What Is Social Media Addiction And How Do You Treat It?

Updated September 18, 2018

Reviewer Stephanie Chupein

How long can you go without checking your Facebook page or Twitter feed? According to experts, 28% of iPhone users check their social media before getting out of bed and 18% cannot go more than three hours without checking out what is happening. There are over 2 billion social media users and most of them are on Facebook and Twitter.

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For several years, there has been much debate about whether excessive social media usage is an internet addiction disorder (IAD), a symptom of another disorder, or just a bad habit. Addiction to anything shows a lack of the ability to control impulses, so the excessive usage of anything, such as social media, is considered an impulse control addiction disorder, or impulse control disorder. While there are many medical professionals in the United States who think excessive social media usage is a symptom of another illness rather than a true disorder, other countries, such as South Korea and China, have already given IAD its own classification.

Bad Habit or Addiction?

When first examined, it may seem as if excessive social media usage is just a bad habit or lack of good judgment, or that excessive use of social media is comorbid with other disorders, such as depression and bipolar disorder. According to one study, Diagnostic Manuals such as DSM-IV or ICD-10, official guidelines on which clinical diagnoses and scientific criteria are based, does not define addiction as an original, specific disorder category. Some of the symptoms considered part of addiction disorders by many medical professionals are included in these manuals as being symptoms of another illness, such as a personality disorder.

In another article, the author states that there is not enough solid information yet to conclude that social media addiction is a psychiatric disorder or disease because there are no universal criteria for the symptoms of social media addiction. Nonetheless, the facts show that social media addiction is an overwhelming and destructive use of the internet, and those who use social media to this degree have been reported to have negative effects on their professional, academic, and social lives.

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One study performed consisted of "Beck's Anxiety Inventory (BAI), Beck's Depression Inventory (BDI), Young's Internet Addiction Test (IAT), and BIS-11, South Oaks Gambling Screen (SOGS)," which showed a decrease of impulse control in those with social media addiction. In fact, the striatal dopamine D2 receptors were noticeably decreased in those with a proposed social media addiction. The significance of this finding gives credibility to the neurobiological contribution to social media addiction.

Scientific Facts

In similar fashion, many functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) studies reported enhanced activity in various brain regions of excessive video-game players compared to controls in response to video-game cues. By the same token, the areas of the brain that were activated were the same as those areas that showed an increased level of activation in patients with substance abuse dependence when shown certain cues that induce cravings. Bringing further evidence to the classification of social media addiction, when patients took certain medications for addiction disorders, such as bupropion, the heightened activation in the brain decreased, and so did the patients' desire for social media usage.

According to another study, problematic social media use is a serious problem for 6% to 11% of internet users in the United States. If the medical community continues to believe that social media addiction is not a true medical disorder, those suffering from this disorder will not be able to get the treatment they need to control their impulses and lead a normal life. To get sufficient notice in the psychiatric profession, social media addiction needs to have a single classification as a true psychiatric condition rather than a symptom of another disorder.


The argument of social media addiction being a true psychological disorder is not incorrect, nor is it far-fetched to believe that many individuals all over the world suffer from this ailment. The research was done in numerous studies conducted by experts in the psychology field to convince others that social media addiction is indeed a serious psychological illness that needs treatment. Without this treatment, those who suffer from social media addiction will continue to have conflicts with other activities, such as academics, work, and socialization, but will remain on the path of addiction anyway. Medical professionals have shown that social media addiction possesses all of the criteria that describes addiction. Some of these criteria include:

  • Using social media more often than intended
  • Being preoccupied with social media
  • Having withdrawal symptoms when social media is not being used
  • Trying to stop or reduce social media usage more than once without success
  • Cravings for more social media usage
  • Losing interest in other activities
  • Continued social media usage despite negative consequences
  • Using social media to alleviate bad moods
  • Lying about their amount of social media usage

As stated in an article written by Hinić, several difficulties in defining social media addiction confuse the issue outright. There are some compelling suggestions to help in the argument of whether social media addiction should become a true diagnosis, which are:

  • Providing a clear diagnostic category
  • Defining a list of specific symptoms
  • Listing the subcategories
  • Finding the most accurate tools for diagnosis of social media addiction

Three Types of Internet Addiction

Another medical professional explains that there are three subtypes of internet addiction, which are excessive gaming, sexual preoccupations, and text messaging. In addition, he claims that all of these subtypes of internet addiction have the criteria for excessive or problematic social media usage. These criteria are as follows: gradually increasing the amount of social media usage (tolerance), experiencing withdrawal symptoms, and ignoring or denying negative consequences. Similarly, these are also a few of the symptoms of substance abuse disorders.

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One study found that social media addiction is indeed a precursor to poor psychological health in one of the four-year studies that examined adolescents of middle and high school age. In this study, the researchers found more evidence of this development in another study done that showed adolescents with no initial mental health disorders who tested baseline for social media addiction were 2.5 times more probable to test positive for clinical depression at their 9-month follow-up examination. Another part of the same study concluded that although males and females were both likely to become addicted to the internet, their choices of internet behavior were extremely different. Males in the study chose gaming and adult websites more often while females were more apt to choose email and social media sites, such as Facebook and Twitter (Ciarrochi et al., 2015).

Signs of Social Media Addiction

Even if social media addiction is not a true diagnosis, there are certain signs of addiction you can look for to determine if someone has a problem. Some of the signs that a person is addicted to social media include:

  • Spending more and more time on your social media pages
  • Thinking about your social media sites when not online
  • Feeling an overwhelming need to share something on your Facebook or other social media page
  • Getting anxious or stressed out if you have not been able to get online for a certain about of time
  • Trying to cut back on social media usage
  • Social media usage is causing negative impacts on your life, relationships, school, or work

The dispute over whether excessive or problematic social media usage is truly a disorder or just a side effect of another disorder, such as clinical depression, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), or bipolar disorder seems endless. In fact, both sides of the argument have excellent data to back them up, with numerous studies and a huge amount of research providing strong evidence of each aspect of the debate, but who is it really affecting the most? It is those suffering from the effects of excessive or problematic internet usage who are being affected the most when an agreement cannot be made to diagnose the problem.

Furthermore, not just mental health is suffering from excessive or problematic social media usage. There have been studies that found some college students have shown declining physical health problems, such as obesity and sleep disorders. As a matter of fact, the psychological disorders of depression, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and behavior disorders, such as drug and alcohol abuse, aggression, and self-injury may all be consequences of too much social media usage, which is what many experts consider social media addiction.

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What Is Being Done?

In conclusion, much more information is needed to determine if social media addiction is a true diagnosis because the actual criteria for this disorder are not universally accepted. In the Asian countries of South Korea and China, the diagnosis of social media addiction has already been accepted as a true diagnosis and those with the disorder are finding relief from their symptoms with medication and therapy. Once the medical experts decide whether social media addiction is a true disorder, those in the psychological field will still need to agree on the best way to distinguish which type of disorder the patient has, the extent or progression of the disorder, and most importantly, how to treat the disorder.

What Can I Do?

If you believe you may be addicted to social media, there are people you can talk to about this. In fact, you do not even have to leave your house because you can talk to a professional online to determine if you have a real problem and need treatment. BetterHelp.com is the largest mental health provider source in the world and has over 2,000 licensed counselors, therapists, and psychologists. They are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week so you can contact them at your convenience.

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