Social media Addiction

Social media addiction is one of the most recognized forms of behavioral addiction in today’s world.

Social media addiction | Table of Contents

What is Social Media Addiction?

Signing in and scrolling through social media has become quite the norm in the past and present decade. While most people’s social media activity tends to be unproblematic, a small percentage of users tend to be addicted to social networking sites and participate in excessive or compulsive usage of it. Psychologists estimate that roughly 5 to 10 percent of Americans today fit the threshold for social media addiction. Social media addiction is a behavioral problem that is marked by being excessively concerned with social media, motivated by an uncontrollable desire to log in or use social media, and allocating too much time and energy to social media even if it affects and hinders other significant areas of life.

Addictive social media use presents itself like any other drug use disorder, with characteristics such as mood changes (i.e., involvement in social media contributes to a positive shift of emotional states), salience (i.e., mental, cognitive, and emotional obsession over social media), tolerance (i.e., a concerning increase of social media use over time), withdrawal symptoms (i.e., facing unpleasant physical and emotional symptoms when social media usage is restricted or stopped through external forces), conflict (i.e., interpersonal issues might erupt due to social media use) and relapse (i.e., addicted individuals tend to resume their excessive social media use after a period of abstinence).

The phenomenon of social media addiction is primarily attributable to the dopamine-inducing social environments generated by social networking sites. Social networking sites such as Facebook, Snapchat, and Instagram generate the same neural circuitry that is induced by gambling and recreational drugs to keep customers using their goods as often as possible. Studies have revealed that the steady influx of retweets, likes, and shares from these sites have activated the brain reward region to initiate the same chemical reaction as other substances, such as cocaine. In reality, neuroscientists have compared social media activity to a syringe of dopamine being pumped straight into the brain.

There is no formal medical recognition of social networking addiction as an illness or condition. Yet, the cluster of behaviors connected with heavy or extreme use of social media has become the subject of much discussion and research.

Sociologists and psychologists have, in the meantime, been exploring the impact of social networking on real-world relationships, particularly in marriage, and some have quizzed whether overuse of social media could play a role in divorce. The Wall Street Journal reported that 1 in 5 marriages had been destroyed due to Facebook, while also noting that there was no scientific evidence to support such data or claim.

Sherry Turkle, a researcher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has written abundantly about the impact of social media on relationships, arguing that they are weakening human ties. In her book, Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less From Each Other, she narrates some of the negative impacts of being constantly connected to technology, which ironically can leave people feeling more lonely.


Is social media addictive?

According to research conducted by Harvard University, the use of social networking sites ignites parts of the brain in the same manner as using drugs or other addictive substances. Therefore, social media can be addictive, both physically and psychologically.

How much social media is too much?

According to experts, 30 minutes or less per day is the maximum time you should spend on social media. Anything more than that is considered too much.

How do I replace social media?

You can change your behavior by calling someone instead of contacting them on social media, meet people in person, take on new hobbies, plan a trip with friends and family, create goals for yourself, and most importantly, live in the moment.

How does social media affect our daily life?

The negative effects of social media such as poor sleep quality, increase in depression, and anxiety can all negatively affect an individual’s day to day life.

How Social Media Affects the Brain

In part, due to the extreme impact, it has on the brain, social media is deemed addictive both physically and mentally. As per a new study by Harvard University, self-disclosure in social networking sites illuminates the same portion of the brain that often ignites when an addictive drug is taken. The brain reward region and its chemical communication pathways affect decisions and sensations. If someone encounters something rewarding or uses an addictive drug, neurons in the main dopamine-producing areas of the brain are stimulated, causing dopamine levels to spike. As a result, the brain receives a “reward” and associates the drug or activity with positive thinking.

It is highly observed in social media usage that when an individual receives a notification, such as a like or mention, the brain is hit by a wave of dopamine and passes it along reward pathways, generating pleasure in the individual. Social media supplies an indefinite amount of immediate rewards in the form of attention from others for a relatively minimal effort. Thus, the brain rewires itself through this positive reinforcement, making people yearn for likes, retweets, and emoticon reactions.

Another preserving factor of social media addiction is the fact that the brain’s reward centers are most engaged when people think or talk about themselves. In real life, people are estimated to talk about themselves about 30 to 40 percent of the time; but social media is all about displaying one’s life and achievements, and as such, people tend to talk about themselves at a staggering 80 percent of the time. When a person posts a picture and gains positive social feedback, it causes the brain to release dopamine, which again rewards the activity and promotes the habit of social media usage.

Social media use is a cause for alarm when someone perceives social networking sites as an effective coping tool to alleviate stress, isolation, or depression. For these people, social media provides consistent rewards that they do not receive in real life, and thus, they end up engaged in the activity more frequently. This continuous use ultimately leads to multiple interpersonal problems, such as neglecting real-life relationships, work or school commitments, and physical health, which may then aggravate an individual’s unpleasant mood. It then encourages people to indulge in social networking activity even more as a means of alleviating dysphoric moods. As a result, when social network users repeat this pattern of easing unpleasant moods with the use of social media, the psychological dependence on social media improves.

Researchers at Chicago University suggest that social media addiction could be worse than tobacco and alcohol addiction after an experiment in which several hundred participants’ cravings have been recorded for several weeks. As per their results, media cravings were ranked ahead of cigarette and alcohol cravings.

At Harvard University, researchers placed people on functional MRI machines to analyze their brains and to observe the effects that occur when they talk about themselves, which is a central part of what people do in social media. They reported that self-disclosure communication induces the pleasure centers of the brain, just like sex and food.

Many clinicians have detected anxiety, depression, and certain psychological disorder symptoms in people who spend too much time online. Still, little proof has been established to show that social media or Internet use has contributed to such symptoms. There is a similar lack of data on addiction to social networking.


How does social media affect your brain?

When social media users receive positive feedbacks, their brain activates the dopamine receptors, which are partly facilitated by the VTA. This produces a sense of satisfaction.

Does social media affect intelligence?

Studies indicate that social media can negatively impact cognitive abilities. The overuse of social media can lead to short term inhibition of intelligent thoughts.

Does social media affect memory?

Studies indicate that the overuse of social media over a prolonged period can negatively affect attention and short term memory.

Recognizing Social Media Addiction

While many people tend to use social media with no apparent issues regularly, only a few are completely addicted to it. If you are worried that someone might be at risk of developing a social media addiction, ensure to ask the following six questions:

  • Does he/she appear to be preoccupied with the thoughts of using social media?
  • Does he/she indicate urges to use social media more often?
  • Does he/she use social media to be immune to current problems?
  • Does he/she often try to quit social media use but fail at it?
  • Does he/she display restlessness or troubling behaviors when unable to use social media?
  • Does he/she use social media too often that it adversely affects his/her job or studies?

If the answers to more than three of these questions were “yes,” then you or the one you had in mind may have or is on the verge of developing a social media addiction.

As a precaution, you or the person you had in mind should partake in a digital detox, which refers to a period during which someone dramatically decreases the time spent or refrains from using electronic devices such as smartphones or computers. These could involve basic measures, such as turning off sound alerts and only monitoring social media pages once an hour. Other measures, such as establishing non-screen intervals in the day, for example, during meal times or keeping the phone in a different room at night so as not to interrupt sleep. These measures may help social interaction in the physical world to be restored while eliminating reliance on networking sites.

Social Media and Mental Health

Research proves that there is an undeniable link between frequent social media use, negative mental health, and low self-esteem. Although social media sites have their advantages, using them too often can increasingly dissatisfy and alienate people. These negative emotional reactions are not only attributable to the social pressure of sharing info with others, but also by the comparison of material things and lifestyles promoted by these sites.

Users see curated content on Instagram and Facebook–advertisements and posts that are explicitly intended to attract you based on your interests. When scrolling through this curated material, users tend to see posts from individuals who have amazing careers, fun, and exciting lives, or beautiful homes. While some may feel inspired by these posts others, however, may view these images and feel envy, depressed, or even suicidal since their own lives are not picture “perfect” as those they see on Facebook or Instagram.

Recent studies have shown that regular users of social networks assume other users to be happier and more successful than they are, particularly when they do not know them very well in reality. Social media promotes an atmosphere in which people equate their true offline selves to the polished, filtered, and manipulated online images of others, which can be harmful to mental well-being and self-perception. Excessive use of social media may not only cause unhappiness and general frustration with the lives of users but may also raise the risk of developing mental health problems such as anxiety and depression. Consistently comparing oneself to another can lead to feelings of self-consciousness or a desire for perfectionism and order, which is frequently reflected in social anxiety disorder.

Another facet of social anxiety triggered by online media use is the fear of missing out (FOMO), which is the irrational fear of not being included or missing a social event. For example, someone could see photos of a party for which they were not invited, or of a fun outing that collided with work or school commitments, and might encounter anxieties believing that no one would miss them as a result, or that they would be overlooked since they were not there. FOMO can weigh heavily on self-esteem and lead to an obsessive dependency on social media sites to ensure that a person does not miss out even at the risk of causing issues at work and in the classroom. In a study published by Harvard University in 2017, researchers found that social media has had a substantial negative effect on the emotional well-being of frequent users and their lives, adversely implicating their real-life relationships and academic success for those still in an educational environment.


What are the negatives effects of social media?

Many people encounter negative effects from being addicted to social media, such as fear of missing out (FOMO), Inadequacy about their life or appearance, isolation, cyberbullying, self-absorption, depression, and anxiety.

Does social media do more harm than good?

Although there are many positive aspects to the use of social media, the virtual world can also be treacherous as it can generate or worsen mental health disorders and even increase the risk of being victimized through cyberbullying and scams.

At-Risk Youth

Approximately 27 percent of children who spend three or more hours on social media everyday report signs of poor mental health. The overuse of social media is much more questionable for children and young adults since their brains and social skills are still at the development stage. Research has shown that adolescents who routinely use social media from a young age tend to have seriously compromised social interaction skills. Given the fact that users communicate with each other on these sites, many of them do not necessarily translate into reality. Studies have shown that these individuals have aggravated social anxiety in groups, increased rates of depression, negative body image, and lower levels of sympathy and compassion towards others.

Research conducted by California State University discovered that people who engaged with every social networking site at least 58 times a week were three times more likely to feel socially alienated and discouraged than those who used social media less than nine times a week.

Constant criticism of beautifully filtered images that appear on social network sites can also cause low self-esteem and eating disorders among young adults. While many adolescents admit knowing that their peers only post their best images and moments on social media, it becomes really hard to resist making comparisons. Continued exposure to unrealistic beauty standards through social networking sites may have an impact on adolescents’ perception of their own bodies. One study at the University of Pittsburgh showed a connection between the time spent on social media apps and negative feedback on body image. Individuals who spent more time on social media had a 2.2-fold risk of reporting body image concerns as opposed to their peers who spent less time on social media. Anything from personal appearance to living conditions to perceived achievements is tested and analyzed by social media users. The desire to gain likes and compliments from social media can prompt teens to not only change their appearance but also to make choices that they would otherwise not make, including undertaking risky social media challenges and engaging in negative conduct.

Competition for publicity and likes can also escalate to cyberbullying. Name-calling, rumor-spreading. Abuse among teens have always existed, but social media has exasperated the situation. Teen girls are at greater risk of cyberbullying through social media, although boys are not exempt either. In addition to the strategies of face-to-face harassment, the dissemination and sharing of non-consensual explicit images are a form of cyberbullying that has gained wide attention in recent years. One-quarter of teenagers say they have been sent explicit photos that they have not asked for, while 7 percent claim someone has posted explicit images of them without their permission. This type of violence, along with other types of cyberbullying, has led to a rise in suicide rates among young adults. Besides, these factors have also led to the development of increased anxiety levels in teens and adolescents.


Why are students addicted to social media?

Students are addicted to social media because of the fast and easy way they can communicate with their friends regardless of where they are located. Many teenagers tend to get addicted to social media if they feel isolated or disconnected from their family or friends.

How do I stop my social media addiction?

Controlled use is the ideal psychological solution for social media addiction. Although it is not necessary to give up social media entirely, it is important to put in place strategies to limit its use.

Why should I quit social media?

Quitting social media can help improve your mood and confidence as you’re no longer constantly comparing yourself to others. It can also significantly decrease your level of depression, anxiety and increase your quality of sleep.

Recovery Partner Network

We aim to educate and empower. If you feel our library of resources does not cover your specific need, reach out to us, and we would be happy to help.