Social media addiction, as a subject of conversation, seems beaten to death. Yet, it remains unrecognized by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, igniting much debate over whether it should be included.

Addiction comes down to a dependence on a source of pleasure, so severe that you are unable to cut it out of your life even if you want to. Based on this, is there a parallel between excessive social media use and drug addiction?

Psychologists have noted how likes, comments, or new followers could trigger the release of dopamine, similar to opioids. In other words, those notifications that light up your phone may be lighting up the reward center in the brain too. But at the same time, this is not necessarily abnormal. 

"Drugs affect the same brain reward pathways that are fundamental to our functioning, i.e., the pathway that makes eating when we are hungry, getting warm when we are cold, feel good," Keith Humphreys, a Stanford University professor, told Fox News.

He noted that human beings are social animals so we are meant to feel good about interacting with one another. "So the fact that something activates the same pathway as cocaine doesn't mean it's addictive, just that it's rewarding."

Concerns may be warranted when social media use leads to negative changes in behavior, consistently disrupting unrelated activities or inducing compulsive urges.

People are quite self-aware, seeking the help of therapists and workshops when they notice that they are spending too much time in front of the screen. Just like cases of opioid abuse or gambling addiction, some individuals are simply more vulnerable to these effects than the rest of the population.

Speaking of gambling, a new study from Michigan State University shed light on "impaired risky decision-making" which is a trait linked to drug addiction as well as problematic social media use.

In a gambling task, participants who exhibited poorer decision-making were also the ones who had a stronger psychological dependence on Facebook. The researchers noted how abusers of opioid and cocaine also perform poorly on this test, showing the same deficiency in decision-making.

"Around one-third of humans on the planet are using social media, and some of these people are displaying maladaptive, excessive use of these sites," said Dar Meshi, lead author of the study and assistant professor at Michigan State. "Our findings will hopefully motivate the field to take social media overuse seriously."

On the whole, comparing excessive social media use to drug use does seem to be an exaggeration for the most. But one should keep a check on their behavior — the tendency to use social media as a crutch and develop an unhealthy routine around it, is not too farfetched for some individuals.