Echo Chambers in Addiction

In the age of social media, it is common to live inside an information bubble, surrounding yourself with people who support whatever you do. This phenomenon, often called an echo chamber, has far-reaching consequences, but few are more potentially damaging than the effects of echo chambers in addiction.

The term “echo chamber,” as you might guess, comes from the concept of an actual echo. Just imagine you are standing in a canyon. You yell out “hello” and wait for the echo to return your greeting. In the metaphorical echo chamber, the echo would be the sound of someone agreeing with you. In the case of addiction, your echo will be telling you that it’s fine to keep using.

Echo chambers concerning drugs and alcohol are common. Most people in active addiction, whether consciously or not, have surrounded themselves with people who will condone what they’re doing.

If you find you have begun selecting your friends based on what messages they send about your substance use, it may be time to get help. Call Oklahoma Addiction Treatment Network at 405-583-4390. We have highly trained addiction specialists ready to help you examine your problem and decide what to do next.


Are you concerned about the effects of echo chambers in addiction? Have you lost touch with friends and family who expressed concern about your substance use? Read on to find out more about this phenomenon, and be sure to reach out to our experts with any questions.

Living in an Echo Chamber

In social science, the proverbial echo chamber is sometimes called an epistemic bubble or filter bubble. The term refers to a social group that shields its members from outside information. In social epistemology, the study of how social links affect knowledge, the echo chamber is frequently used to explain how people come to believe in irrational ideas.

Imagine it: you are in a world where you only experience beliefs and opinions you trust. You do not look for contradictory thoughts or ideas. With addiction, this both feels good and is incredibly dangerous. How do you make the decision to get help if your social circle says there’s nothing to worry about?

Echo chambers are related to another concept called confirmation bias. This is when we seek information to confirm what we already believe is right while rejecting anything that doesn’t fit. Echo chambers occur when a group of people does this collectively.

The danger should be fairly obvious. Echo chambers limit our access to well-rounded information. They erode the possibility of finding common ground with those who disagree. And they allow us to believe whatever we want to believe, with little risk of anyone asking difficult questions about it. They are, in short, perfect for addicts in denial.

It’s natural to want a world where your thoughts seem normal and acceptable. We all want to feel that way. And those who’ve studied echo chambers know that everyone lives in one to some degree. However, the effects on addiction are too dangerous to ignore.

How Addiction Affects Echo Chambers

Echo chambers in addiction aren’t widely discussed. In fact, there doesn’t seem to be any specific research on the topic. However, this doesn’t mean they don’t exist. You don’t need a peer-reviewed research paper to know echo chambers are everywhere you turn.

When you’re addicted, it’s easy to believe this is something good. It’s easy to think, “how can it be wrong when it feels so right?” While most of this belief comes from how drugs affect your brain chemistry, it doesn’t help to have people around you confirming that drugs or alcohol are okay.

Deciding to become sober means fighting the belief that you do better when you’re on these substances. Getting sober is difficult, especially in the beginning when your addiction is still bringing mostly positive feelings.

Once you get through the initial phase of getting clean, the world around you will continue to challenge your thoughts about sobriety. There will be ads on TV promoting alcohol. You’ll see billboards for marijuana dispensaries. Just driving through your dealer’s neighborhood will remind you of good feelings. These are all little things that fill in our personal information bubbles.

What’s more difficult is not allowing online echo chambers to feed into your addiction and cause a relapse. Social media has a tremendous risk of tripping up an addict. Your social media account collects information about you constantly to “create a personalized experience.” This personalized experience comes at a cost, though. Your accounts will be filled with news articles, recommendations, and ads that support your addiction. And this can be hard to remove yourself from.

Echo Chambers Can Be Good or Bad

As with almost everything in life, there are two sides to echo chambers in addiction. Not all echo chambers are harmful. Indeed, the support groups and new friends you find in recovery are perfect examples of how an echo chamber can help keep you on track. Surrounding yourself with perspectives that support sobriety may be one of the best things you can do.

In most areas of social epistemology, balance is a good thing. You allow a little information from the other side onto your radar; you shut out some info you easily accept. In doing this, you move closer to a balanced perspective.

When considering how to respond to echo chambers in addiction, balance should be less of a concern. If you’re trying to get clean and stay clean, you want to step away from the people and things you relate to your addiction. This can be paraphernalia, your dealer, or the liquor store. By stepping away from these things, you move toward balance, but balance is not enough. You are on a hard road with many pitfalls, and you are vulnerable to bad influences right now. You need all the help and encouragement you can get, so it’s time to tip the balance the other way. Try joining an online support group, following people from group therapy, or removing likes from addictive substances on Facebook.

Online Echo Chambers

While echo chambers have always existed, they are more noticeable in the digital era. Over time, we’ve created the filter for our own lives. We choose what to let in and what to keep out with a few clicks. We block people who disagree with us.

On the other hand, companies like Facebook, Google, and YouTube track our every move. While following us, they create filters and provide us with personalized information. These filters create the filter bubble we live in during our time online.

Social media algorithms look at the websites you frequent. They see what news stories you like. They look at what you search, and they pay attention to what you click. Based on this information, the system creates a profile of who they think you are. These systems decide what you are interested in. Then, they target their idea of you with ads and recommendations.

Even if you have decided to get sober, the information these companies have collected on you will stay in their system. This means companies like Budweiser will continue to advertise to you despite your best efforts to remove triggers from your life.

The first step to minimizing echo chambers online is simply being aware. If you are friends with or follow someone who supports your addiction, consider removing them from your account. You can also go through your privacy options for your email or social media accounts and decide what level of information they can track or use.

More importantly, report ads that trigger your addiction. When you do this, the algorithm begins to rework itself. It will take time for these ads or triggers to go away completely, but it’s possible.

Echo Chambers Happen Offline Too

Not all echo chambers are online; the Internet is simply the easiest place to see an echo chamber at work. There are plenty of ways echo chambers influence our offline lives as well. The people you hung out with during active addiction, many of whom presumably used or sold drugs, formed an echo chamber too. They confirmed your thoughts about drugs being good. They supported your addiction.

As noted earlier, active addiction is easiest to maintain if you’ve surrounded yourself with people who support or tolerate it, while keeping concerned friends and family at arm’s length. Any human being naturally gravitates towards other people who are like them; it’s how we feel normal. But the path you’re on is not likely to end well if those around you are normalizing addiction. And these effects bleed back into the bubble you enjoy on social media.

Social Media

Just being around someone with similar beliefs or habits can affect what you see. These days Facebook, Google, and many other companies are aware of where you are spending your time and who you spend your time with. They can see when you and someone else are in a similar location.

After these companies notice you regularly spending your time in the same location, at the same time, with the same person, they decide you must know each other. They decide you probably have similar interests. You will suddenly start getting ads for things you have never considered, but your friend has searched for on their account.

This means if your friend is an addict shopping for paraphernalia, you are more likely to see an ad for something they viewed. As a result, your sobriety may be compromised. This is only one reason why you should remove yourself from relationships with addicts.

An echo chamber can include a multitude of people or items. Your personal bubble of information can be influenced by your dealer, the clerk at the liquor store, text messages from friends who are addicts, and billboards on the side of the road.

Wrapping Up

Regardless of how hard you try, removing yourself from all echo chambers is impossible. As humans, our nature is to look for and appreciate what we find interesting. But, we can reduce the influence they have over us.

When you think about getting sober, the thought of drinking less or quitting drugs feels impossible. Why? Because everything in your life tells you so. You believe alcohol makes you more likable. You feel that you’re only outgoing and funny in social situations if you’re on a substance of some kind. Have you had a stressful day? Every alcohol ad out there will convince you your stress can only be relieved by drinking their product. The world around you is telling you that quitting is a daunting and unreasonable sacrifice. These beliefs are built up over a lifetime.

Echo chambers are often comforting. They allow us to live in a world we want to believe in and be a part of. But, they also keep up from understanding others around us. Living in an information bubble keeps us from learning and considering other opinions.

If you are struggling to create a clean life and think echo chambers are working against you, give us a call at 405-583-4390. Addiction professionals are trained to help you out of negative echo chambers, and we are ready to help you take the next steps.

Written by Krystina Wagner


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