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How drugs: How addictive do social media make you?


Risk of addiction of the social media portals examined

Adolescents often spend a lot of time online on social networks. DAK-Gesundheit and the German Center for Addiction Questions have now examined social media dependency among 12- to 17-year-olds and found far-reaching effects. "There is even a connection between social media addiction and depression," said the DAK statement on the research results. There are also many other social and health problems.

WhatsApp, Instagram or Snapchat can be addictive, the experts warn. "Many children and young people chat, post and like from morning to night," emphasizes Andreas Storm, CEO of DAK-Gesundheit. This sometimes has far-reaching health and social consequences - from family quarrels to impending depression. Clear rules for dealing with social media are necessary here to avoid the development of social media addiction among adolescents.

When is there a social media addiction?

For the study “WhatsApp, Instagram and Co. - so addictive social media”, the Forsa Institute surveyed 1,001 children and adolescents between the ages of 12 and 17. In this country, this is the first representative analysis of the frequency of social media addiction among adolescents, reports the DAK. On the basis of the criteria of the so-called Social Media Disorder Scale, the existence of a social media addiction was assessed in the study. If at least five out of nine standard questions were answered with "yes", the addiction was considered confirmed.

100,000 affected adolescents

The joint study by DAK-Gesundheit and the German Center for Addiction Issues at the University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf (UKE) showed that according to the Social Media Disorder Scale, 2.6 percent of the respondents can be classified as dependent - girls with 3.4 percent a little more often than Boys (1.9 percent). Extrapolated to all 12- to 17-year-olds in Germany, this percentage corresponds to around 100,000 people affected across Germany, according to the DAK.

Social media usage for two and a half hours a day

On average, boys and girls between the ages of twelve and 17 spend around two and a half hours a day on social media, the health insurance company reports. “Some slip into addiction. We have to react to this so that those affected and their families can get help ”; emphasizes the CEO of DAK-Gesundheit, Andreas Storm. Girls spend an average of just over three hours a day longer on social media than boys (2.5 hours a day).

The search risk increases with the online time

The scientists also found that with increasing age, the time they spend on WhatsApp, Instagram and Co. increases. For example, girls between the ages of 16 and 17 spend almost 3.5 hours a day on social media, while boys of the same age spend 2.75 hours. WhatsApp was the most popular application, followed by Instagram and Snapchat. Professor Rainer Thomasius, Medical Director of the German Center for Addiction Issues of Childhood and Adolescence at the UKE, emphasizes that the longer and more often children and adolescents are online, the higher the risk of addiction.

Social media addiction and depression

According to Professor Thomasius, the connection between social media addiction and depression was particularly critical. People who depend on social media have a 4.6 percent higher risk of developing depression than non-addicts. And one in three teenagers with a social media disorder reported symptoms of depression. However, the cause-effect relationship is still unclear. "Of course, depressed children and adolescents can withdraw more often into the virtual world and therefore develop addictive behavior," says Prof. Thomasius.

What are the consequences of addiction?

Regarding depression, the expert says that the two factors are increasing and that there are serious health problems. Other problems caused by social media among the children and adolescents interviewed were above all social effects in various areas. These also affect adolescents who are not considered addicted.

Further consequences of social media dependency:

  • Escape from Reality - Every third respondent uses social media to avoid having to think about unpleasant things. In the case of girls, this even applies to four out of ten respondents.
  • Sleep deficit - Just under a quarter of those surveyed sometimes, often or even very often do not get enough sleep due to the use of social media.
  • Family quarrels - 22 percent sometimes, often, or very often argue with parents about using social media; 12 to 13 year olds (32 percent) are more affected.
  • Secret use - 14 percent said they often use social media secretly. The same number cannot stop using it, although others have told them that they urgently need to do so.
  • Discontent dissatisfaction - 13 percent are unhappy if they cannot use social media.
  • Changed friendships - Eight percent of respondents are in touch with all friends only through social media.
  • Loss of interest - Five percent of respondents are no longer interested in hobbies or other activities because they prefer to use social media.

Communicate media literacy and set clear rules

To reduce the risk of addiction on social media, according to Professor Dr. Rainer Thomasius requires more education and more youth protection. "Parents, teachers and educators need support so that they accompany children on their way to media-competent users," emphasizes the expert. However, it can be observed that “parents often do not have clear rules for dealing with social media.” However, these are urgently required so that children do not slip into addiction unnoticed, the expert emphasizes.

Strict protection of minors required

Furthermore, according to Professor Dr. Rainer Thomasius the protection of minors are strengthened by strict rules for the providers of social media. Technical solutions for self-restraint are also useful instruments to better control consumer behavior. "I keep finding that parents are looking for guidance when it comes to online use of their children, and that by a competent hand," added the federal government's drug commissioner, Marlene Mortler, in the DAK press release. Children have to learn to use digital media, and they should not only master the technology, but also recognize the opportunities and risks of this media, Mortler added.

Decide online-offline balance

"It is also clear that the protection of minors must respond even better to the offers on the Internet than has been possible so far, especially with a view to the potential for addiction," emphasizes the Federal Government's drug commissioner. The study confirmed that "what we have long suspected: Too much smartphone and Co. damage health and family life." A sensible online-offline balance is urgently required here. However, it remains clear that social media have become an integral part of our everyday lives, according to Mortler. "Social media are important communication channels for children and young people", but the study shows that the intensive use of social media can lead to health and social problems, adds DAK CEO Andreas Storm. (fp)

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