IF you ask Dr. Brian Boxer Wachler whether getting caught sneaking away from his daughters' volleyball game and hiding in his car to film a TikTok live convinced him of his social media addiction, he'll tell you it didn't.
"I was all-consumed, ignoring my children and wife,” the 55-year-old Beverly Hills eye surgeon-turned-influencer told The U.S. Sun in an exclusive interview.
"One of the hallmarks of addiction is you don’t have insight into the problem,” he explained.
In 2020, Dr. Brian was convinced by his two 14-year-old daughters to join social media, specifically TikTok.
His social media use was meant to prevent medical misinformation from spreading on the apps – but it took a toxic turn.
“As I got more involved, I started to find my niche. Which was calling out health-related videos as being true or not true because I found that the algorithm doesn’t do any fact-checking,” he said.
From Instagram to Twitter, Snapchat, and Facebook, the abundant amount of trending content is undeniable – but not all of it is trustworthy.
Dr. Brian was concerned about posts that made false medical claims seem accurate, so he began posting his reactions, and one of them went viral.
He was the "cap" or "no cap" guy, using Gen Z slang to identify the videos supported by substantial research and call out the misinformation.
Dr. Brian admitted: "Waking up in the morning and having 5,000 or 10,000 more followers became this rush. It was incredibly euphoric to see this happen for something that you did."
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"That's what became this reinforcing aspect where I kept wanting to go back and do more and more. That’s when the social media addiction developed.”
The LA-based surgeon never anticipated gaining a following of 3.4 million on his TikTok, and he didn't think his platform would ever negatively affect the people closest to him.
Instead of leaving his practice at the end of the day to come home and spend time with his family, Dr. Brian was engrossed in his phone, incessantly scrolling.
"I would be coming home and working off the device in the kitchen, and my daughters would want to tell me about their day, but I was not listening,” he openly proclaimed.
“I was just so focused on responding to DMs, looking at comments, and answering questions. Maybe even refreshing my screen to see how many more views I got after I posted a video.”
Dr. Brian related his social media addiction to any other – it was fueled by a certain satisfaction and the "unpredictability of a payout."
In his case, the payout was the number of likes, comments, and followers he could gain with each new post.
But according to Dr. Brian, anyone who goes on social media, even if they don't post, is subjected to the habit of scrolling through their feed, constantly flipping to the next video.
He explained how easy it is to keep searching for the next interesting post and spend hours doing so without noticing because you never know what you're going to find.
"Why people get addicted to social media is the same as why people get addicted to drugs, gambling, sex, and other things is because of a neurochemical in the brain called dopamine," the surgeon asserted.
"Dopamine is that pleasure neurochemical that gives that buzz that high."
"So, when you see a video getting hundreds of thousands of views and all these people reacting to something you created, that’s an incredible buzz. That’s what made it so addictive.”
And yet, his daughters were never addicted.
Seeing how obsessed their father became led one of them to delete all her apps.
Dr. Brian honestly admitted: "Overall, my daughters were more mature with it than I was, probably because they saw what it was doing to me, and therefore they went in the opposite direction.”
Between missing family experiences and focusing more attention on his "fake children," the social media influencer's actions were out-of-hand in the eyes of his loved ones. They needed to take action.
“My daughters and my wife did a TikTok intervention with me where they sat me down and explained what had been going on.”
His family pointed out the problem and explained how he wasn't being supportive of them as all his attention was on achieving his platform goals.
But that still didn't convince him of his obvious addiction.
“The intervention didn’t go well because of my mindset. I was resentful because I felt like they had, my daughters, in particular, had been the ones that encouraged me to get started.”
The frustration Dr. Brian felt toward his family only fueled the fire. He wasn't going to stop.
And it wasn't until one of his videos received a community guidelines violation, suppressing his account for two weeks, that his eyes were opened to the other side.
For 14 days, Dr. Brian said he had severe withdrawals such as anxiety and stress.
"That’s when I had that aha moment where I was like, 'Oh my gosh, I’ve been ignoring my real children for my virtual children,'” the doctor proclaimed.
"Everything was registering, what I’ve been doing, how I’ve been neglecting them, my wife, as well. And that’s when I had this tremendous guilt and I cried."
Now, Dr. Brian would say his relationship with social media is "healthy."
"I don’t feel that I have to always be on the app and I don’t have any more goals for myself in terms of growing my platform. I’m focused on helping people."
The surgeon is working to spread awareness and share prevention tips on how to avoid social media addiction as an adult, parent, child, and teenager in his new book, Influenced.
Dr. Brian explained how children and teenagers are more susceptible to the negative influence of social media.
He said: "Brains right now until ages 22 to 25 are still developing, specifically the prefrontal cortex, which is decision-making and higher-level functioning."
"That can be molded like clay, and that’s what we're seeing with social media in brain scans, but we don’t really know what’s going to be the result of all of this in 10 or 20 years.”
While teenagers and children could potentially have more severe long-term mental effects, adults aren't immune to the negative influence of social media.
However, among other suggestions, Dr. Brian details why parents should still join the apps to better help their children in his book.
He says parents need to know what's on social media so they can understand the mental health risks behind some of the content.
"It will help to modulate your children’s social media use,” Dr. Brian said.
While the surgeon has retired his efforts to expand his platform by certain time marks, he still posts videos frequently.
Because social media is being further embedded into varying industries of work, Dr. Brian knows it's unrealistic to think you can avoid it entirely.
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Sharing his experience of how his social media use transformed into addiction is meant to make others realize the dangers of the digital world and the necessity of human relationships.
“Social media is like fire, it can be used for illumination, or you can badly burn yourself, and that’s what my book is about,” the surgeon asserted.
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