Social Media Addiction: Signs, Symptoms, And Treatment

Medically Reviewed by Johnelle Smith, M.D on July 5, 2021

Social media overuse can, for some, lead to harmful effects on mental health and disrupt daily life. People who overuse social media may benefit from individual counseling, behavioral therapy, and treatment for co-occurring disorders.

Medically Reviewed by
Johnelle Smith, M.D on July 5, 2021
Social Media Addiction

Social media networking sites are increasingly popular, especially among children, teenagers, and young adults.

One question from parents and mental health professionals is: when does it become too much. Is social media addictive?

While research on social media addiction is limited, research shows that social media addiction may be considered a type of behavioral addiction that, for some, may have detrimental effects.

Read more about behavioral addictions

What Is Social Media Addiction?

Social media addiction is a term used to describe a repetitive pattern of excessive social media use that feels compulsive and interferes with daily life.

Social media overuse may affect:

  • work or academic performance
  • self-esteem
  • time management
  • relationships
  • mental health

Social media addiction isn’t officially recognized as a disorder. However, it is considered by some to be an emerging type of behavioral addiction similar to a gambling disorder or internet addiction.

When Does Social Media Overuse Become An Addiction?

Distinguishing social media use from addiction is important. Addiction is a condition that can be debilitating, harmful to health, and disruptive to a person’s daily life.

What social media addiction is not:

  • regular use of social media
  • enjoying social media
  • use of multiple social media platforms

People can use social media very often and not have an addiction. Many people use social media to forge social connections, keep up with news, or for work or academic purposes.

What distinguishes a habit from an addiction is how it can affect a person emotionally, physically, and the extent to which it interferes with other aspects of their life.

Signs And Symptoms Of Social Media Addiction

Social media addiction is a new area of study. Through limited research, experts have identified a number of signs and symptoms of social media overuse that could resemble an addiction.

Signs and symptoms of a social media addiction might include:

  • spending the majority of time on social media, thinking about it, or creating social media content (outside of work)
  • neglecting offline relationships
  • inability to focus on things other than social media
  • feeling restless, anxious, or agitated when unable to access social media
  • using social media to escape reality
  • increasing social media use over time to achieve the same gratification

The primary sign of an addiction, or compulsive habit, is a lack of control. Like with drugs or alcohol, people with compulsive social media use may struggle to limit or stop their behavior.

Does Social Media Addiction Cause Withdrawal?

People who compulsively use social media are unlikely to develop physical withdrawal symptoms in the traditional sense. However, they may experience certain psychological effects.

For instance, stopped or reduced access to social media may cause restlessness, irritability, agitation, or distress.

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This type of psychological withdrawal is similar to that seen with other types of behavioral addictions, such as gambling addiction or internet addiction.

Consequences Of Social Media Addiction

People who compulsively use social media may experience a number of consequences to their daily life, including effects on work, academic achievement, social life, and health.

Common consequences and effects reported include:

  • procrastination
  • poor time management
  • reduced work or academic performance
  • poor mental health
  • increased risk for substance misuse
  • decreased physical activity
  • social anxiety
  • disrupted sleep patterns
  • reduced connection to people in “real” life

Who’s At Risk For Social Media Addiction?

Social media overuse is primarily a concern among teenagers and young adults, who are more likely to use social media. However, it may affect people of any age.

People who overuse social media are likely to be less involved in their offline community and may lack secure, fulfilling personal connections offline.

Additional risk factors include:

  • low self-esteem
  • extraversion
  • low conscientiousness
  • narcissism
  • using social media to cope with stress
  • family conflicts
  • substance misuse of a sibling or parent

How Common Are Co-Occurring Disorders Involving Social Media Addiction?

Social media addiction may often occur with other mental health conditions, in part because of how social media use can affect mental health and vice versa.

Co-occurring disorders might include:

  • anxiety disorders
  • mood disorders
  • narcissistic personality disorder
  • eating disorders
  • gambling disorder
  • substance use disorders

Social Media Addiction And Substance Abuse

Substance abuse affects millions of people, including teenagers, in the United States.

According to some research, an estimated 38 percent of people with compulsive internet use also have substance use issues.

People who overuse social media may be at higher risk for using illicit drugs, or developing a harmful relationship with drugs or alcohol.

Social Media Addiction And Mental Health

People who have depression or social anxiety may be more likely to turn to social media as an escape from their offline reality.

On social media, people can create an image for how they wish for others to see them. Relying on social media for validation or social enhancement, however, can become a problem.

Doing so may weaken offline connections over time and increase a person’s reliance on social media as a way to cope with offline stressors or to validate self-worth.

Social Media Use Rates In The United States

There’s little research that has specifically focused on compulsive social media use, although experts have identified some information about this phenomenon.

What is known about social media use and overuse:

  • About 69 percent of all Americans use Facebook, while 40 percent use Instagram and 21 percent use TikTok. About 72 percent report using at least one social media site.
  • The majority of social media users access social media sites regularly, with a smaller percentage using social media multiple times a day.
  • People who overuse social media may be at higher risk of poor body image and developing harmful drinking or drug habits.
  • Social media use, like drugs or alcohol, may boost ‘feel good’ hormones in the brain, like dopamine, which can reinforce continued social media use for the purpose of feeling pleasure.

Getting Help For Social Media Addiction

People who are concerned about their social media use, or that of a loved one, may benefit from seeking out a counselor to discuss their social media use.

Taking breaks from social media is highly recommended if it starts to feel like it’s overwhelming other parts of your life.

If you’re unable to cut down alone, however, this is where a counselor or psychologist may be able to help.

Social media addiction may be treated through:

  • behavioral therapy
  • mental health counseling
  • family therapy (for teens and young adults)
  • digital detox (i.e. disconnecting from social media)

For people with substance use issues, like heavy drinking or drug use, a substance addiction treatment program may be recommended.

Find Treatment For Social Media Addiction Today

Social media overuse can often be a sign of an underlying condition, such as a mental health disorder or substance use disorder.

Call our helpline today to learn more about social media addiction and to find treatment that’s right for you or a loved one in your life.

This page does not provide medical advice. See more

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