of chaos. But, is it the overwhelming ability to be connected at every minute of the day, or is it that there’s something going on in your life that you dislike and that you are merely misplacing the blame? “Do you hate texting, or do you hate the people who text you? Do you hate email, or your job and the emails integral to it? Do you hate Facebook, or do you hate your life?” she asks.

And I wonder, is this something that could be specifically affecting those of us in recovery, at perhaps a greater risk than “normies.” So, let’s examine the question, does social media help or hurt recovery?

Social Media and Peer Support

Social media includes not only Facebook and Instagram but, text, email, Twitter, and so on. It definitely plays an important role in keeping us connected in a hectic society where we don’t always have time for face-to-face interactions. And it’s great for staying in touch with loved ones who live too far away to drop in and visit.

Therefore, social media can certainly play a helpful role in our recovery, keeping us connected with our sober supports, friends, family, and other loved ones. Quite often, I see people posting a Facebook status celebrating their sobriety date that then prompts a long thread of loving congratulations, encouragement and support.

On the flip side, social media is a tool that can be used to criticize and even bully others, as well. In cases where friends have a bad falling out or intimate partners have a nasty split, feelings are hurt, and people become embittered. They might even turn to social media to publicly air their grievances or to intentionally humiliate one another. If not done in a public forum, they may take to the more private arena of text or email to exchange blows. This can be extremely problematic to someone who is already in a fragile state.

FOMO

Sometimes, the fear of missing out ca be so strong as to incite feelings of anxiety. You see photos of people having fun, going places, and so on – all without you. Social media provides us with a window into people’s lives and, if you’re having one of those days where you’re questioning whether you’re a true alcoholic and you see pictures of people partying and having a good time, this can be a strong temptation to resist.

Comparing your recovery successes with that of others

Depending on how spiritually fit you are, peering into the lives of others can be either a good thing or a bad thing for you. If you are in a good place in your recovery and you see people also doing well in theirs, you’ll probably be happy and even excited for them; for example, they post statuses like, “On our way to Bali” or “Setting sail for our cruise to Alaska” and you find yourself celebrating along with them and enjoying the beautiful pictures of sunsets and whales they post.

On the other hand, however, if you are having a not-so-good day in your recovery and you go on Facebook and Instagram only to see all the “humblebrags,” you might feel annoyed, jealous, and even resentful. And we all know just how harmful it is for those of us in recovery to start holding resentments.

Acting out

I have a friend whose Facebook quitting attempts align with feelings of inadequacy. “I think I use the internet as an escape and a numbing out,”

And there are actual new medical conditions related to the use of new technologies, such as smart phones and lap tops, that I will lump in with the ‘acting out’ category because they are more a pign of psychological dependence, such as that which accompanies addiction.

There’s what’s called nomophobia, (the condensed term for “no-mobile-phone phobia”), which is essentially the experiencing of separation anxiety even at the mere thought of being without your smart phone, even for a trip to the bathroom. According to one recent study, 66% of people suffer with symptoms like trembling, sweating, and nausea.

Then there’s the problem of sleep deprivation, which can prove quite detrimental to those of us in recovery, as it can affect mood and bring on PAWS. Doctors at the Mayo Clinic say smartphone and tablet use before bed messes interrupts our natural sleep cycles. Having bright lights too close to the face can suppress the release of melatonin, keeping the mind from entering the half-awake state that precedes sleep. One survey revealed that 75% of 18-to-44-year-olds sleep within reach of their smartphones.

Does Social Media Help or Hurt Recovery? A Suggestion

Quitting social media removes the temptation to waste time on it but it also holds a symbolic function. Some people associate social media such as Facebook with disengaged idling, therefore quitting is like addressing the character defects they recognize that they have, such as complacency and distractibility.

Exerting control in your online life can be a gesture toward regaining control offline. So, it just might be a good idea to unplug once in a while, and spend some time with a good book, or having actual face time with a friend, without the distraction of your smartphones at the table.

Addiction is a behavioral disease that can include an obsession with the internet and social media. If you find that social media is having a negative impact on your life, you may need to take action to address this issue. Help is available. If you are struggling with any kind of addiction, including a substance abuse disorder, call us toll-free at 1-800-951-6135 to speak directly with an Addiction Specialist. We are available around the clock to answer your questions.

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