A new study published in Psychological Reports: Disability and Trauma suggests that scrolling the Facebook timeline affects your brain in the same way a person is affected by using cocaine.

Lead researcher, Professor Ofir Turel of California State University (Cal State), said, “The impulsive system can be thought of as a car’s accelerator, while the inhibitory system can be likened to a brake. In substance dependence, there is very strong acceleration associated with the impulsive system often coupled with a malfunctioning inhibitory system.”

Simply put, you respond to your impulses faster than you are able to block them.

How the Scrolling Study was Conducted

This was a simple study conducted using 20 undergraduate students from Cal State. The students were given questionnaires to determine their level of Facebook addiction. They were then shown a variety of images – some being Facebook-related, while others were traffic signs – and asked to push a button when they saw a Facebook-related image.

Researchers also used the students’ speed of pressing the button in tune with seeing an image related to the social network site to determine signs of early addiction. Other signs of addiction included anxiety and withdrawal.

Results and Conclusions

The results showed that using Facebook activated a part of the brain called the amygdala – which is involved with processing emotions – and the striatum – which processes rewards.

In terms of the link with cocaine, the researchers explained, “The findings indicate that at least at the examined levels of addiction-like symptoms, technology-related ‘addictions’ share some neural features with substance and gambling addictions.”

For instance, the study showed that the test subjects responded quicker to Facebook-related stimuli than to the traffic signs. It is no longer a stretch of the imagination considering we spend most of our time using our mobile phones and hoping to receive a new message on social media.

Professor Turel said, “This [conclusion] is scary when you think about it, since it means that users might respond to a Facebook message on their mobile device before reacting to traffic conditions if they are using technology while on the road.”

A lot of accidents happening nowadays are as a result of using mobile phones while driving. People just don’t understand that social media is very distracting and therefore poses a threat not only to you, but also to other road users.

The good news, according to Professor Turel, is that unlike substance abuse, this Facebook addiction can be treated. He said, “We speculate that addictive behavior in this case [of Facebook] stems from low motivation to control the behavior, which is due partly to the relatively benign societal and personal consequences of technology overuse, compared to, say, substance abuse.”

In another study done by the University of Winchester in the UK, people who were completely engrossed in using Facebook suffered withdrawal symptoms when asked to abstain. Researchers therefore concluded that “using social media is a way of life” but the key is moderation.

Even though Professor Turel’s study conclusions have been criticized for using a small sample size, there is still the implication that social media use can become an uncontrollable addiction and affect your overall life.