How is Social Media Addictive?

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Many people wonder how social media is so addictive. Social media has become an integral part of our daily lives. It is a great way to stay connected with friends and family who are not nearby. Social media helps us stay informed about current events, news, sports, and weather. We have access to share our thoughts, comments, and likes. We can also share other people’s posts and interact with people we follow worldwide.

Unfortunately, some people become addicted to social media. They spend excessive amounts of time online and ignore their real-life relationships. Gaining a better understanding of social media’s addictiveness can help people realize when they should seek treatment for addiction

What Is Social Media Addiction?

Social media addiction is when someone is addicted to social media platforms. They often exhibit similar behaviors as people do when addicted to drugs or alcohol. They can experience withdrawal symptoms if they go for long periods without using social media. 

Social media addiction is classified as a behavioral addiction. Part of the addiction is dependence on social media and the constant need to be connected:

  • Check the number of likes they received
  • Check the number of new followers they have
  • Post new content
  • View others’ posts
  • Engage with others through various platforms

Another side-effect of this addiction is people are often unable to function and get thorough daily tasks and responsibilities if they are not able to access social media. 

Who Can Develop Social Media Addiction?

Social media addiction is often mistakenly assumed to only occur in tweens and teens. However, it is a disorder that can affect anyone regardless of their age. In a 2019 study, different age groups and the percentages who reported being addicted to social media include:

  • 18 to 22-year-olds: 40 percent
  • 23 to 38-year-olds: 37 percent
  • 39 to 54-year-olds: 26 percent
  • 55 to 64-year-olds: 21 percent

As evident, social media addiction is a growing concern since it can affect anyone at any time in their life. 

Social Media Addiction Symptoms

Social media addiction symptoms often include:

  • Frequent mood swings
  • Spending an excessive amount of time online
  • Neglecting personal responsibilities like work or school
  • Neglecting personal hygiene
  • Changes in sleeping patterns
  • Feeling a compulsion to check social media platforms
  • Unable to cut down or stop using social media regardless of previous attempts
  • Losing all track of time
  • Relationship problems
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when not using social media
  • Having strong “cravings” to be connected to social media
  • Needing to check social media platforms when alerts are received
  • Having to keep one’s phone or tablet nearby and with them at all times

Why Is Social Media So Addictive?

Social media can become addictive as it targets the same regions of the brain as alcohol and drugs do. These regions are responsible for pleasure and increase the release of various endorphins, including dopamine. Dopamine is an endorphin that makes us feel good. When there is an increased release in it, it reinforces whatever behavior is occurring at the time.

For instance, in cases of drug and alcohol abuse, an increase in dopamine levels reinforces using drugs or drinking again due to the euphoria experienced. Similarly, when using social media and experiencing an increase in dopamine, it reinforces continuing to use it from the pleasurable feelings experienced. 

Additionally, social media provides a sense of social validation and connection, which can be especially appealing for individuals seeking approval and acceptance. The constant stream of new content and notifications also creates the fear of missing out (FOMO), driving users to check their accounts constantly. 

How Does Social Media Cause an Increase in Dopamine Levels?

One way social media increases dopamine release is from the number of likes, positive comments, and shares a person receives on their posts. This validation from other people on social media, whether they are friends, family members, or complete strangers, makes many people feel elated, excited, and happy. 

Yet, these feelings are often short-lived. Once dopamine levels return to normal, the feelings fade. The next time someone uses social media, they experience the rush of dopamine and its effects again. Unfortunately, this creates an endless cycle where people continue using social media to experience pleasure. 

However, like other addictions, tolerance often builds, requiring the person to be online for longer periods and look for new ways of engagement to achieve the desired effects. 

Is Social Media Bad for Your Mental Health?

Social media can be bad for your mental health when it is used excessively or the person does not get the desired results. A person can experience anxiety, low self-esteem, loneliness, and depression when people are not responding to their posts or respond negatively. Furthermore, cyberbullying can lead to decreased mental well-being. 

Additionally, social media can cause people to compare themselves to others, leading to negative comparisons and feelings of inadequacy. The access to so much content online through the different platforms can also be overwhelming, creating added stress and anxiety. 

Is Social Media Good for Mental Health?

While social media could be harmful to mental health, it can also benefit one’s mental health when used responsibly. It is beneficial to help people remain connected with family and friends wherever they live. People can also develop new friendships with people globally who share similar interests. 

In addition, social media can help inspire and motivate people, help them discover new hobbies, and learn how to tackle DIY projects. It can even be a source of information to know what is going on in one’s community, state, country, and the world. 

Social Media Addiction in Teens

Teenagers are particularly vulnerable to social media addiction because their brains are still developing. Since they are already going through puberty and rapid changes to their bodies, they are more susceptible to the pleasurable effects experienced when using social media excessively. 

The risk of addiction is also influenced by other factors, including:

  • Most teens tend to be impulsive
  • They desire to have a large group of followers on social media
  • They have a need to be part of social influence online
  • They have a strong need to seek reaffirmation to support their identity of self

Symptoms of Teen Social Media Addiction

Some common symptoms that could indicate teen social media addiction include: 

  • Sleeping with their phones
  • Responding every time they get an update
  • Constantly seeking approval from others regarding their posts
  • Having the need to share everything they are doing and where they are going
  • The constant need for instant gratification
  • Becoming upset and angry when they experience negative responses on social media
  • Developing co-occurring conditions, including ADHD, OCD, body dysmorphia, depression, and anxiety. 
  • Engaging in increased risk-taking and dangerous behaviors to create social media content
  • Turning to drugs or alcohol as a coping mechanism for negative feelings caused by social media

How Social Media Affects Teens’ Mental Health

Social media affects teens’ mental health similarly to adults. However, since teenagers’ brains are still developing, they have not developed positive coping skills to deal with the negative consequences of prolonged social media use. 

It is common for teens to experience distress, anger, agitation, and irritability when they are not getting the results they want. Instead of the rush of dopamine, they can experience low self-esteem and worthlessness. 

When they experience cyberbullying, this can increase the risk of self-harm and suicidal behavior. The constant overexposure and desensitization to certain types of content can alter their perceptions of social norms. It can also cause them to seek out or engage in behaviors that would not necessarily be seen as normal. 

Teens could potentially become aggressors themselves when they are being bullied online. They can become hostile and take their frustrations out on others. Equally concerning, teens may have difficulties with their body image when they have been body-shamed on social media. Their gender identity can also be called into question when they experience hostility from others. 

All of these things can have a negative effect on teens’ mental health, leading to depression, sadness, feeling alone and isolated, and lower self-esteem. Another side effect is it can make it more difficult for teens to form meaningful friendships and relationships in real life. 

Social Media and Mental Health Statistics

Some mental health statistics as reported by NAMI include:

  • 1 in 5 adults experience mental health disorders annually.
  • 1 in 20 adults experience a serious mental health disorder annually. 
  • 1 in 6 youths aged 6 to 17 experience a mental health disorder annually.
  • 50 percent of all mental illnesses begin by age 14
  • 75 percent of all mental health disorders occur by age 24
  • Suicide is the second leading cause of death for 10 to 14-year-olds

According to a 2023 Gallup poll, teen social media use is an average of 4.8 hours per day for those ages 13 to 19. YouTube and TikTok were the two social media platforms used by this age group. Teenaged girls used social media for an average of 5.3 hours compared to 4.4 hours for teenaged boys. 

Data relating to social media addiction provided by Cloudwards provided the following:

  • 77 percent of teenagers use YouTube every day
  • 4.8 billion people around the world are on social media
  • 210 million people worldwide suffer from social media addiction
  • Approximated 30 percent of social media users in the United States say they are addicted
  • 54 percent of teenagers say it is hard for them to stop using social media 

How to Break Social Media Addiction

Breaking social media addiction can be challenging, but it is possible with some strategies and techniques, such as: 

  • Set limits: Establish boundaries for yourself by setting specific time limits for daily usage.
  • Turn off notifications: Disabling notifications can help reduce the constant urge to check your social media accounts.
  • Take breaks: Schedule time to completely disconnect from all social media to give your brain a break.
  • Find alternative activities: Find new and enjoyable activities such as hobbies, reading, exercising, or spending time with friends and family offline.
  • Unfollow/unfriend: Consider unfollowing or unfriending accounts that trigger negative emotions and feelings.
  • Seek professional help: If you feel like your social media addiction is impacting your mental health significantly, consider seeking professional help to develop healthy coping strategies.

The Impact of Social Media on Mental Health and Addiction

Social media can have both positive and negative impacts on mental health. On the positive side, social media can help people stay connected with friends and family, find support in online communities, and access valuable resources for mental health issues. 

However, excessive use of social media has been linked to various mental health problems, such as increased feelings of loneliness, depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, and poor body image. Additionally, when people experience a rush of dopamine, it reinforces social media usage, leading to dependence and eventual addiction to social media for many people. 

Get Help for Social Media Addiction in Today

When you or a loved one is struggling with social media addiction, help is available. Our caring and supportive team can provide you or your loved one with resources and known treatment centers that help people with social media addiction. Contact us today to get your help and break free from addiction. 

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