Facebook addiction and ‘disconnect anxiety’ among college students

Rampant Facebook use has led to privacy desensitization.

We rarely put ourselves in the position, but if and when we are not able to connect online, 68 percent of us experience disconnect anxiety, and college students are particularly at risk.

Staying connected on Facebook seems to be of particular import, as that’s the first thing 48 percent of us do upon waking each morning.

Most of us never see the extent to which disconnect anxiety can go, but we are seeing it more and more at The Center for Counseling and Health Resources.

Treatment of disconnect anxiety includes taking patients’ connectivity devices and locking them up in a safe. Patients exhibit symptoms not unlike withdrawal from other addictions, such as trembling, sweating, and trouble breathing, as their minds and, in turn, their bodies panic at the reality of their worst fears realized – disconnection.

College students, according to research, are among the most susceptible to disconnect anxiety.

When living at home, teenagers likley have some limits on their internet use, as parents increasingly recognize the negative impact of technology. The constant compulsion to stay connected to their friends – via texting and Facebook in particular – distracts teenagers from real relationships with family and friends, as well as other offline activities essential to balanced living. Most parents can and should take necessary steps to circumvent this.

But when they move away to college, teenagers are off to the races! With no parents there monitoring their internet use, college students’ only limitations are those they set for themselves.

In my book #Hooked: The Pitfalls of Media, Technology, and Social Networking, I touch on a number of reasons why the compulsion and “need” to stay connected is a dangerous one. For college students addicted to Facebook, the following factors seem particularly relevant:

1) The stress factor. College students are expert multi-taskers. They have to be. Between the demands of their studies and the expectations on their social lives, there’s always something more to do and somewhere else to be. So the stress factor is a given – that constant need to “show up,” as it were (i.e., succeed). Factoring into that the need to “show up” on Facebook only compounds stress.

They not only have to live up to the expectations of teachers, parents, and real-world friends, but their Facebook friends too, who have come to expect their witty posts and insightful comments, not just now and then but all day long!

2) Looking for the next hit. Historically, it’s alcohol and drugs that have concerned parents of teenagers going off to college. Granted, alcohol and drug addiction continue to be real, serious threats to our young people, as these types of recreational behavior are considered by many to be “normal” college behavior.

However, looking for the next “hit” on Facebook is universally accepted.

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