Do I Have A Social Media Addiction? How To Recognize The Signs
Social media has become increasingly popular worldwide, with over 4.89 billion individuals using it in 2023. Many adolescents and adults have social media accounts in the US. However, the impact may not be exclusively positive for everyone.
Although social media has many uses, including those that lead to positive outcomes, it can be challenging to balance adverse and positive impacts. While an imbalance doesn't necessarily indicate a formal difficulty with social media, it can contribute to dependency on social media.
Understanding what leads to dependency on social media and how to challenge these patterns can be beneficial if social media seems to have a damaging or all-encompassing presence in your life.
What is a dependency on social media?
A dependency on social media isn't an established mental health diagnosis in the DSM-5. However, dependency on social media and other mental health impacts of social media are real and are researched in depth by medical providers and psychologists worldwide. For many, social media dependency is similar to other types of dependency, including those on gambling, substances, or relationships.
Social media usage can light up the reward centers in the brain. However, when these reward centers are activated multiple times daily, and an individual craves more to receive the same initial impact, they might be experiencing dependency.
Signs of social media dependency can include the following:
- Using social media so much that it negatively impacts your work, education, or relationships
- Losing sleep due to social media usage
- Thinking about social media when completing other tasks or spending leisure time with others
- Attempting to reduce social media usage with little success
- Putting your mental well-being into how well you are perceived on social media
- Feeling restless, irritable, or troubled if you can't reach social media
Experts believe that around 5% to 10% of the general population may be experiencing symptoms of social media addiction.
If you are struggling with substance use, contact the SAMHSA National Helpline at (800) 662-4357 to receive support and resources.
The impact of social media on mental health
Whether one considers themselves dependent on social media or not, there are a few potential impacts of social media overuse, including the following.
Increased risk of depression
Various studies have found that social media usage is linked to depression in adolescents and adults.
Social media can negatively impact self-esteem and life satisfaction, potentially due to comparison to others. When people see unrealistic or edited portrayals of the lives of others that they deem "more successful" or "more beautiful," they might start to form harmful ideas about their appearance or life.
Increased risk of an anxiety disorder
According to research, social media usage is linked to a higher prevalence of anxiety disorder development. For some, social media usage can lead to adverse online experiences, which may increase anxiety, such as cyberbullying or unkind online comments.
Increased chances of relationship issues
Many studies have found a link between excessive social media usage and conflict in relationships, as well as a decrease in relationship satisfaction. If one is dependent on social media, they might struggle to put their phone down during a date, focus on their partner, or spend time with their family, which could lead to relationship strain.
Increased potential for stress
20% of people in the United States report that social media usage is a significant or "very significant" source of stress in their lives. Stress might come from the urge to use social media if it's impacting areas of functioning in daily life, such as work performance or relationship skills.
Increased isolation-aligned behaviors
Although social media has the potential to aid connectedness, it can also have the opposite effect. Overuse of social media can be scientifically linked to increased feelings of loneliness. Individuals may feel left out when viewing the highlights of other people's daily lives on social media, or it may not meet their social needs completely.
Potential for lowered body image
If you are experiencing a crisis related to an eating disorder or would like further resources, contact the ANAD Eating Disorders Helpline at 1-888-375-7767 from Monday to Friday, 9 am to 9 pm CT.
How to reduce dependency on social media
There are a few strategies you can use to attempt to reduce your dependency on social media for reward processing, including the following.
Take a break
Whether they intend to return to social media or not, taking a break may benefit those who feel they can't live without social media or are experiencing negative impacts. While taking a break, notice the areas of your life that you have more appreciation for when you're not using a device. If you have more time in your day after cutting out social media, consider a leisure activity with friends or family, or try to restart a hobby you put on the sidelines.
Reflect on your needs
You may choose to take time to reflect honestly on what your ideal relationship with social media would look like. Ask yourself the following questions:
- How many hours do I want to spend online each day?
- What about social media do I least want in my life?
- What do I most value about social media?
- What would my life look like without any social media?
- What would I use to replace social media if I didn't use it?
- How could I improve my relationships in my offline life?
Set boundaries with yourself
Boundaries are limits and rules you set for yourself, your belongings, or your relationships. Setting social media boundaries may help you hold yourself accountable if you continue to use these sites when you've committed to not doing so.
For example, you can choose what times of the day or week you can allow yourself to use social media. You can commit to spending your days social-media or internet-free at all other times. Another boundary you might use on social media is limiting the types of accounts you follow. If you notice that one account makes you feel poor about yourself, consider blocking or unfollowing it.
Turn notifications off
To support healthier patterns with social media, turning social media notifications off may be helpful, especially if you keep your phone nearby to check your notifications throughout the day. That way, you may be less tempted to check social media except for the scheduled times you want to use it during the week.
Connect outside of social media
If you feel that social media isn't healthy for you, but it's your primary avenue for connection, you may consider exploring other ways to connect with people. These can be virtual or face-to-face. For example, virtual meet-ups, events, or support groups offer connectedness for people who can't attend in-person events at the rate they'd like to. You could also try making friends through local meet-ups or classes.
Talk with a professional
A mental health professional, such as a therapist or counselor, may benefit those with social media dependency. You aren't alone if you find it challenging to curb social media usage or find a healthy balance independently. It may take trial and error to determine what an ideal relationship with social media looks like for you. A therapist or counselor may be able to support you through the process, and you can work with one online or in-person.
Online therapy platforms like BetterHelp provide a safe and convenient way to work with a mental health professional from your home or anywhere else with a reliable connection to the internet. This capability can be beneficial for those who may experience a fear of judgment or general nervousness about leaving home. It can also be a more cost-effective way of seeking help for the symptoms associated with social media dependency.
A recent study identified patterns and trends of treatment for social media addiction and found that virtual therapy was as effective as in-person treatment methods for test group participants. Researchers also learned that relaxation therapy and stress management support may complement the effects of online therapy.
Setting boundaries, limiting use, and working with a therapist can all positively influence your social media use and habits. Consider contacting a mental health professional at any time to get started.
What are the symptoms of being addicted to social media?
Social media addiction symptoms may be similar to those traditionally associated with substance use. These may include mood changes, preoccupation with social media use, tolerance, withdrawal, and relapse. Someone addicted to social media sites may experience disruption in other areas of their life, like ignoring real life relationships or having problems at work or school.
What causes social media addiction?
Some experts feel that social media addiction may be related to dopamine in the brain. Generally, humans are social animals, and the ease of connecting on social media apps may have made us vulnerable to this kind of behavioral addiction. Interacting or scrolling through social media apps can cause large amounts of dopamine to flood our brains and trigger our internal reward system, similar to the effects of alcohol or heroin. When we log off a social media site, our brains can experience a dopamine deficit as they try to adapt to the high levels of dopamine released by excessive social media usage.
What are the side effects of social media?
The side effects of social media and social media apps are still being studied, but some recent research shows that anxiety and depression are the most common. This research also found that more females are addicted to social media than males and passive activity, like reading posts, was more likely to lead to depression than active use, like making posts.
How do I fix my social media addiction?
There are a few things you can do to try to reduce your dependence on addictive social media. Take a break and try to notice the parts of your life you might ignore with excessive time spent on social media. Set boundaries for yourself about how much time you want to spend on social media and hold yourself accountable. Use any new-found free time to try a new hobby or other things you enjoy. Limit the accounts that you follow, blocking any that make you feel bad about yourself.
When you’re back online, turn off notifications. That way, you won’t be tempted to check your socials every time you get a notification. If you feel that social media is the only way you have to connect with people, find other ways to keep in touch with friends and family and form real life relationships. In-person meetups or classes are great ways to meet new people, but if you have social anxiety or prefer to meet with people online, you can do virtual meetups, too.
If you have tried these things and they’re not working or if you want to talk to someone who can offer you advice and support and your addiction to online social networking sites, consider reaching out to an online therapist.
Is social media addiction a disorder?
Social media addiction is not a recognized disorder in the DSM-5, but researchers worldwide are studying it, so that may change.
What is the most harmful effect of social media?
The most harmful effect of social media platforms may be the mental health issues it can cause, including increased risk of depression and anxiety, low self-esteem, greater chance of relationship issues, increased potential for stress, increased isolation-aligned behaviors, and potential for a lowered body image.
How does social media affect students' lives?
Problematic social media use can have a significant impact on students’ lives. One recent study found that the negative effects of social media on students may include reduced learning and research capabilities, time wastage, reduction in real human contact, loss of motivation, and low grades.
How long does social media addiction last?
Social media affects people differently, and everyone will respond to treatment in their own way, so it is difficult to determine how long social media addiction will last. Some recent research shows that weekly sessions of CBT over 10 weeks may be sufficient for internet addiction or 15 weeks for group therapy.
Who is affected by social media addiction?
Anyone can experience social media addiction, but some research shows it may be particularly damaging to teens and young adults. This may be because of the difference between their brains. Social media does activate the brain’s reward center in adults, but adults tend to have a fixed sense of self that is less affected by feedback from peers and adults have a more mature brain, which helps control the emotional response to social rewards.
What does social media do to your brain?
Our brains release dopamine when we make connections with other people, which encourages us to do it again. With excessive social media use, the constant connection and validation can leave us vulnerable to overconsumption, which releases large amounts of dopamine in the brain, stimulating our reward pathways. This effect is similar to what happens when people use meth, alcohol, or heroin, and it amplifies the feel-good properties that attract us to other people in the first place.
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