- What Is Social Media Addiction?
- What Causes a Social Media Addiction?
- Statistics and Facts About Social Media Addiction
- Signs and Symptoms of Social Media Addiction
- Diagnosing a Social Media Addiction
- Treatment Options for Social Media Addiction
As an emerging problem for today’s technologically driven society, social media addiction is characterized by an inability to reduce or cease online media consumption from websites such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Snapchat. While this addiction mainly affects individuals of the younger generation, anyone can fall into the trap of seemingly positive rewards that the constant social media use offers.
This article will outline what a social media addiction consists of, along with several possible causes. We will also provide important details about the signs, symptoms, and consequences of social media addiction and what the effective treatment options are.
A social media addiction consists of compulsive use of social media websites like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat where the user finds it difficult or even impossible to limit their time on these websites. Social media addiction is not listed in the DSM yet, but it is becoming more widely recognized as a problem in today’s society. Researchers and mental health professionals are starting to pay more attention to the negative consequences of the overuse of social media websites.
Below, we will talk more about the specific signs and symptoms of social media addiction and the consequences that they may bring.
The exact causes of a social media addiction are unknown, but professionals have several theories about what makes social media so enticing. When an individual logs onto their favorite social media websites, it triggers the release of dopamine in the brain. As dopamine is the chemical that causes pleasure to be registered, your brain associates the act of logging on and checking social media accounts with pleasure, encouraging you to do it more often. Over time, individuals may find themselves needing to spend longer and longer logging on to and posting on social media to receive the same positive feeling.
Additionally, social media can provide a distraction from real-world problems or negative feelings. For some individuals, it becomes a coping mechanism, and they eventually find themselves unable to log off and stop posting for fear of the return of negative emotions or thoughts. In these cases, the brain is likely to associate social media use with a reduction in loneliness, and the person may come to think of online interactions as interactions with real-life friends. This encourages the individual to keep doing it because of the boost to their mood, albeit temporarily.
Those suffering from social media addiction are likely to also struggle with dual disorders such as anxiety, depression, or self-esteem issues or have a more significant overarching Internet addiction disorder. Studies have suggested that overusing social media can also inspire feelings of sadness, anxiety, loneliness, or depression. Therefore, it is currently difficult to distinguish whether an individual’s dual disorder is because of their social media addiction or if the dual disorder is causing the social media addiction. However, studies are being conducted on this phenomenon.
Below we have listed several statistics and facts about social media addiction to help you further understand this condition.
- It is estimated that up to 10 percent of social media users in the United States have a social media addiction.
- Estimates suggest that 20 percent of individuals with a social media account cannot spend more than 3 hours without checking their accounts.
- Those who chronically use social media are more likely to have impaired decision-making skills, something that is shared with individuals who have drug, alcohol, or gambling addictions.
- Approximately 45 percent of people who use social media admit to scrolling on social media rather than sleeping when tired.
- In face-to-face interactions, studies have shown that individuals talk about themselves between 30 and 40 percent of the time; on social media, users talk about themselves approximately 80 percent of the time, encouraging the relationship between social media and dopamine releases in the brain.
- An estimated 27 percent of children and young adults who spend 3 or more hours a day on social media will also exhibit symptoms of poor mental health.
Physical symptoms of a social media addiction can be caused by using a mobile phone or computer for extended periods while checking social media accounts.
- Neck pain
- Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
- Strained eyes
If the physical symptoms of a social media addiction are left unaddressed, they may lead to more chronic pain and vision troubles in the future.
The following behavioral symptoms may be displayed by an individual suffering from social media addiction. One or more of these symptoms may be present at the same time.
- Low self-esteem
- Increased self-consciousness about one’s personal life
- Anxiety, including the onset of social anxiety disorder
- A fear of missing out (referred to as FOMO), which encourages further social media use
- Poor sleeping patterns
- Decreased physical activity
- Poor work or school performance
- Neglect of familial or friendship relationships off social media
- Impaired decision-making
- Impaired ability to empathize
- Lying about social media use
- Often spending more time than planned on social media
- An inability to go more than several hours without checking social media
- Feelings of guilt or shame
- An inability to prioritize or meet schedules
You may also notice that an individual with a social media addiction is constantly planning their next post, checking or talking about their previous posts, or begins engaging in activities simply to post about them. They may also refuse to engage in real-life social situations, preferring to stay on their phone or computer to monitor their accounts; attempts at getting the individual to engage may result in arguments, anger, or restlessness on the part of the person with the addiction.
Much like other addictions, individuals who suffer from a social media addiction may feel withdrawal symptoms when they are forced to be apart from their accounts. These include:
- Increased anxiety or moodiness
- Cravings for social media usage
- Depression or increased negative mood
When attempting to break the cycle of social media addiction, it is vital to be in a safe and supportive environment. A medical or mental health professional should always be consulted before any type of treatment or withdrawal plan is decided upon.
You should also remember that withdrawal symptoms are typically the most intense immediately after the first sustained period of abstinence from social media. Over time, the symptoms should decrease in intensity to a more manageable point.
While there is currently no standard set of criteria for diagnosing a social media addiction, many researchers and mental health professionals will look at specific elements to evaluate an individual’s dependency on social media. Below, we list some of these criteria.
- Preoccupation with social media; always thinking about previous posts or what to post next
- Increasing urges to use social media
- Using social media to forget personal problems or deal with negative feelings
- An inability to reduce or cut down on social media time
- Displaying restless or troubled feelings when unable to use social media
- Social media use interferes with the individual’s ability to perform well at their job or at school
If you recognize these behaviors, either for yourself or a loved one, then there may be a risk of social media addiction.
There is not one generalized treatment for social media addiction. Still, there are several therapies and treatment options available that can help an individual cut back on their social media usage and begin to recover from their addiction.
If you recognize the symptoms of a social media addiction either in yourself or a loved one, you may be able to start breaking the cycle yourself. Actions you can take include deactivating social media accounts, setting notifications to silent, and setting aside a prescribed amount of time each day that you can access your social media. You may also want to engage in other activities with friends or family to distract yourself from social media use.
As always, it is important to keep a mental health or medical professional in the loop when attempting to abstain from something addictive. If you begin to experience any serious negative thoughts or feelings because of your decreased use of social media, reach out for help.
Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
Cognitive-behavioral therapy is a commonly used therapy in the treatment of addiction. Not only can it help an individual identify and break negative patterns, but it is very useful in restricting the negative cycle of compulsive social media use. CBT is also effective at treating any dual disorders that an individual may have as a result of or in addition to their social media addiction.
Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT)
Dialectical behavioral therapy is a type of CBT therapy commonly used to help individuals cope with stress, regulate emotions, and improve interpersonal relationships. This is very useful for treating a social media addiction because individuals who suffer from the condition often use social media to cope with negative feelings or underlying conditions such as anxiety and depression.
Additionally, individuals who have a social media addiction may have trouble forming relationships in real life, which is a skill that DBT helps to improve.
Reality therapy encourages individuals who suffer from addictions to make dedicated, positive changes to their lives and helps educate them about the negative consequences of addiction. This enables individuals to improve their decision-making skills and commit themselves to change. Reality therapy may also boost self-confidence and self-esteem — something many individuals with a social media addiction struggle with.
In cases where a social media addiction is accompanied by dual disorders such as depression, SSRIs can improve an person’s mood and allow them to decrease their dependency on social media. SSRIs are prescribed by a medical or mental health professional and are typically used in combination with other therapeutic options.
Poor familial relationships commonly develop as a result of an individual’s social media addiction. It can be helpful for the individual and their family members to attend therapy together in order to process their collective feelings about the addiction and work on building healthier relationships.
Additionally, the more time an individual spends with their family, the less likely they are to spend time thinking about or craving social media usage.
Support groups can provide those suffering from a social media addiction with a real-life situation in which to engage and share their personal stories. Individuals can learn from other’s coping mechanisms and share many of their own stories, which allows them to find solidarity in their peers. Support groups can help those who suffer from an addiction feel that they are not alone and gain introspection about their struggles.
Wellness and Holistic Therapies
Another highly beneficial treatment for social media addiction is wellness and holistic therapies. These include things like mindfulness, meditation, yoga, and physical fitness, though individuals may also choose to engage in art and recreational therapies. All these activities can help an individual keep their mind off social media use and become more aware of their thoughts and feelings, both positive and negative. They provide healthy alternatives to social media usage and can allow an individual to become more physically fit as they progress on their recovery journey.
If you or a loved one is struggling with a social media addiction, it is important to know that you are not alone and that treatment is available. Contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for more information on starting recovery.
You can also find a list of local treatment centers on our website that can help you get started with safe, supportive treatment.
Cherney, K. (2020). What Is Social Media Addiction? Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health/social-media-addiction.
Gordon, S. (2019). Excessive Social Media Use Comparable to Drug Addiction. VerywellMind. https://www.verywellmind.com/excessive-social-media-use-4690882.
Hillard, J. (2021). What Is Social Media Addiction? Addiction Center. https://www.addictioncenter.com/drugs/social-media-addiction/.
Hou, Y., Xiong, D., Jiang, T., Song, L., & Wang, Q. (2019). Social media addiction: Its impact, mediation, and intervention. Cyberpsychology: Journal of Psychosocial Research on Cyberspace, 13(1), Article 4. https://cyberpsychology.eu/article/view/11562.
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