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The addiction that’s 'worse than alcohol or drug abuse’

If you can’t seem to resist a scroll through your Facebook or Instagram feed during working hours, or if you feel anxious when you can’t check your smartphone or have no signal,  you might need a digital intervention.


In the last few years, social media users who find it impossible to stay off their devices when they would like to resist them are seeking treatment via professionals. And they’re responding. Therapists are offering counselling, mindfulness coaches are hosting detox retreats, and corporate-wellness startups are all vying to help you get through the day without constant, compulsive scrolling.


The result is a wide array of options that social media users are willing to try to break their habit. Hour-long sessions can cost from $150 per hour, with longer detox camping-style retreats costing more than $500 for several days.


Getting help to be responsible


“We give people driving lessons and swimming lessons, but everyone just gets a smartphone and off they go,” says Pamela Rutledge, director of the Media Psychology Research Center, a research nonprofit, in Newport Beach in California in the US. “There are skills needed to navigate any social space.”

"我们为人们提供了驾驶课程和游泳课程,但所有人都有智能手机,却没有任何人教给他们应该如何正确地使用。"美国非营利组织媒体心理研究中心(Media Psychology Research Center)主任帕米拉·拉特利奇(Pamela Rutledge)说,"他们需要掌握一些技巧来使用各种社交服务。"

In the last few years, the number of patients seeking help from Nathan Driskell, a therapist in Houston, Texas in the US, for so-called social media addiction rose 20% and now make up almost half of his patients, he says. Interestingly, clients asking for help with computer-game addiction have somewhat declined, he says.

过去几年,因为所谓的社交媒体成瘾向美国休斯顿的治疗师纳森·德里斯科尔(Nathan Driskell)求助的病人增加了20%,现在几乎占到他接诊病人总数的一半。有趣的是,因为电脑游戏成瘾而向其寻求帮助的病人似乎有所减少。

Unrecognised, but treatable


To be sure, social media addiction is not recognised as an official disorder by medical classification texts such as the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, which is considered the gold standard in diagnosing mental disorders. Whether or not it should be is controversial. Yet, some therapists including Driskell treat patients with the same methods they would use to treat other addictions.


In some ways, the psychological impact caused by Facebook, Snapchat and other digital platforms can be more difficult to treat than other recognised addictions, Driskell says. “It’s worse than alcohol or drug abuse because it’s much more engaging and there’s no stigma behind it,” he says. Driskell charges $150 per hour and works with patients on a weekly basis for at least six months.


Fighting fire with fire


New York-based start-up Talkspace offers on-demand online counselling from 1,000 in-network therapists. In 2016 the company started tailoring offerings that address social media usage, launching a 12-week social media programme to help those navigating their online addictions as part of more comprehensive therapy, says Linda Sacco, Talkspace’s vice president for behavioral health services. Therapists who participate work with patients to increase mindfulness and track their progress over several months, says Sacco, who declined to give the number of users currently in the programme.

纽约创业公司Talkspace通过1,000名咨询师提供应需咨询服务。该公司行为健康服务副总裁琳达·萨考(Linda Sacco)表示,他们2016年开始为社交媒体成瘾患者量身定制服务,推出了为期12个星期的项目,专门帮助人们应对网瘾,并将此作为一种更加全面的治疗项目的一部分。参与该项目的治疗师会帮助病人坚定意志,还会对他们展开长达数月的追踪回访。但萨考拒绝透露该项目目前的用户总数。

The company offers text-message-based therapy starting at $138 per month, with $396 for live-talk therapy. And, while clients use their smartphone to hold therapy sessions, they are being taught how to use the phone in a more mindful way, she adds. Most people turn to therapy after many failed attempts to control their impulses on their own, Sacco says.


“By the time they are thinking they need treatment they have tried [limiting screen time]—were unsuccessful—and [are] feeling even worse,” says Sacco. “Those coming forward actually recognise that this is taking over their life.”



A duty to help


Others say poor social media habits can be treated as a workplace problem. In London, Orianna Fielding founded the Digital Detox Company in 2014, after researching a book about unplugging. Fielding now works with companies to help employees navigate their social media use rather than leaving them to manage on their own. Programmes start with an in-person workshop and then employees go through custom online modules that cater to their own digital triggers, which include interruptions from social media.

其他人认为,糟糕的社交媒体使用习惯可以被视作一种职场问题。在研究了一本关于戒网的书之后,奥利安娜·菲尔丁(Orianna FIelding)2014在伦敦创办了Digital Detox 公司。菲尔丁目前与很多公司展开合作,帮助他们的员工正确使用社交网络,而没有完全交给他们自己来处理。这些项目最初采用了现场研讨会的形式,然后让员工参加针对他们自己的数字化触发器定制的在线模块,其中也包括来自社交网络的各种打扰。

“We’re reframing our relationship to technology,” says Fielding, who charges £600 ($748) per day on average. A firm’s executives can sign up for additional workshops that focus on increasing productivity, she adds.


Getting it right


Experts warn of over-relying on mindfulness or digital detox retreats without additional follow-up. Weekend or week-long detoxes, which often involve spending time in a natural setting to help users disengage from devices, can be a good first step, says Driskell.


But like other addictions, clients typically visit for at least six months to a year in order to fully understand how to manage their own behavior when not in a detox programme, he says. “It’s good to detox to get your mind away, but then you go back into the same life as before,” which can hinder progress, Driskell says.


When self-therapy works


Some firms are looking to attract social media users who aren’t quite ready for an onslaught of one-on-one therapy but who still want to try logging off.


In Berlin, Offtime, a company that describes itself as the first “post-tech start-up” devoted to “focus and digital rebalance,” works with users to control their social media use via apps while also offering various face-to-face detox workshops.


The result is a crutch of sorts, to help those who are seeing a rise in their own media use but want to tackle it on their own, says psychologist Alexander Steinhart, who co-founded the company in 2014.

2014年参与创办该公司的心理学家亚历山大·斯登哈特(Alexander Steinhart)表示,实际效果还算不错:那些发现自己的社交媒体使用量增加,但却希望自己解决问题的人的确获得了帮助。

Rather than waiting until someone has a problem, it’s important for users to seek out a healthy routine after learning best practices. Rutledge says that good technology habits need to be put into place as soon as new technology emerges.


“People tend to go right to calling it an addiction,” she says. “Rather than thinking about it as a lack of balance.”

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