August 8th, 2023
If you are someone who finds yourself spending hours scrolling through Facebook, TikTok, Instagram, and countless other social media sites, you are not alone. In fact, recent findings have noted that the average internet user will spend two hours, twenty-four minutes a day on social media platforms.
While social media is a convenient and somewhat unavoidable fixture in our lives today, it is important we keep an eye on our relationship with our devices, being mindful of the signs that can tell us whether our habits are perfectly normal or verging on an addiction. Let’s investigate social media addiction, exploring what it is, the reasons why it can be addictive and some of the ways you can seek treatment if you or a loved one is suffering.
What is social media addiction?
Addiction is a chronic condition that affects the brain and its ability to process reward. When someone develops an addiction to a substance or a behavioural addiction, they experience an overwhelming urge to take part in it again and again, even when it is causing them harm. This urge is not a simple craving, like the urge to eat chocolate or order fast food; addiction can leave those suffering incapable of functioning without the behaviour.
In much the same way, social media has the potential to leave users completely dependent on interactive platforms, feeling a compulsive need to engage with them, even if it is causing noticeable harm to their health and wellbeing. This makes it the same as any other addiction. In fact, there is growing evidence to suggest that social media dependency can lead to symptoms typically associated with substance use disorder, with a potential to bring about adverse consequences such as poor mental health, lack of self-control, and negatively impacted relationships.
Why is social media addictive?
The addictive potential of social media comes with its accessibility, giving individuals a chance to access an array of information, all from the palm of their hand. Whether that is to reach out to friends, relieve stress, or simply wind down after a particularly difficult day, social media has a lot to offer everyday users. An addict, however, will rely on their device compulsively to satisfy a particular need, dependent on social media to feel balanced and functional. This is because social media use activates those same reward pathways that are triggered when using an addictive substance, such as drugs or alcohol.
When we spend time on social media platforms, our brain releases small bursts of dopamine as if to reward us for such a pleasurable activity. Experiencing this neurological response can push us to take part in the behaviour again, using social media to seek instant and constant gratification wherever we are. In fact, some users have admitted to craving that small burst of dopamine so intensely that their brain will imagine one, creating the phantom sound of a buzzing phone that was never there to begin with.
Am I addicted to social media?
In society today, social media use is becoming increasingly commonplace. With most of the population having access to an array of different platforms, data shows that only 4.1% of us are not active social media users. This data would suggest that all of us actively use social media, making it particularly difficult to determine whether your social media habits are perfectly normal or a cause for concern.
If you are unsure whether you or a loved one is suffering from social media addiction, we have outlined some differences between a somewhat unhealthy social media user and social media addiction below:
What is the difference between unhealthy social media use and addiction?
|Unhealthy use of social media
||Social media addiction
Scrolling through social media when you need some time to relax and de-stress.
If you are unable to look at your phone every few minutes, you become distressed and on-edge.
Using your phone to communicate with friends but still taking the time to socialise with them in person.
Neglecting social responsibilities in favour of scrolling, rarely engaging with friends in person.
Looking at your phone a little too often to procrastinate or take your mind off certain tasks.
Using social media as a coping mechanism to forget about problems that exist in your personal life.
Worrying about how much attention your post is going to receive.
Obsessing over how much attention your post is going to receive.
Editing posts to make them more exciting or pleasing to the eye.
Changing aspects of your life in order to meet the standards of social media.
Consequences of social media addiction
While many of us may think that social media addiction is not as dangerous as other dependencies, social media addiction can lead to negative consequences if left unaddressed. Some of these include:
Increased feelings of loneliness and isolation
While social media can be a valuable tool for sharing and staying in contact, social media, ironically, can do just the opposite. In March 2020, 35% of young people interviewed admitted to feeling lonely most of the time, despite spending at least three hours on social media. While social media is one of the most popular tools to communicate, we can find ourselves replacing those more traditional forms of connection, such as meeting with loved ones in person, entirely with texting, commenting and posting online.
Need for external validation
With apps like Facebook and Instagram so frequently used, many of us feel an unspoken obligation to keep the world abreast of our day-to-day lives, showing our friends what we are up to and when. While many likes can trigger a rush in dopamine, reminding us that we are valued and have exciting lives that keep others interested, fewer likes or a lack of interest can make users feel less worthy or important. These online habits can be incredibly damaging to self-concept, leaving users feeling that they must receive this online validation to tell them that they are worthwhile.
Obsession with self-improvement
When we step into the virtual world, it is likely that we will have come across a variety of picture-perfect posts – ones which make us feel disappointed about our own lives as a result. Social media gives users a chance to curate a life that doesn’t reflect their reality; many users will be left trying to edit their own lives to meet those standards, desperately chasing an existence which is unattainable.
Mental health issues developing
Social media can leave those who are addicted to engaging with these platforms in a way that is detrimental to their wellbeing. This can lead to several mental health issues arising as a result of the behaviour, such as:
- Eating disorders
- Social anxiety
- Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
How to overcome social media addiction
If you feel like your use of social media is developing into an addiction, there are a number of techniques that you can employ to improve your relationship with your device:
Try a social media detox
Taking a break from social media can be beneficial in developing healthier habits and appreciating the value that comes from time spent away from your phone.
Find activities you enjoy which do not involve social media
Finding comfort in activities outside of social media can help us become more in touch with ourselves, feeling less reliant on external influences to find validation and surer of what we want.
Some of us can often turn to social media as a way to escape uncomfortable thoughts and emotions. In therapy, clients have a chance to address the underlying issues which have driven their behaviour, understanding more about themselves in the process. If we can help determine the root cause of our addictions, this can greatly impact feelings and overall mood, meaning that we no longer feel the need to turn to social media as a way to cope. Certain therapies can also provide strategies to teach us how to use social media responsibly.
How we can help
At UKAT, we are trained in helping individuals overcome all types of addictions in a safe and supportive space, making sure they do not have to do so alone. Incorporating a range of holistic therapies, we can help you understand more about yourself and the reasons you might have turned to social media for comfort, employing a range of techniques to help you develop a healthier relationship with your devices. Contact us today if you would like any more information about rehab for social media addiction.
Frequently asked questions
Do I need treatment for my social media addiction?
Whether you need social media addiction treatment depends on a number of factors, such as individual circumstances and needs. However, if you feel that your habit is getting in the way of your ability to lead a normal life, it might be time to start considering treatment.
Is internet addiction the same as social media addiction?
While internet addiction
is an umbrella term that extends to different online behaviours, like gaming
and cyber-relational addiction, social media addiction is specific to our relationship with social media sites.
Are some people more at risk of developing social media addiction?
With 90% of people aged 18-29
stating that they use social media in any form available, research suggests that young adults are the most at risk of developing some form of social media addiction.