Doctor's TikTok 'addiction' had family staging an intervention for him: 'Got called out'

California doctor reveals his social media struggles — and what his family did to help him

Dr. Brian Boxer Wachler wasn't addicted to alcohol, drugs or gambling.

But Boxer Wachler — an ophthalmologist in Beverly Hills, California — was addicted to TikTok, he said. And his family became concerned for his well-being. 

"I didn't even know I was becoming addicted," he told Fox News Digital in a phone interview. 

"It's almost like wildfire that starts with a match — and you don't even know it's consuming you at the time."

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"Eventually I got called out on it by my daughters and my wife, and they literally had a TikTok intervention with me," he said. 

Boxer Wachler reveals this personal experience and more in his new book, "Influenced: The Impact of Social Media on Our Perception," published Nov. 1, 2022.

Dr. Brian Boxer Wachler reveals how he became addicted to TikTok — and what his family did to "save" him from the problem. A new book he wrote dives into the experience and shares tips for others.

Dr. Brian Boxer Wachler reveals how he became addicted to TikTok — and what his family did to "save" him from the problem. A new book he wrote dives into the experience and shares tips for others. (Dr. Brian Boxer Wachler)

In the pages of his book, he also shares the potential warning signs of addiction for anyone — and how people can cope.

‘Found a niche’ on TikTok

Boxer Wachler's then-14-year-old twin daughters initially introduced him to TikTok at the start of the pandemic, he said.

His daughters told him there were "some really good doctors" on the app, and that they — the daughters — could help him create an account and upload some videos. 

 "I had all this success, and now they're trying to take me down."

He did so — and said his content quickly went viral on TikTok, amassing more than 3.4 million followers.

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"I found a niche in terms of looking at health videos that had been going viral and seeing that a lot of times, that information [that was out there] wasn't even correct," he said. 

TikTok's "scrolling mechanism is similar to a slot machine," according to Dr. Boxer Wachler, who shared that comment with Fox News Digital.

TikTok's "scrolling mechanism is similar to a slot machine," according to Dr. Boxer Wachler, who shared that comment with Fox News Digital. (Brent Lewin/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

He started correcting the information in those viral videos in TikToks of his own, which became just as popular as the misinformation that he was criticizing, he added.

While Boxer Wachler was not new to social media — he had a Facebook and YouTube account — neither of those platforms proved to have the same addictive power over him as TikTok did, he said.

"Dopamine is the same neurochemical in our brain that's behind addictions."

For this, he blames the "scroll-up" feature that provides a continuous stream of content for the TikTok user. 

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"It's like you're playing the slot machine," said Boxer Wachler. 

"Each time you scroll up on the video, you just don't know what you're going to get." 

This uncertainty is why slot machines are so addictive, he said, noting that Facebook and YouTube have created Reels and Shorts, respectively, to mimic TikTok's format on their own platforms.  

Other companies have taken steps to replicate TikTok's addictive format, Boxer Wachler said. His family had to stage an intervention for him once he became addicted to social media. 

Other companies have taken steps to replicate TikTok's addictive format, Boxer Wachler said. His family had to stage an intervention for him once he became addicted to social media.  (REUTERS/Phil Noble )

After his wife and daughters staged their intervention, Boxer Wachler initially rebuffed their concerns and was "resentful." 

‘Doubling down’ on addictive behavior

"I thought, ‘These are the people who encouraged me to get on this to begin with,’" said Boxer Wachler, referring to his family. 

"And I had all this success, and now they're trying to take me down."

After his family's intervention, he said he "doubled down" on his dedication to TikTok, trying to get more followers, likes and interaction. 

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The experience of waking up to "10,000, 20,000 new followers" on his TikTok account created an intense dopamine rush, Boxer Wachler said. 

"Dopamine is the same neurochemical in our brain that's behind addictions," he continued. 

"You know — sex addiction, drug addiction, gambling addiction."

Fox News Digital reached out to TikTok on the topic of social media addiction, both in the recent past and again for this story.

Dr. Brian Boxer Wachler's new book is called "Influenced: The Impact of Social Media on Our Perception," published in November 2022.

Dr. Brian Boxer Wachler's new book is called "Influenced: The Impact of Social Media on Our Perception," published in November 2022. (Rowman and Littlefield)

But the constant dopamine high came to a halt, Dr. Boxer Wachler said, when one of his videos was given a "community guideline violation." That meant his account would be suppressed for a period of two weeks. 

While he could still make videos, those new videos did not have the same reach as his past content. They were not going viral, he said.

"I went through essentially withdrawals," he explained. 

"I remember going to the bedroom, closing the door and just crying."

"And that's another sign of addiction, no matter what type of addiction it is. If you can't get what you were getting, you go through withdrawal."

His mental health was deteriorating, Boxer Walcher said he realized, noting that he had "a lot of anxiety" and was "really upset" during the time his account was suppressed. Reflecting further on the intervention staged by his wife and children — he realized they were right. 

‘Ignoring my own family’

"I realized, 'Oh, my gosh, I'd been putting my virtual family ahead of my own family and ignoring my own family,'" he said. 

He said he came to understand that he'd been ignoring his loved ones "all the time" so he could answer DMs, watch videos and respond to comments on his TikTok account. 

"I remember going to the bedroom, closing the door and just crying," he revealed. 

Social media addiction is "a bigger problem than people realize," said Dr. Boxer Walcher of California. 

Social media addiction is "a bigger problem than people realize," said Dr. Boxer Walcher of California.  (Getty Images)

This experience prompted him to write his book — as a way to help people understand the warning signs of social media addiction. 

‘Warning signs’ for others

"It's a bigger problem than people realize," he said. "I wanted people to understand what these warning signs are."

Some of the warning signs, he shared, include looking at one's phone first thing in the morning and immediately before bed, as well as being unable to resist checking one's phone after a notification or vibration. 

These "could be signs of a problem," he said.

In addition to providing warning signs about social media addiction, Boxer Wachler in his book suggests ideas on how to regulate social media usage. 

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He said he's used some of these ideas in his own case with great success.

He took a step back from the TikTok app, he said. He removed social media apps from his phone and now only posts from an iPad. 

Boxer Wachler is pictured here, with a TikTok app shown on right. "I'm a doctor, and if a doctor like myself can experience this addiction [to] social media, so can you," he said.

Boxer Wachler is pictured here, with a TikTok app shown on right. "I'm a doctor, and if a doctor like myself can experience this addiction [to] social media, so can you," he said. (Boxer Wachler/Getty Images)

"If I'm going out to dinner or being with friends, it is not uncommon that I won't even take my phone with me, and I don't have my iPad with me," he said. "So it makes it really easy."

Part of the problem with treating social media addiction is that "there's really no official diagnosis in the medical world" for the condition, Boxer Wachler said. 

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"So there's a huge void." 

While he does think that one day "social media addiction" will become an official diagnosis, he hopes that his book will "help people to fill that void" based on his research and personal experiences.

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"I'm a doctor — and if a doctor like myself can experience this addiction [to] social media, so can you," he said.