By Robert Day, MA, LAPC
Primary Counselor, MARR Addiction Treatment Centers

When we consider the impact of social media on our lives, we know that men, particularly millennials, are not immune to the advantages, and extreme disadvantages offered by modern technology. The on-demand availability of social media plays well into the negative attributes of an addiction. The carefully crafted photos remain alive online, even when a man is lying on the floor after a three-day bender.

At MARR, our initial exposure to the importance of electronics in a man’s life becomes evident shortly after he enters our program. All clients are required to relinquish their computers, phones, tablets, etc. while in treatment. At first, this may seem somewhat innocuous, but in a fairly short period of time, the impact becomes clear, primarily in the area of basic communication.

Often, our young male clients struggle to sit down and have a normal conversation–eye to eye, face to face–with another human being. Because they have lived in a texting, tweeting, snapchatting and instagramming world, they often do not have the skills required to converse. These are individuals who rarely “talk” on their phones. During their time with us, effective, healthy verbal interaction is not something they relearn–it is often a skill they acquire for the very first time.[/vc_column_text][divider line_type=”No Line” custom_height=”20″][vc_column_text]Interestingly, just as these men use drugs and/or alcohol as a method to escape, so do they use their phones. Many realize in no time at all, that when the going gets tough, the tough start patting their pockets for their phones. For years, they have unwittingly used their devices to avoid personal conflict or any discomfort associated with the present. With the touch of a few buttons, they are in the alternate world of the internet, wherever they choose to relocate their focus, and most importantly somewhere else.

The concept of community, the importance of entering into honest, authentic relationships with others, is intrinsic to the MARR philosophy. Clients live, learn, and grow together. Because they cannot default to the artificial and selectively curated online world, they are forced to deal with adversity, challenging relationships, misunderstandings, and awkward situations—in other words…the stuff of life. They must enter into difficult, yet necessary, conversations. Although the moment might prove distressing, our clients ultimately discover that resolution can be attained by remaining in the present and embracing vulnerable moments that require intentional communication and connection.

Perhaps the most deleterious aspect regarding social media is a man’s perception of himself. Many of our clients in their 20s and 30s lack awareness of who they genuinely are. Like so many, they ubiquitously post content designed to reflect their popularity and how extraordinarily positive their lives are—parties, sports activities, exciting events. Much of the content they share is experiential in nature, showcasing “how great it is to be me!” On some level, these young men know this is superficial and fraudulent; and yet, their entire perception of themselves, their concept of self, is inextricably linked to “likes” and “retweets.”

Not surprisingly, the end result is that relationships with friends, even family members, are not predicated on mutual caring and connection; instead, they are hollow and meaningless. While in active addiction, relationships often become transactional, boiling down to “what do I need to do or say to get what I want from you”. If social media presence is based on perceived status and superficiality, then it is rare for “followers” and “friends” to see things as they actually are. Instead of being honest about entering a 90-day treatment program, some men elect to just fall off the grid. Sadly, their absence often goes unnoticed.

Technology and electronic devices are not inherently wrong or bad. However, we want all MARR clients to examine the role that cell phones, the Internet and social media plays in their individual lives. If over-involvement leads to isolation, negative self-esteem, fraudulent communication, and dishonesty, then it may be time to reconsider actions and behaviors. Our desire is for people to enter recovery first and foremost, then construct a life of meaning, authenticity, and abundance.