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Social media has become a pervasive part of life for most people. That’s so true that you can sign up for government services with your Facebook account, connect to school and study portals with the same, and use accounts like Twitter and even TikTok to get in touch with government agencies and help lines. Social media can be an important and valuable part of life, with benefits including increased connection, better awareness of what’s going on in friends’ lives, and exposure to content that can be informative, educative, and entertaining.
Nearly everyone is familiar with the term doom-scrolling, but when is it really too much? And when do you actually need help with your social media habits? Understanding social media addiction, what you can do about it, and how professional help can get your life back on track should help.
Social media addiction is a type of behavioral use disorder classified as a “Process addiction” under the DSM-5. These addictions are very similar to substance use addictions, in that they follow the same processes, and they trigger the same parts of the brain. The person affected can react and act in many of the same ways as to an alcohol or drug addiction, but without the influence of the substance.
With social media, people become addicted to getting immediate input and feedback on a social network. That can also happen whether or not that feedback is positive or even directed at them. For example, you may develop a social media addiction because you have a lot of online friends who are always talking to you and making you feel good. On the other hand, you might develop a social media addiction because you constantly scroll through feeds and the attention and bits of reward offered by comments, videos, and images going by is enough to make you feel good for a second, leaving you chasing the next thing that does.
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Behavioral addictions stem from that process of short-term reward. If you do a thing, it produces a result. The result feels good, so you go after it again. It’s the same phenomenon behind people gambling too much, chasing sugar highs, compulsively using the gym, shopping to feel better, spending all of your time on video games, or even binge eating. You do X, get good feedback, so you do X again – even when it doesn’t result in the same feedback every time.
In fact, people are more likely to become addicted to something like social media when results aren’t predictable. People who play slot machines are more likely to continue playing slot machines if they don’t know when they will win or not – even if it means reduced payout. So, hours of scrolling and boredom followed by a sudden hit of interaction and interest might actually be more addictive than constantly getting good feedback and praise or attention online.
Eventually, you become behaviorally hooked on repeating the habit of whatever you’re doing, and you do it automatically. You think about it all the time. Then you prioritize it to the exclusion of all else. And, while it can seem odd that someone might do this with something like Twitter or TikTok, people also do it with gardening and cleaning their hands. You can become behaviorally dependent on anything that creates a sense of reward.
Most people are aware of the “Pavlov’s Bell” story, where Ivan Pavlov noticed his dog would salivate when he walked into the room – not just when fed. So, he started ringing a bell when feeding his dog. And, soon, the dog was conditioned to associate the dog with food – and would salivate in anticipation of food when the bell was rung.
Social media addiction isn’t “That” simple. However, it is the same effect of people becoming conditioned to expect stimulus and feeling good from a platform, and then chasing it no matter how hard it is to find. However, you will see impulse control problems, sensation seeking, difficulty with prioritization, stress, and lack of harm avoidance in people with social media disorder.
Symptoms of social media addiction will typically include significant usage of social media. However, social media addiction is in the DSM-5 under the category of “process addictions. Here, symptoms are listed as:
In addition, the behavior must be persistent, in that it must meet diagnostic criteria for at least 12 months.
However, you don’t need all of these symptoms to have a social media addiction. Instead, the DSM uses a classification symptom:
Of course, it’s also important not to self-diagnose. If you’re struggling, going to a professional to get an assessment and help with your mental health is much healthier than attempting to manage everything yourself.
If you’re concerned that you or a loved one have an addiction to social media, there are very clear signs of the problem. However, they do vary from person to person and some people may appear to not have a problem, but, for example, may spend a lot of time using social media in private.
In any case where one activity is taking up most or all of a person’s time, attention, and energy, it’s a bad sign. If that activity is causing problems to the person, damaging their relationships, and preventing them from making healthy real-world connections, it could be an addiction.
We strive to offer the best treatment experience and believe that through our proven program, that we can help you not only overcome mental illness, but achieve a fulfilling life full of gratitude and compassion beyond what seems possible at the beginning of your path to recovery.
Social media can be both beneficial and harmful. Here, benefits typically rely on moderate use, healthy interaction with the world around you, and a healthy approach to managing behavior. Here, factors like age and mental health will play a large role in social media.
For example, the Surgeon General advises that persons under the age of 16 have limited access to social media (but still access), as using social media more than 3 hours per day can result in negative side effects. Those can include:
Reduced sleep quality
In addition, studies limiting the usage of social media to less than 3 hours per day showed marked improvements in depression and anxiety. In addition, reducing social media or deactivating social media for 4 weeks improved the effects of therapeutic interventions by 20-40%.
This means that social media can have a significant negative impact. However, individuals who are younger than 16 are most vulnerable. At the same time, social media is thought to have contributed to over 300,000 cases of depression in college age students. So, limited access to social media can be beneficial at every age.
Still, social media can be beneficial. It’s important not to demonize a tool, only to limit how much you access and use it.
If you or a loved one is struggling with social media use, it’s important to reach out and get help. Process addictions like social media addictions are treatable, just like any other addiction. That normally means taking a behavioral therapy approach to look at underlying causes, reasons for using social media to feel better, and ways to improve your life from a general and holistic perspective. That typically means treating the root causes, treating the symptoms of addiction, and working to develop life skills and coping mechanisms to improve quality of life.
If you need help, the staff at Compassion Mental Health is here to help. Contact us at (901) 552 3497 to discuss how our approach of individual care, personalized treatment, and home-like treatment environments can help you or your loved one through recovery.