All it takes is Facebook or Twitter to be down for a few moments to get an indication of our obsession with social media.

If one of the popular portals goes offline people take to alternative social media channels to express their frustrations.

It's not really news that people are obsessed with social media, and spending too much time trawling feeds can make you feel a bit rubbish.

A social media outage always gets the internet panicking. Photo / Twitter
A social media outage always gets the internet panicking. Photo / Twitter

It tends to lead to

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because everyone else seems to be living such fabulous lives. But it turns out there may be more to it than that.

Researchers from California State University-Fullerton say social media obsession may lead to something akin to classical addiction.

The findings, published in the journal Psychological Reports: Disability and Trauma showed that the brains of people who report compulsive urges to use Facebook show some brain patterns similar to those found in drug addicts or problem gamblers.

They found that peer approval on social media (eg having people 'like' your photos on Facebook) releases dopamine in the brain. This is the same chemical that is released when you take drugs, or when a gambling addict has a win at the pokies.

"It's a drug that feeds the ego of the self, the ego of me," explains consumer trend expert Michelle Newton to The Huffington Post.
"From breaking news, to information about parenting, friends' activities, work and shopping: social media is a closed digital ecosystem of existence."

The message that strikes fear into the hearts of many. Photo / Facebook
The message that strikes fear into the hearts of many. Photo / Facebook

It's a serious issue, as so many people are 'exposed' to this digital dopamine. Over 60 per cent of the total Australian population has a Facebook account. According to a Nielson Report commissioned by Facebook in January 2016, the average time Australians spend on Facebook every day is 1.7 hours. It's estimated people check the platform about 14 times a day.

It's important to consider that the parallels between drug addiction and Facebook obsession aren't perfect. As Live Science points out, compulsive Facebook users may have more activity in impulsive systems in the brain, but the brain regions that inhibit this behaviour seem to work just fine, unlike in the brains of cocaine addicts.

But Ofir Turel, a psychologist at California State University-Fullerton says people addicted to Facebook "have the ability to control their behaviour, but they don't have the motivation to control this behaviour because they don't see the consequences to be that severe."

As we know, there's a dark side to addiction of any kind - if we don't get that dopamine rush we're craving it can lead to feelings of depression. (Perhaps you can identify with that feeling of disappointment when you post a photo on Instagram and don't get the enthusiastic response you'd hoped for?)

Some social media fans struggle to cope when Facebook goes down. Photo / Twitter
Some social media fans struggle to cope when Facebook goes down. Photo / Twitter

This can have a particularly significant impact on teenagers.

"Unfriending people, in the worst cases, can lead to suicide," says Michelle Newton.
"When you have young teens and tweens whose brains are rapidly developing, social media bullying or outright rejection is more than making them fearful. It is also downright dangerous to their formative years and sense of self-esteem."

What to do?

If you feel like social media is having a negative impact on your life (or that of your children) it might be time for a digital detox. Here's how to take control of screens in your house

No screens before school or work

Decide on some basic ground rules first which will create a structure for the day. So, no screens before school or work in the morning or before homework/revision/music practice is done, or during dinner.

"That will give you chunks of screen-free time each day, plus another 15-20 minutes after dinner when the whole family pitches in to clear the kitchen and do chores," says leading child behaviour expert and former teacher Noël Janis-Norton.

Having a routine where everyone knows what they are supposed to be doing cuts opportunities for pestering about screens. You will end up with a list of times each day when they can use their daily screen time; post it up on the pin board/fridge where everyone can see it.

Establish device "drop zones"

Gather up all devices. Decide on a drop zone in the hallway of your house where everyone puts their tech after coming in. Establish an overnight charging station away from bedrooms and agree all phones/devices are put there an hour before bed. "You want everybody to start thinking of the home as basically a screen-free zone," she says.

No screens in the bedroom

Janis-Norton believes no screens should ever go into bedrooms, either adult or child's. Screen-based homework should be done in a public place, she says, with the child's back to you so you can see what they're doing.

At the very least all screens should be downstairs an hour before bedtime. No teen will want their phone taken away at 9pm when Skype/Snapchat conversations are in full flow, but don't be tempted to compromise on a later finish.

"The best way to deal with an upset teen is to empathise ... but stand firm. Don't justify yourself with talk about the importance of sleep; when they're upset they are not listening. Save this for a neutral time."