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What Is Social Media Addiction?
Social media is a new pathway of human interaction which has exploded in popularity in the past decade, shaping the landscape of online communication. While it’s still incredibly popular, social media is under increasing scrutiny from parents, the media, and even social media users on many platforms. Research is being done into the incidence of social media addiction and what it may mean for the social media companies and their users.
Social media addiction is not a formal clinical diagnosis. However, many people spend far too much time on social media. On the positive side, social media, such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, allow us the ability to stay in contact and connected with family and friends who reside far away. Unfortunately, people spend hours a day updating their status, uploading new pictures, commenting on other people’s posts, searching for new friends, and playing Facebook games, among other activities. With social media addiction, the focus becomes the digital world, and the person is less engaged in the physical world of relationships.
What Is Considered Addictive?
As our understanding of human behavior has evolved, so too has our definition of addiction. Addictions, now more commonly referred to as use disorders, can arise from chemically-addictive substances or pleasurable behaviors.
Chemical addictions, such as addictions to Nicotine, Opioids, and Alcohol, rely on a substance and its interaction with our physiology. Habitual substance use normalizes the body to the chemical. This becomes problematic if access to the substance slows or stops. Once the substance is no longer available, the body believes it lacks something that it needs, which causes withdrawal symptoms. While these types of substance use disorders are most commonly acknowledged to be “addictions,” research has begun to uncover patterns of behaviors that may also constitute addictive disorders.
Social media addiction falls under the behavioral addiction category. Researchers have been hesitant to classify behavioral disorders as similar to substance use disorders, but as we have learned more, they appear more similar. Behavioral disorders provide:
Short-term reward refers to the “high” of doing the activity, and that high may compel people to form habits even if they know those habits are harmful. These two types of addictive disorders (behavioral and chemical) are also similar in several other ways:
- Other disorders occurring simultaneously
- Treatment response
- Effects on the brain
- Obsessive preoccupation
- Pursuit despite negative consequences
- Similar brain reward system changes
- Urges to use more and more
- Avoidance of personal or professional problems
- Negative consequences at work, school, or home
- Multiple unsuccessful attempts to quite or cut back
The inability to resist an impulse regardless of the outcome is indicative of an addiction. While using Heroin is certainly a less socially acceptable impulse, researchers are learning that Heroin addiction impacts the same pathways in the brain as does the impulse to eat unhealthy food. Like a fast food habit, any pleasurable activity may be considered addictive if the person doing it knows that it is significantly harmful, yet cannot stop.
Social Media Addiction
The “social” in social media refers to a platform’s ability to allow people to communicate in ways that traditional media does not facilitate. Every social media platform operates differently, but the key aspect is the opportunity to see and react to everyone’s content. Most platforms allow people to “like,” comment about, and share other people’s contributions. Liking someone’s Tweet, Facebook status, or Instagram post is just the click of a button, but social media users’ anticipation of attention and approval from other users can create a flood of dopamine in their brains. Relying on these interactions as a means of mood regulation can take someone dangerously close to a social media addiction.
Likes are a way for people viewing your content to express their approval. Whether posting content to a specific group or posting a new photo album for your friends list and strangers to see, the expectation of likes and engagement with your content can create a rush for people. This expectation can become habit forming, especially if the validation of these reactions helps boost self-confidence. The rush that is created is a release of dopamine due to the neural pathways in the reward center of the brain being activated. The behavior can become a “habit” because of the desire to experience this sensation again.
Within the past few years, US lawmakers have considered banning the “infinite scroll” feature that many, if not all, social media platforms offer. The volume of content published on each platform is so great that one person cannot possibly see all of it. In order to keep people using their platforms longer, social media platforms present an array of content associated with that person’s interests and organize them with algorithms to create a near infinite string of content for users to browse.
As professionals more carefully weigh social media against mental health, they’ve begun questioning this element of site structure. Should the content be endless? Does it encourage unhealthy habits of overuse? We don’t have conclusive evidence that the infinite scroll causes social media addiction, but it is designed to occupy users as long as possible. If someone has issues regulating their use of the infinite scroll, even in the face of severe consequences, it becomes problematic.
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Psychological Factors of Social Media Addiction
Studies on the relationship between social media and psychology are beginning to uncover the ways in which they influence each other. Multiple researchers have found a significant correlation between feelings of conscientiousness, extroversion, loneliness, negative self-image, neuroticism, and unhealthy social media use.
A mix of extroversion and loneliness seem to be a powerful combination in compelling people to continue engaging in social media use regardless of its impact on them. Someone who requires more social interaction in order to maintain their mood would suffer more greatly in loneliness than someone who doesn’t require the same stimulation. Researchers report that social media functions as a relief from that feeling while users interact with friends or even strangers.
Facts About Social Media Addiction
With social media addiction, the focus becomes the digital world and the person is less engaged in the physical world of relationships.
Individuals often use social media to find validation and companionship, usually when they are missing these in their real life or the physical world.
Research indicates that teenagers who struggle with an anxiety disorder or depression are at greater risk of developing a social media addiction because they may use it as a way to distract themselves from negative emotions or troubling thoughts.
Individuals with high stress may turn to social media to decompress and then develop a pattern of using social media that can become addictive.
Teens with a limited social life are at greater risk of developing a social media addiction.
Social media can cause decreased self-esteem and increase self-doubt.
A study conducted by the University of Copenhagen found that many people suffer from “Facebook envy,” when they abstained from using Facebook or other social media platforms. Individuals who report abstaining from Facebook report increased satisfaction with their lives.
A study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology that assessed 5,208 subjects found that overall, regular use of Facebook had a negative impact on an individual’s wellbeing.
Many people use social media at night prior to going to bed, which has been proven to negatively impact one’s sleep. The light from mobile devices, among other devices, just inches from one’s face can suppress the release of melatonin, a hormone that helps us feel tired.
Not only has social media been proven to cause unhappiness, but it can also lead to the development of mental health issues such as anxiety or depression when used too much or without caution.
Facebook is one of the oldest and most successful social media platforms. Facebook allows people to communicate with each other through text, audio, photo, and video formats. Websites like Facebook and Myspace popularized the profile picture, which paved the way for the development of the visual fixation in social media. This visual focus is integral to the next company associated with overuse, especially among teenage audiences.
Instagram, owned by Facebook, is a primarily visual social media platform, although it also has a messenger feature and allows users to comment on posts. As Instagram grew in popularity, selfies and self-image in general became a key part of the app. Studies have found that those with positive self-image and high self-confidence were least likely to develop harmful Instagram use habits. Daily use and more negative self-image were associated with higher rates of Instagram use.
YouTube focuses on video content entirely. Instead of an infinite scroll, YouTube features an infinite auto-play. The YouTube algorithm assembles a continuous playlist of related videos based on the content someone views. People who are lonely and vulnerable to social media overuse may find comfort in YouTube videos featuring relatable entertainers and community engagement in the form of comments.
Get Help Today
As social media platforms grow in capability and popularity, unhealthy obsessions are becoming more common. If you or a loved one is suffering with unhealthy use of social media, please contact a dedicated treatment provider today. Your struggles are valid, and a social media addiction can be difficult to manage alone.
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