Social Media Addiction (2023)

Checking and scrolling through social media has become an increasingly popular activity over the last decade. Although the majority of peoples’ use of social media is non-problematic, there is a small percentage of users that become addicted to social networking sites and engage in excessive or compulsive use. In fact, psychologists estimate that as many as 5 to 10% of Americans meet the criteria for social media addiction today. Social media addiction is a behavioral addiction that is characterized as being overly concerned about social media, driven by an uncontrollable urge to log on to or use social media, and devoting so much time and effort to social media that it impairs other important life areas.

Addictive social media use will look much like any other substance use disorder and may include mood modification (i.e., engagement in social media leads to a favorable change in emotional states), salience (i.e., behavioral, cognitive, and emotional preoccupation with social media), tolerance (i.e., ever-increasing use of social media over time), withdrawal symptoms (i.e., experiencing unpleasant physical and emotional symptoms when social media use is restricted or stopped), conflict (i.e., interpersonal problems ensue because of social media usage), and relapse (i.e., addicted individuals quickly revert back to their excessive social media usage after an abstinence period).

The phenomena of social media addiction can be largely attributed to the dopamine-inducing social environments that social networking sites provide. Social media platforms such as Facebook, Snapchat, and Instagram produce the same neural circuitry that is caused by gambling and recreational drugs to keep consumers using their products as much as possible. Studies have shown that the constant stream of retweets, likes, and shares from these sites cause the brain’s reward area to trigger the same kind of chemical reaction seen with drugs like Cocaine. In fact, neuroscientists have compared social media interaction to a syringe of dopamine being injected straight into the system.

How Social Media Affects The Brain

Due to the effect that it has on the brain, social media is addictive both physically and psychologically. According to a new study by Harvard University, self-disclosure on social networking sites lights up the same part of the brain that also ignites when taking an addictive substance. The reward area in the brain and its chemical messenger pathways affect decisions and sensations. When someone experiences something rewarding or uses an addictive substance, neurons in the principal dopamine-producing areas in the brain are activated and dopamine levels rise. Therefore, the brain receives a “reward” and associates the drug or activity with positive reinforcement.

This is observable in social media usage; when an individual gets a notification, such as a like or mention, the brain receives a rush of dopamine and sends it along reward pathways, causing the individual to feel pleasure. Social media provides an endless amount of immediate rewards in the form of attention from others for relatively minimal effort. The brain rewires itself through this positive reinforcement, making people desire likes, retweets, and emoticon reactions.

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Another perpetuating factor of social media addiction is the fact that the reward centers of the brain are most active when people are talking about themselves. In the non-virtual world, it’s estimated that people talk about themselves around 30 to 40% of the time; however, social media is all about showing off one’s life and accomplishments — so people talk about themselves a staggering 80% of the time. When a person posts a picture they may receive positive social feedback, which stimulates the brain to release dopamine, rewarding that behavior and perpetuating the social media habit.

Social media use becomes problematic when someone views social networking sites as an important coping mechanism to relieve stress, loneliness, or depression. Social media use provides these individuals with continuous rewards that they’re not receiving in real life, so they end up engaging in the activity more and more. This continuous use eventually leads to multiple interpersonal problems, such as ignoring real life relationships, work or school responsibilities, and physical health, which may then exacerbate an individual’s undesirable moods. This then causes people to engage in the social networking behavior even more as a way of relieving dysphoric mood states. When social network users repeat this cyclical pattern of relieving undesirable moods with social media use, the level of psychological dependency on social media increases.

Recognizing A Social Media Addiction

Although many people habitually use social media, very few are genuinely addicted. To determine if someone is at risk of developing an addiction to social media, ask these 6 questions:

  • Do they spend a lot of time thinking about social media or planning to use social media?
  • Do they feel urges to use social media more and more?
  • Do they use social media to forget about personal problems?
  • Do they often try to reduce use of social media without success?
  • Do they become restless or troubled if unable to use social media?
  • Do they use social media so much that it has had a negative impact on their job or studies?

A “yes” to more than 3 of these questions may indicate the presence of a social media addiction.

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(Video) Overcoming the Pull of Social Media

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A digital detox, a period of time during which someone significantly reduces the time spent using electronic devices such a smartphones or computers, could be a wise precaution. This can include simple steps, such as turning off sound notifications and only checking social media sites once an hour. Other changes can include having periods in the day where there is self-imposed non-screen time, such as during meal times, or leaving the phone in a separate room at night so as not to disturb sleep. This allows for a restored focus on social interaction in the physical world and reduces dependency on networking sites.

Social Media And Mental Health

Research has shown that there is an undeniable link between social media use, negative mental health, and low self-esteem. While social media platforms have their benefits, using them too frequently can make people feel increasingly unhappy and isolated. These negative emotional reactions are not only produced due to the social pressure of sharing things with others but also the comparison of material things and lifestyles that these sites promote.

On Instagram and Facebook, users see curated content: advertisements and posts that are specifically designed to appeal to users based on their interests. Users may see others posting about their great jobs, excellent partners, or beautiful homes and feel happy or inspired as a result. Others, however, may see these pictures and feel jealous, depressed, or even suicidal due to the fact that their own life is not as “perfect” as those that they see on Facebook or Instagram.

Recent studies have found that frequent social network users believe that other users are happier and more successful than they are, especially when they do not know them very well in real life. Social media facilitates an environment in which people are comparing their realistic offline selves to the flawless, filtered, and edited online versions of others, which can be detrimental to mental well-being and perception of self. Excessive social media use can not only cause unhappiness and a general dissatisfaction with life in users but also increase the risk of developing mental health issues such as anxiety and depression. Constantly comparing oneself to others can lead to feelings of self-consciousness or a need for perfectionism and order, which often manifests as social anxiety disorder.

Another aspect of social anxiety triggered by online media use is the fear of missing out (FOMO), the extreme fear of not being included or missing a social event. Users may see pictures of parties to which they were not invited, or glimpses of fun outings that they were unable to attend because of work or school obligations, and experience anxiety that no one misses them as a result — or fear that they will be forgotten since they’re not there. FOMO can take a toll on self-esteem and lead to compulsive checking of social media platforms to ensure that an individual isn’t missing out on anything, which can cause problems in the workplace and in the classroom. A study conducted by Harvard University found that social media has a significantly detrimental effect on the emotional well-being of chronic users and their lives, negatively impacting their real-life relationships and academic achievement.

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At-Risk Youth

An estimated 27% of children who spend 3 or more hours a day on social media exhibit symptoms of poor mental health. Overuse of social networking sites is much more problematic in children and young adults because their brains and social skills are still developing. Research has shown that adolescents who habitually use social media from a young age have severely stunted social interaction skills. Despite the fact that users are interacting with each other on these platforms, many of the these types of interactions don’t necessarily translate well to the real world. Studies have found that these individuals have worsened social anxiety in groups, higher rates of depression, negative body-image, and lowered levels of empathy and compassion toward others when surveyed.

A study performed by California State University found that individuals that visited any social media site at least 58 times per week were 3 times more likely to feel socially isolated and depressed compared to those who used social media fewer than 9 times per week.

The constant barrage of perfectly filtered photos that appear on social network sites can also cause low self-esteem and disordered eating in young adults. Though many teens know that their peers share only their best pictures and moments on social media, it’s very difficult to avoid making comparisons. The ongoing exposure to unrealistic beauty standards through social networking sites can affect how teenagers perceive their own bodies. One study from the University of Pittsburgh found a correlation between time spent scrolling through social media apps and negative body image feedback. Those who had spent more time on social media had 2.2 times the risk of reporting eating and body image concerns when compared to their peers who spent less time on social media. Everything from physical appearance to life circumstances to perceived successes are scrutinized and processed by users. The need to gain likes on social media can cause teens to not only alter their appearance but also to make choices they would otherwise not make, including accepting risky social media challenges and engaging in negative behaviors.

The competition for attention and likes can even lead to online bullying. Name-calling, rumor-spreading, and harassment among adolescents has always happened, but social media presents young users more opportunities to do so than ever before. Teenage girls are at particular risk for cyberbullying through use of social media; however, boys are not immune. In addition to the implemented techniques of face-to-face bullying, the spreading and posting of non-consensual explicit pictures is a form of cyberbullying that has gained popularity within recent years. One quarter of teens say they have been sent explicit images they didn’t ask for, while 7% say someone has shared explicit images of them without their consent. This type of abuse, along with other forms of cyberbullying, has led to increased suicide rates among young adults. Additionally, these factors have also contributed to the development of increased levels of anxiety in teens and adolescents.

Find A Solution

While many people are able to use social media on a daily basis with no problem, those suffering from a social media addiction are consumed by their need to use and engage on social networking sites. Luckily, the condition is very treatable and many have successfully recovered. Reducing screen time is a great way to combat problematic social media use; however, if the addiction is too severe you may require professional help.

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If you have a hard time controlling your social media use and think you may be addicted, think about why you use social media and what the advantages and disadvantages of the time spent on various platforms has been so far. To paraphrase a famous quote, doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result is — at the very least — illogical. The good news is this: cutting down on harmful social media use is possible, and you’re not alone. We’re all in this together — and a healthy relationship with our social selves and our virtual neighbors is more than possible.

FAQs

What is social media addiction? ›

Social media addiction is an unhealthy dependence on interactive platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Like most dependencies, social media addiction manifests as overuse and difficulty in abstaining. Ironically, one common effect of the problem is social isolation.

How does social media cause addiction? ›

Using social media can lead to physical and psychological addiction because it triggers the brain's reward system to release dopamine, the “feel-good” chemical. Dopamine is actually a neurotransmitter (a chemical messenger between neurons) involved in neurological and physiological functioning.

What are signs of addiction to social media? ›

Signs that you may be addicted to social media include: Spending a large amount of time on social media. Thinking about social media often when you're not using it. Spending less time doing other activities, hobbies, or spending time with others in order to use social media.

What are the types of social media addiction? ›

5 Types Of Internet Addiction
  • Cybersex Addiction. A cybersex addiction is one of the more self-explanatory internet addictions. ...
  • Net Compulsions. ...
  • Cyber (Online) Relationship Addiction. ...
  • Compulsive Information Seeking. ...
  • Computer Or Gaming Addiction.
Jun 27, 2019

What are 3 risks of social media? ›

The risks you need to be aware of are:
  • cyberbullying (bullying using digital technology)
  • invasion of privacy.
  • identity theft.
  • your child seeing offensive images and messages.
  • the presence of strangers who may be there to 'groom' other members.

How social media addiction affects students? ›

Mostly among the teenagers social media addiction has become a serious problem. This causes low self-esteem and eating disorders by comparing to other people. The affects that are caused by social media are cyber bullying, decrease in productivity, fatigue and stress, and other mental health related issues.

How social media affects our lives? ›

The negative aspects of social media

However, multiple studies have found a strong link between heavy social media and an increased risk for depression, anxiety, loneliness, self-harm, and even suicidal thoughts. Social media may promote negative experiences such as: Inadequacy about your life or appearance.

How social media affects your brain? ›

Researchers believe that since social media competes for your attention with the promise of continuous new content, heavy social media users become less able to ignore distraction in general, which leads to poorer cognitive performance and shrinks parts of the brain associated with maintaining concentration.

How do I stop my social media addiction? ›

6 Ways To Beat Social Media Addiction
  1. Social media addiction signs. ...
  2. #1 Turn off notifications. ...
  3. #2 Don't have your phone by you whilst you sleep. ...
  4. #3 Remove your phone from your morning routine. ...
  5. #4 Place less weight on your personal social media appearance. ...
  6. #5 Opt for analogue alternatives. ...
  7. #6 Digital detox.
Oct 25, 2020

How many hours is social media addiction? ›

Social Media Addiction Statistics and Facts

Teens addicted to social media can spend up to 9 hours a day on it. Teens who spend more than 5 hours a day on social platforms are twice more likely to suffer from depression.

Why social media is toxic? ›

Many people enjoy staying connected on social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn. Yet a growing body of research is finding that excessive use—more than three hours a day—can exacerbate mental health problems, such as anxiety and depression, in teens and young adults.

What is the biggest threats about social media? ›

Social media is a great way to promote your products and interact with customers. But as you expand your social media presence, you also increase your exposure to brand fraud, offensive content, and security threats.

What age should you get social media? ›

Dr Kristy also agrees that 13 would be the absolute minimum, however 'It's difficult to prescribe a precise age limit as kids need to have social and emotional skills to cope with the demands of social media. For some kids, this is 13 years and for other kids it may be 15 years.

Who is most at risk for social media addiction? ›

The percentage of people feeling 'somewhat' addicted to social media is highest at 40% among those aged 18-22 and 37% among people between 23 and 38. Then, 9% of people between the ages of 39 and 54 feel they are addicted.

What are 5 negative effects of social media? ›

However, social media use can also negatively affect teens, distracting them, disrupting their sleep, and exposing them to bullying, rumor spreading, unrealistic views of other people's lives and peer pressure. The risks might be related to how much social media teens use.

What are the negative effects of media? ›

Why limit media use?
  • Not enough sleep. Media use can interfere with sleep. ...
  • Obesity. ...
  • Delays in learning & social skills. ...
  • Negative effect on school performance. ...
  • Behavior problems. ...
  • Problematic internet use. ...
  • Risky behaviors. ...
  • Sexting, loss of privacy & predators.
Jul 20, 2022

What is social media positive and negative effects? ›

There are many positive aspects of social media, but there's also a darker side to the endless scroll that keeps coming back for more. Social media can often harm one's mental health. It can cause depression and anxiety and can lower self-esteem.

What is the most addictive social media? ›

ACCORDING to a survey, over lockdown people people have spent more time on the video sharing app, Tiktok, than any other social media platform. The platform was labelled the 'most addictive' social media site as the average person spends 12 hours and 12 minutes on the app per week.

What is a meaning of social media? ›

Social media is a collective term for websites and applications that focus on communication, community-based input, interaction, content-sharing and collaboration. People use social media to stay in touch and interact with friends, family and various communities.

How social media affects your brain? ›

Researchers believe that since social media competes for your attention with the promise of continuous new content, heavy social media users become less able to ignore distraction in general, which leads to poorer cognitive performance and shrinks parts of the brain associated with maintaining concentration.

What age is more addicted to social media? ›

The percentage of people feeling 'somewhat' addicted to social media is highest at 40% among those aged 18-22 and 37% among people between 23 and 38. Then, 9% of people between the ages of 39 and 54 feel they are addicted.

How can I stop my social media addiction? ›

6 Ways To Beat Social Media Addiction
  1. Social media addiction signs. ...
  2. #1 Turn off notifications. ...
  3. #2 Don't have your phone by you whilst you sleep. ...
  4. #3 Remove your phone from your morning routine. ...
  5. #4 Place less weight on your personal social media appearance. ...
  6. #5 Opt for analogue alternatives. ...
  7. #6 Digital detox.
Oct 25, 2020

How social media affects mental health? ›

When people look online and see they're excluded from an activity, it can affect thoughts and feelings, and can affect them physically. A 2018 British study tied social media use to decreased, disrupted, and delayed sleep, which is associated with depression, memory loss, and poor academic performance.

Why do people use social media? ›

Billions of people around the world use social media to share information and make connections. On a personal level, social media allows you to communicate with friends and family, learn new things, develop your interests, and be entertained.

What is social media good for? ›

For many, social media appears to have a range of benefits. It provides a way for many of us to connect with others. We can support other people and feel supported by them. It may even be a useful way for those with social anxiety and those who have a hard time with face-to-face interactions to connect with others.

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