Social Media Addiction is a Behavioral Addiction
Behavioral addictions (or “process” addictions) are activities that a person regularly engages in regardless of any negative consequences they have on their lives. For instance, internet use—specifically social media use—can become an addiction when overuse begins to impact them negatively.
When using social networking sites, people can get dopamine through the validation they receive from “likes” and positive comments on their posts. This constant stream of dopamine, the brain’s “feel-good” chemical, can cause social media users to constantly visit these sites to continue feeling those positive sensations.
Social media users might also use social media accounts to avoid negative feelings. Alternatively, someone concerned about world events may get into the habit of obsessively checking their social media for bad news. They might spend hours “doom scrolling” or mindlessly reading through post after post featuring negative news and events happening worldwide.
Regardless of what led to a user’s excessive social media use, it can lead to addiction over time.
Other examples of behavioral addiction include:
- Sex addiction
- Gambling addiction
- Shopping addiction
- Exercise addiction
- Food addiction
- Video game addiction
- Porn addiction
Potential Downfalls of Social Media
The internet allows us to learn new things, make purchases, and stay in touch with friends and family members across the globe. One of the largest benefits of the internet is social media.
Some of the most popular social media apps and sites include:
Social media sites can allow us to keep up with friends and family and get the day’s news in an easy-to-consume way. When seeing loved ones face-to-face isn’t an option, social media messaging features help us stay in touch with the people we love regardless of the physical distance between us.
But while there are many positives to social media, there can be a dark side to it as well. Social media has the potential to become addictive. Once your internet or social media use has reached a point where it is starting to interfere with regular activities, it might be a sign of a more significant issue developing.
Negative Consequences of Social Media Addiction
While there is nothing wrong with using the internet and social media, it is important to remember that it should be used in moderation.
Spending too much time using social media apps can have significant negative mental and physical consequences.
Some of these negative consequences of too much social media usage include:
- Fear of missing out (FOMO)
- Low self-esteem
- Feelings of isolation and loneliness
- Exposure to cyberbullying and negative behavior
- Disruption in normal sleep and eating habits
- Decreased physical activity
- Ignoring the “real world”
- Poor performance at work or school
- Developing a warped sense of reality
- Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when not on the internet or social media
How Does Social Media Become Addictive?
Many social media apps are structured around receiving “likes” or positive feedback from other users. This validation from friends or strangers can cause the brain to release dopamine, the chemical in your brain that’s tied to the reward center.
Eventually, people start to go out of their way to seek positive affirmations to get more dopamine. Before they know it, they obsess over everything they post, constantly checking how many comments or likes their post has received and getting upset when a post doesn’t get the expected reaction.
Some apps, such as TikTok, are allegedly designed to promote addictive use. Media on TikTok gets delivered in short bursts to encourage continued scrolling and interaction. The hidden algorithm of these apps also tracks what you view and interact with so that it can continue to deliver content to your feed that you are more likely to enjoy.
With the design of many sites geared toward keeping you engaged, it’s easy for many people to struggle with self-control and start to overuse these apps.
Warning Signs of Social Media Addiction
Once you have reached the point where your social media or internet use is interfering with your daily life, it might signify a social media or internet addiction. However, problematic social media use can involve other features even if it isn’t necessarily impacting your daily life.
Other additional warning signs of social media addiction include:
- Having the urge to constantly check your social media accounts
- Problems in your personal life as a result of social media or the internet
- Negative impacts on your physical or mental health and emotional wellbeing
- Trying to cut back or stop and being unable to
- Experiencing physical or mental discomfort when not using social media
- Replacing hobbies and other activities you enjoy with social media usage
- Using social media in unsafe conditions (e.g., while driving)
- Reduced real-world social interaction
- Experiencing one or more of the above warning signs and refusing to cut back o your social media use
According to the American Psychiatric Association Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-5), someone experiencing two or fewer warning signs suffers from a mild addiction. In contrast, a person suffering from six or more signs has a severe addiction.
Social Media Addiction Statistics
A 2020 survey shows Americans spend as much as 17 hours a day looking at screens. Below are some additional statistics about social media addiction:
- According to an Ofcom study, 98% of all young people between the ages of 16 and 24 in Western countries use the internet
- Some experts estimate that as many as 10% of the U.S. population has a social media addiction
- According to Facebook’s own research, roughly 12% of its users worldwide engaged in compulsive use of social media in 2021
- A 2017 study of adolescents and young adults done by the NIH found that 4.5% of young people suffered from social media addiction
- A University of Chicago Booth School of Business study found that people’s urge to check their social media pages is one of the strongest temptations in modern society
- A 2016 study done in the UK found that women were more likely to suffer from a social media addiction than men
- 27% of children that spend three or more hours a day on social media suffer from poor mental health
- 55% of drivers report checking their social media while driving
Who’s at Risk for Social Media Addiction?
Simply accessing the internet and using social media doesn’t automatically mean you will develop a problem. Many people use the internet and social media without developing an addiction.
However, certain risk factors can increase the chances a person might develop an addiction to the internet or social media.
Mental Health Issues: People who suffer from a mental health condition, such as an eating disorder or social anxiety, are more likely to develop an addiction—including social media addiction. For instance, a 2019 Texas State University study showed that people suffering from Generalized Anxiety Disorder tend to turn to social media to relieve their anxiety.
Other Addictions: Someone already suffering from another addiction, whether a behavioral addiction or substance use disorder, is far more likely to also develop a social media addiction. In particular, people who suffer from a smartphone addiction are likely to suffer from a social media or internet addiction.
Outside Influence: Someone with a family history of addiction is likelier to develop an addiction. Additionally, adolescents whose internet usage is not monitored by their parents are more likely to develop problematic social media use habits than their peers with limited social media time.
Age: Younger people are more likely to develop an addiction to social media and the internet at a higher rate than older people. Teens between 13 and 17 develop internet and social media addiction more than any other age group.
Accessibility of Social Media and the Internet
In the early days of the internet and even social media, you would have to sit down at a computer with internet access to access your favorite website or social media platform. Most people could only access the internet at work or school, a library, or specialty locations such as internet cafes.
With the streamlining of internet access and access to smartphones, getting on the internet or checking out your favorite social media app has never been easier.
Social Media Addiction Assessment
If you or someone you know might be suffering from a social media addiction, it is important to catch it as soon as possible. Since there is a fine line between regularly using social media and having an addiction, it might not always be easy to spot someone who might have an addiction.
Below are some links to some helpful social media addiction assessment tools:
Treatment for Social Media and Internet Addiction
If you have taken the test and it determines that you are suffering from a social media addiction or your social media usage has gotten out of hand, it might be time to get help.
Many people can successfully treat a social media addiction themselves before seeking professional help. The following are some ways in which you can have a healthier relationship with the internet and social media:
- Delete all social media apps from your phone to limit your temptation
- Turn off (or silence) your phone during important events like work, school, meals, and other important activities
- Focus your attention on offline hobbies or activities
- Turn off app notifications on your phone and computer
- Make a point to spend more time in “real-life” social settings
- Avoid taking your smartphone or tablet into the bedroom with you at night
Some people also do a “digital detox,” where they do not use the internet and/or any social media apps for a pre-set amount of time, typically a few days to a week. A digital detox can be a great way to break your problematic social media habits and reset your daily routine to one that doesn’t include checking your phone constantly.
If you have tried the above suggestions and they didn’t work or are looking for professional help, therapy is another popular option.
Since social media addiction is a behavioral addiction, behavioral therapy has been proven to be successful in treating these disorders—specifically Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT).
Behavioral therapy helps identify the triggers that led to the development of the addiction and teaches people how to deal with future cravings or urges.
No medication on the market has been made specifically for treating social media addiction. However, particular medications might be prescribed to address the underlying issue that led to the development of the addiction, such as a mental health condition or another disorder.
Support Groups for Social Media Addiction
Support groups can be a great way to get the help you need in a safe and supportive environment. For those suffering from social media and internet addiction and looking to join a support group, Internet and Technology Addicts Anonymous (ITAA) is a 12-step support group for those dealing with different types of internet and technology addictions.
You can visit the ITAA website to find an ITAA meeting in your area.
Get Help For Your Social Media Addiction
While using the internet and spending time on social media is a big part of our society today, it is important to be conscious of the amount of time spent doing both things.
You can begin with a digital detox or by setting new habits for yourself around social media use. You can also join a support group that deals with social media addiction.
Frequently Asked Questions About Social Media Addiction
Is social media addiction a behavioral disorder?
While not yet medically recognized as an addiction, social media addiction falls under the behavioral disorders category and can be treated.
What are the negative consequences of social media addiction?
Social media addiction can lead to issues such as “fear of missing out” (FOMO), anxiety and stress, changes in sleeping and eating patterns, self-esteem issues, and exposure to bullying.
What are the signs of social media addiction?
Someone suffering from a social media addiction might continue using social media or the internet despite the negative consequences of doing so. They might also spend time online or on social media instead of performing daily tasks.
Can social media addiction be cured?
Addictions of all kinds are not technically curable. However, social media addiction can be treated so you can return to living a healthy, well-balanced life.