Social media addiction is most common among adolescents and young people. Individuals with social media addiction may experience negative psychological and physical symptoms.

Social media is an online platform that allows people to communicate with one another electronically. Examples of social media websites include Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and TikTok.

Addiction to social media is a growing problem, particularly in adolescents. Research suggests that by 2016, adolescents spent an average of 6 hours a day on social media.

In this article, we look at what social media addiction is, why it is addictive, and the risks and downsides of social media. We also explore how to identify the signs of social media addiction and decrease time on social media.

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Social media addiction is when a person feels an extreme compulsion to log in or use social media. They may also feel an overwhelming concern about social media and devote a large amount of time to it.

It is a behavioral addiction, meaning that someone is dependent on an activity or action.

Due to the amount of time a person spends on social media, there may be a negative effect on their daily activities and personal relationships.

Symptoms of social media addiction may include:

  • a compulsion to check social media
  • spending long periods on social pages
  • spending less time doing offline activities
  • changes in mood, particularly when not looking at social media
  • withdrawal symptoms
  • conflict as a result of social media use

In a 2019 survey, 40% of individuals in the United States aged 18–22 years reported that they felt addicted to social media.

Social media platforms ignite the same reaction in the brain as gambling and recreational drugs do.

When a person engages in a pleasurable activity, the brain releases a hormone called dopamine. Dopamine is responsible for feelings of pleasure.

When a person receives certain social media notifications, such as a like, retweet, or comment, the brain may increase dopamine levels. This could cause a person to experience a pleasurable feeling, positively reinforcing additional social media use.

In a 2020 paper in Business Ethics Quarterly, the authors pointed out that those who design social media platforms benefit from people with social media addiction and may intentionally design these platforms to be addictive.

Social media addiction can cause psychological and physical symptoms.

A 2017 study states that internet addiction in adolescents can result in:

  • sadness
  • suicide
  • distress
  • cyberbullying

A 2020 systematic review suggests a link between social media use and the development of mental health conditions, such as depression and anxiety. This may occur because increased social media use may lead to sleep problems, lack of exercise, and peer pressure.

Additionally, a 2019 review suggests a link between social media use and suicide attempts in young people.

Another recent study looked into the role of social media in young people hospitalized for suicide attempts or suicidal ideation. They found that negative aspects of social media included:

  • stress in regard to metrics
  • triggering content
  • hostility from others
  • comparisons to others
  • strong friendship expectations
  • difficulty regulating social media use

Social media addiction can also result in physical problems.

A 2020 paper stated that people using negative language on social media were at higher risk for death from heart disease than those using positive language.

Additionally, a recent study of adolescents found that higher levels of social media use had links to visits to the doctor.

Suicide prevention

If you know someone at immediate risk of self-harm, suicide, or hurting another person:

  • Ask the tough question: “Are you considering suicide?”
  • Listen to the person without judgment.
  • Call 911 or the local emergency number, or text TALK to 741741 to communicate with a trained crisis counselor.
  • Stay with the person until professional help arrives.
  • Try to remove any weapons, medications, or other potentially harmful objects if it’s safe to do so.

If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, a prevention hotline can help. The 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline is available 24 hours a day at 988. During a crisis, people who are hard of hearing can use their preferred relay service or dial 711 then 988.

Find more links and local resources.

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A person can ask themselves the following questions to identify social media addiction:

  • Do they spend lots of time thinking about or planning to use social media?
  • Do they have an increased urge to use social media?
  • Do they use social media as an escape from personal problems?
  • Do they try and find it difficult to reduce the time they spend using social media?
  • Do they become restless and troubled when not using social media?
  • Has their use of social media had a negative effect on their job or studies?

If a person answers yes to several of these questions, they may have a social media addiction. In some cases, individuals may want to consider speaking with a mental health professional.

Limiting social media may be difficult for people with social media addiction. However, it is an important step in dealing with excessive social media use.

While it is possible to try to limit social media use without medical intervention, in some cases, professional help may be necessary.

Some ways a person can try to decrease social media use include the following:

  • Keep apps out of sight by removing them from their phone or most-used device.
  • Leave the phone in another room.
  • Keep the phone out of the bedroom.
  • Download apps that can limit the time they spend on social media.
  • Find a hobby that does not require the use of screens.
  • Avoid taking the phone to family meals.
  • Turn off app notifications.
  • Remove all friends and followers that they do not know in real life.
  • Ignore negative messages.
  • Take frequent breaks from social media.
  • Ask friends and family for help and support.

If a person is not able to reduce their social media use on their own, they may wish to consult a mental health professional.

Social media addiction is an increasing problem that is common among adolescents and young people. A person may feel the compulsion to check social media platforms and experience withdrawal symptoms when they do not.

Social media addiction can affect someone’s mental health and result in physical problems, such as sleep problems.

A person may be able to decrease social media use on their own. However, if this is not possible, they may want to seek help from a mental health professional.