Understanding Social Media Addiction
Social media and internet addiction involves spending too much on social media sites to the point it affects other aspects of a person’s daily life.
While social media addiction is not an official medical diagnosis, it is used to describe the cluster of behaviors related to the addictive behavior of social media.
Defining Social Media Addiction
The term “social media addiction” has not been medically defined by the American Psychiatric Association (APA). However, it is often used in news headlines and by television media, and is acknowledged by addiction treatment centers and mental health therapists as an actual, life-altering problem.
The APA defines addiction as a complex “brain disease that is manifested by compulsive substance use despite harmful consequence”. People who suffer from addiction intensely focus on the addictive behavior to the point takes over their life.
Signs of addiction may be:
- Behaviors that bring some physical sensation to the addict
- Behavior that weakens the individual’s restraint
- Withdrawal symptoms once the addiction has stopped, and stopping that is often unsuccessful
- Behavior that affects family, work and social obligations
- Overall negative behavior
Much like other addictions, some people are unable to able to handle social media appropriately and in healthy ways. The more the internet and social media dominate our lives, the worse of a problem this is becoming.
Signs of a Social Media Addiction
With most addictions, people are motivated to certain behaviors, and these become more important than their relationships and daily obligations, including school and work.
Social media could be considered an addiction if a person ignores important aspects of their life to spend significant time on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other various social media sites.
It is hard to tell if someone has an addiction to social media or if they simply enjoy spending some time on social media sites. When exactly does the time spent to become a harmful addiction? Is it a question of how much time is spent or is it a question of behaviors when they are unable to get access to social media?
Research studies have tried to answer these questions and find social media is even more addictive than alcohol or cigarettes. Other studies have shown social media sites can make people feel worse about themselves, and even contribute to the development of depression and anxiety disorders.
Addiction to Social Media Signs
Here are some signs someone may have a social media addiction:
- Spending hours a day on social media
- Checking social media sites whenever possible
- Oversharing including very private information on social media sites to gain approval from peers
- Hearing from loved ones that you are spending too much on social media sites
- Interference with work, school and offline social life
- Being more comfortable with online social sites than socializing in real life
- Getting anxious and stressed when having to cut down social media time
- Having obsessive thoughts about online friends and other social media features, such as deciding what to post, updating pages and responding to online friends.
- Constantly reporting online about ordinary, everyday things
- Looking for new online friends competitively
- Using social media to escape from real-life situations
- Losing sleep at night to spend time on social media
While the APA has no formal definition of social media addiction, it may be considered an obsessive-compulsive disorder. Regardless of how we define it, social media has become a problem for too many people, affecting relationships and even contributing to job losses.
Why Is Social Media so Addictive?
Researchers from Hungary, Norway and the U.K. recently collaborated in a study to determine how social media affected teenagers. What they found was 4.5% of youth belonged to an at-risk group reporting “low self-esteem, high level of depression symptoms and elevated social media use.” The researchers concluded that teenagers could benefit from school-based prevention and intervention to address problematic social media use. But teens are not the only ones affected by this ever-growing problem.
A 2016 analysis in the medical journal, Clinical Practice & Epidemiology in Mental Health, reported Facebook addiction ranges from 8.6% to 41.9%. But there is little research on how Facebook can become an addiction.
Other studies reported by the 2016 analysis find social media addiction behavior is like substance abuse behavior in that people experience similar symptoms. It is speculated social media misuse occurs because some people rely on it for coping with stress, depression and loneliness.
A Swedish study out of the Gothenburg Research Institute showed 85% of Facebook users login at least once daily and another 70% admitted to logging in whenever they started their computer.
Additional Social Media Addiction Research
A German study from the same year found that among 205 Facebook and Twitter users between ages 18 and 35, many people forgo sleep and rest to spend time on the popular social media sites.
The German study also found women spend more time on the Facebook than men by an average of 15 to 20 minutes. They further reported people who are less educated were more likely to become addicted to Facebook. It's concluded social media addiction was more harmful to people than smoking and drug addictions because social media was cheaper and more accessible.
Also, it's been found that college students who spent more time on Facebook felt worse about their lives. Similarly, a 2016 study from the University of Pittsburgh finds the more time young adults spend on social media sites, the more likely they are to be depressed.
There are certain risk factors that increase the chance of someone being addicted to social media. The biggest risk factor for social media addiction is the state of someone’s mental health. In fact, people with low self-esteem, depression and anxiety are at the highest risk of developing a dependence on social media, especially teenagers.
People who struggle with these risk factors will use social media sites as a distraction from dealing with real-life issues:
- Relationship difficulties
- Money worries
- Job and life stress