Not Alcohol. Not Drugs. Can it be Addiction?

Not Alcohol. Not Drugs. Can it be Addiction?

Beth Fishman, PhD, Program Manager, Addiction Services and Rabbi Rob Jury, MA, CRADC, Additions Consultant

Lauren is a sixteen-year-old junior in high school. Like most teens, her phone is her constant companion, and she is on multiple social media platforms. She takes and shares selfies, checks in from various locations, posts her artwork and interacts with her large, worldwide network of “friends.” Is Lauren addicted to social media, or is she just like millions of other digital natives whose lives are experienced online in ways unimaginable to any previous generation?

Let’s look more closely. Lauren is having trouble controlling her time on social media.  For example, even though she had intended to spend the afternoon baking with her little sister, she “fell down the Instagram rabbit hole” from lunchtime to dinner. Due to her social media use, Lauren’s grades have dropped from mostly B’s to mostly C’s, she and her parents fight about the amount of time she spends online, and Lauren feels worse and worse about herself because her Instagram posts and Snapchat stories aren’t getting as many likes as her friends are. These are all negative consequences of her social media use that haven’t curbed her time on these platforms. Lauren is irritable when she isn’t online and finds the desire to check Instagram and Snapchat irresistible.  Just a quick check doesn’t satisfy her anymore, she wants to be on her devices for hours, and in fact sleeps with her phone under her pillow so she will hear the notifications. In this way her sleep is interrupted throughout the night, and in the morning, she is tired and ill equipped to start another school day. She is on her phone, posting and reacting, throughout the school day. Covid isolation has made it all worse: being fully remote, no teachers are present to take the phone during class. Because of the lockdown, there is no time with friends at the coffee shop and no more part time job at the clothing store. Lauren is bored, isolated, anxious and lonely. Her time online is her respite from pandemic life and stress.

Addiction wears many masks. It can look like physical, psychological and spiritual dependence on substances or the use of devices. When addictions involve non-substances, they are sometimes referred to as process addictions, behavioral addictions, or non-substance related addiction disorders. Just like those who have alcohol or drug addiction, individuals with non-substance addictions are unable to control their addictive behavior even if they consciously try to stop. They face negative consequences of their behavior, yet continue to engage in it, experience cravings for the activity, build tolerance (requiring greater intensity, duration, frequency, or quantity of behavior to generate the same feelings from it), and/or experience withdrawal (physical symptoms including agitation and irritability when stopping behavior). Research and anecdotal data suggest that the Jewish community is as vulnerable to addiction as everyone else.

Fortunately, behavioral addictions are as treatable as alcohol and other drug addictions.  The same recovery approaches work no matter the specific addiction: assessment by an addiction professional, treatment based on the assessment results, individual and group therapies, psychiatric evaluation and medication if indicated, spiritual guidance and support from others in addiction recovery.

If you or someone you care about is struggling with any kind of addictive behavior, JCFS Chicago addiction services is here to help. Please contact us for information about addiction and recovery, a brief phone screening, and/or information on local and national treatment and support resources. Contact 855.ASK.JCFS (855.275.5237). We are here for you.