Are You Addicted to Social Media?Mental Health
Smartphones, Snapchat, Instagram, and other social media technology help you stay connected. You’re born with the drive to connect with others. It’s good for your physical health and psychological well-being.
But what if you find yourself becoming too connected to social media?
“There’s growing evidence to suggest that some individuals can develop a dependency on social media that’s not unlike an addiction to alcohol or drugs,” says Paul G. Simeone, Ph.D., Vice President and Medical Director of Behavioral Health at Lee Health. “Their overdependence on social media has led to symptoms typically associated with substance-use disorder.”
In fact, there are now therapeutic programs in psychiatric hospitals and behavioral health clinics across the U.S. dedicated to treating social media addiction as another compulsive disorder.
A 2019 survey found that 40 percent of U.S. online users aged 18 to 22 years reported feeling addicted to social media. Five percent of respondents from that age group admitted the statement “I am addicted to social media” described them completely.
The findings correlate with another study that reported 4.1 percent of boys and 3.6 percent of girls who are intense social media users display internet addiction.
Simeone cautions that because social media technology is new, research is just emerging that people may form addictions to social media.
“There are no clinical diagnostic criteria for social media addiction,” Simeone notes. “But if an individual excessively or compulsively uses social media platform to improve their mood, that’s a key symptom of addiction which may suggest dependency. The most important thing to keep in mind is the cost of any behavior that continues despite persistently negative consequences to functioning. This is the cornerstone of any definition of addiction.”
The ‘dopamine loop’
Using social media can lead to physical and psychological addiction because it triggers the brain’s reward system to release dopamine, the “feel-good” chemical. Dopamine is actually a neurotransmitter (a chemical messenger between neurons) involved in neurological and physiological functioning.
It’s the same chemical our brain releases when we eat, have sex, or gamble—or use our smart phones.
For some users of social media, their brains may increase dopamine when they engage with Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram or other social media platforms. When a user gets a like, a retweet, an emoticon notification, the brain receives a flood of dopamine and sends it along reward pathways. It feels wonderful, but it also acts to reinforce our need to satisfy the feeling next time.
This cycle of motivation, reward, and reinforcement is a “dopamine loop” that gets users seeking, looking, craving rewards and more of them. One well-known social networking service that hosts short videos fostered such high levels of addiction among its users the company added an addiction-reduction feature to the app.
Simeone says using social networking sites as a coping mechanism to relieve stress, loneliness, or depression may suggest an issue, as well.
“Compulsive users of social media tend to isolate,” Simeone says. “They’re chasing that constant reward system, which can lead to interpersonal problems, such as ignoring real-life relationships, work or school responsibilities, and one’s physical health.
“In turn, they feel bad about their behavior and to escape that undesirable feeling, they double-down on their social media behavior for relief. When social network users repeat this cyclical pattern of relieving undesirable moods with social media use, the level of psychological dependency on social media increases.”
How much is too much?
How do we know if you’re spending too much time on social media? Ask your friends or a family member for their opinion.
If you’re still unsure, try and walk away from using social medial for a few days.
Simeone says, “Remember, breaking any habit is a challenge. But if it feels really uncomfortable for you, that warrants attention.”
What’s your risk of developing a social media addiction?
Let’s face it, social media usage is a habit for most of us. There’s no harm in our habits if they don’t harm ourselves or others. In reality, few of us are addicted to social media.
To determine if someone is at risk of developing an addiction to social media, ask these six questions:
- Do they spend a lot of time thinking about social media or planning to use social media?
- Do they feel urges to use social media more and more?
- Do they use social media to forget about personal problems?
- Do they often try to reduce the use of social media without success?
- Do they become restless or troubled if unable to use social media?
- Do they use social media so much that it has had a negative impact on their job or studies?
A “yes” to more than three of these questions may indicate a social media addiction.
Need a digital detox? 5 tips to unplug
Digital detox is an agreed-upon period of time where individuals, companies, families, or other groups pledge to put down their phones and step away from their computers so they can concentrate on conversation, activities, learning new skills, and just generally being more aware of the concrete world around them.
But we have to start somewhere. Try these small and realistic changes:
- Stop using your phone as an alarm. Instead, use an actual alarm clock. It’s just as handy and can help you stay off your mobile device before bed.
- Turn off notifications. Do you really need Twitter and Facebook updates throughout the day?
- Monitor the amount of time you spend on your device. Apps like “Screen Time” and “Digital Wellbeing” can help you control your daily usage. Set a reasonable time frame and stick to it. Maybe only one hour on your phone after dinner? Try a morning routine without any technology. Start with just a couple of times a week.
- Stick to one device at a time – don’t use your phone while watching TV, using an iPad, or computer.
- Try not to revert to your phone in awkward social situations. And don’t check your texts while in the middle of a conversation.
- Above everything else: Make sure you aren’t answering a quick text or using the web when you drive.
Countless benefits await
“There are countless benefits waiting for you once you decrease your screen time—perhaps the most crucial being more restful sleep,” says Gloria Reilly, Health Services Coordinator at Lee Health. “The artificial blue light that our phones emit causes a disturbance in our circadian rhythm, the natural cycle that unites our behaviors with the functions of nature.
“Instead of staring at a screen before and after sleep, try rising with the natural blue light of the sky by taking a walk in the morning to absorb those ‘wake up’ rays—get your body going and boost your happiness!”
For a bedtime ritual, Gloria recommends ditching the social media binge and trying a deep breathing technique with essential oil aromatherapy to easily tune into your natural sleep cycle.
A break from technology allows us to re-evaluate unhealthy habits and identify where we can cut out its unnecessary use. It also empowers us to live fully in the present moment, self-reflect, and slow down to enjoy life.