Social Media Addiction

Social media is a new and popular form of media that may soon undergo legal regulation for its addictive nature.

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.

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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

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 use disorders are most commonly acknowledged to be “addictions,” research is beginning to uncover patterns of behaviors that may also constitute addictive disorders.

Behavioral Addictions

Behavioral disorders is the category under which social media addiction falls. 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 fit within the definition of an addiction, which states states:

…short-term reward that may engender persistent behavior despite knowledge of adverse consequences…

Grant et al.
University of Minnesota School of Medicine

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 addiction disorders (behavioral and chemical) are also similar in several other ways:

  • Tolerance
  • Other disorders occurring simultaneously
  • Treatment response
  • Effects on the brain

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.

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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

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.

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Infinite Scroll

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 experts 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 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.

Specific Websites

Facebook

Facebook is one of the oldest and most successful social media platforms. Facebook allows people to communicate with each other through text, 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

Instagram, owned by Facebook, is a primarily visual social media platform. As Instagram grew in popularity, selfies and self-image in general became a key part of Instagram. 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

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 specialist today. Your struggles are valid, and a social media addiction can be difficult to manage alone.

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