Do I Have A Social Media Addiction? How To Recognize The Signs

By Sparklle Rainne (They/Them)|Updated June 8, 2022

Research shows that most adults in the United States have at least one social media account. Over 70% of the general population aged 18 and older uses social media, and the percentage is even higher for teens aged 13 to 17 in the United States. Although social media certainly has many uses, including those that lead to positive outcomes, it can be a challenge to strike a balance with social media. If you face concerns related to your personal social media usage, one of the things you might wonder is, "Do I have a social media addiction?" In this article, we will cover the possible downsides to social media, the signs that someone might have an unhealthy dependency on social media, and what you can do about it.

What Is Social Media Addiction?

Social media addiction isn't currently an established mental health diagnosis. However, dependency on social media, and other mental health impacts of social media, are very real matters that medical and mental health professionals and researchers are often able to identify and acknowledge. Accordingly, many medical and mental health professionals are aware of tools and mechanisms that can help people who experience a range of concerns that relate to social media usage.

Social media usage lights up the reward center in the brain. As for what it means to be dependent on social media, signs of social media addiction or risk factors for social media addiction can include but aren't limited to:

  • Using social media so much that it impacts a person's work, education, or other important parts of life (i.e., relationships and hobbies).
  • Social media usage that affects a person's well-being (i.e., someone may lose sleep or experience poor, light sleep due to social media usage).
  • Attempting to reduce social media usage to no avail.
  • Increasing urges to use social media more and more frequently.
  • Spending a large portion of one's time thinking about social media.
  • Feeling restless, irritable, or troubled if one isn't able to access social media when or as much as they want to.

What's the estimated prevalence of social media addiction? While we don't know for sure, experts say that it could be around 5% to 10% of the general population.

The Impact Of Social Media On Mental Health

Whether or not a person would consider themselves to have or be considered to have a social media addiction, there are potential negative impacts. Here's some of what we know:

  • Depression: Various studies have found that social media usage is linked to depression in both adolescents and adults.
  • Self-esteem: Social media can negatively impact both self-esteem and life satisfaction, perhaps due to comparison to other people.
  • Anxiety: Like with depression, social media usage is linked to a higher prevalence of anxiety. It is worth noting that social media usage can lead to adverse online experiences, which may increase anxiety and other mental health concerns.
  • Relationship issues: Multiple research studies have found a link between excessive social media usage and an increase in conflict in relationships, as well as a decrease in relationship satisfaction. There are a number of reasons as to why this might be, and some of them relate to the other effects of excessive social media usage or dependency on social media.
  • Stress: A fifth of people in the United States report that social media usage is either a significant source of stress or a very significant source of stress in their lives.
  • Isolation: Although social media has the potential to aid connectedness, it can also have the opposite effect. Too much social media usage or too much time spent on social media is linked to an increase in 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 needs socially.
  • Body image: Image-related content specifically has the potential to negatively impact an individual's relationships with their body and/or food, leading to dissatisfaction with one's appearance and possible eating concerns*.

*Eating disorders are serious. If you suspect that you or someone you know is experiencing symptoms of an eating disorder, please contact the National Eating Disorders Helpline at 1-800-931-2237, or reach out via online chat.

Online bullying and harassment are also prevalent issues. Some of these impacts may be of particularly high concern for kids and teens, though they can certainly affect anyone. What does this say about social media as a whole? It doesn't necessarily mean that social media is bad for everyone all of the time or that it can't be valuable. Just as there are downsides, there are many upsides to social media, including those that are backed by research, such as social connectedness and access to information. That said, everyone's best, healthiest relationship with social media will look a little bit different. This could be everything from deciding not to maintain accounts on social media at all to modifying social media usage based on the reflection of how and when it's best for you to use social media as a unique person.

What To Do About Social Media Addiction

With the impacts of social media addiction and other concerns that relate to social media usage in mind, what can you do to improve your relationship with social media or help yourself overcome social media addiction? Here are some ideas that may be of value:

  • Take a break from social media. Whether you do or don't intend to return to social media in the long run, taking a break can be helpful and is often recommended for those who feel that they may have a social media addiction or who are otherwise negatively affected by social media. This allows you to break the habit and see what life feels like without it.
  • Reflect on your needs. Take time to reflect honestly on what your ideal relationship with social media would look like. If you take a social media break, it can be very advantageous to do this before your return if you are exploring the possibility of returning to social media. That way, you may be more apt to notice if you fall into old patterns, including thought patterns that relate to social media, and can set boundaries with yourself.
  • Set boundaries with yourself. Set boundaries with yourself as they relate to social media. This could be a time boundary (for example, deciding what times of the day, or even week, you will use social media, as well as when you will log out or set technology aside), or it could be another kind of boundary that helps you use social media healthily, such as a boundary related to how you engage with other people or who you follow. Let's say that self-perception or body image is of concern. In that case, you may choose to follow accounts that don't filter images, or you may choose to follow accounts that support body diversity while unfollowing accounts of those who you tend to compare yourself to or who share messages that aren't supportive of your mental health.
  • Turn notifications off. As a means to support healthier patterns with social media, it may be helpful to turn social media notifications off, especially if you use app-based social media and tend to have your phone nearby often. That way, you may be less tempted to check social media outside of times where it is healthy for you to do so.
  • Connect outside of social media. If you feel that social media isn't healthy for you (or isn't healthy at the rate you use it right now), but you feel that it's your primary avenue for connection, explore other ways to connect with people. These can be virtual or face-to-face. For example, virtual meetups, events, or support groups offer connectedness for people who aren't able to attend in-person events at the rate they'd like to, but they don't have some of the drawbacks of social media.
  • Talk with a professional who can help. A mental health professional, such as a therapist or counselor, can help those with social media addiction or other social media-related concerns. If you find that it's tough to curb social media usage or to find a healthy balance on your own, you aren't alone. It's okay to need help, and it may take trial and error to determine what an ideal relationship with social media looks like for you, or how to put that into effect. A therapist or counselor can support you through the process. You can find a therapist or counselor to work with virtually or in person.

Online Therapy

Online therapy platforms like BetterHelp provide a secure and convenient way to work with a mental health professional from the privacy of your own home or anywhere else with a reliable connection to the internet. The BetterHelp platform has improved continuously throughout the years, and over 20,000 licensed, independent providers with a variety of specialties offer therapy services through the platform.

When you sign up for BetterHelp, you'll take a brief questionnaire that'll help our team match you with a therapist who meets your needs. If you need to cancel your plan or switch therapists at any point in time, BetterHelp makes it easy to do so. Online therapy may be more affordable than traditional, in-person therapy is in the absence of insurance, and studies show that it's just as effective as in-person therapy in helping people with a range of different concerns. Financial aid may be available for individuals who need it.

Are you ready to try BetterHelp? Click here to get started, or read the FAQs and therapist reviews on our website to learn more.

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