While social media can help you stay up-to-date with friends, family and even the latest headlines, in excess it can be harmful to your mental health – and lead to a social media addiction. Research suggests about 210 million  people worldwide have trouble with their social media use.
Addiction is a complex mental disorder featuring uncontrollable and often progressive substance use despite harmful consequences. This means almost any behaviour – from drug use to shopping to social media use – can become addictive.
Addiction and Your Brain
Behavioural and substance addictions usually begin with an action that leads to a pleasurable result. As we receive the “reward” for our actions, our brains release neurochemicals to motivate us to repeat that action in the future and form a habit.
A habit becomes an addiction when we continue engaging in the behaviour even as it negatively impacts our lives. People with addiction often find themselves unable to stop or reduce use and need the habit to get through the day.
Social Media and Dopamine
Like gambling or other behavioural addictions, social media isn’t dangerous on its own. But the reward systems it triggers can create a dangerous feedback loop of intense dopamine releases that can leave us craving more.
Dopamine is a neurochemical that’s released when your body expects a reward. It’s a critical component of the motivation, reward, and reinforcement system that helps us build habits and is associated with happiness, motivation, and alertness. Large doses of dopamine trigger an addictively short-lived rush of euphoria.
The addictive nature of social media isn’t accidental – it’s by design. Creators of social media platforms intentionally tapped into our brain’s reward system with short-term dopamine-driven feedback loops to keep us on the apps longer . Each like, share, repost, and comment generates a burst of dopamine to keep us scrolling even as we disrupt our real lives.
How is Social Media Addictive?
The pleasure that contributes to social media’s addiction potential comes from the instantaneous connection and validation we receive. Social media connects us with the entire world, all within the span of a single heartbeat. It gives us community and access to information that can empower us in our lives and the world around us.
Social media centralized two of the most powerful cravings and motivators for people: connection and validation. By design, these platforms make it effortless to lose yourself in non-stop scrolling, double-tapping, sharing, commenting, and liking.
Signs of Social Media Addiction
While many of us use our social media daily, use doesn’t necessarily equal addiction. If you think you or someone you love may be addicted to social media, consider the questions below.
- Is your social media use interfering with your commitments and relationships at work and in your personal life?
- Do you want to reduce your social media use but find yourself unable to do so?
- Do you feel more irritable, restless, or anxious when unable to use social media?
- Do you no longer enjoy non-social media activities that once made you happy?
- Do you use social media to cope with stress and escape problems?
- Have you noticed yourself withdrawing from relationships and spending more time using or thinking about using social media?
Did you respond yes to three or more questions? If so, you might benefit from speaking with a professional about social media addiction.
Looking for help healing anxiety and depression that may be linked to excess social media use? Reach out to us at Bhatia Psychology to schedule a time to talk with one of our licensed clinical therapists.
Statistics on Social Media Addiction
Statistica  reported that worldwide, the time we spend on our phones increased from about 32 minutes/day in 2011 to roughly 155 minutes/day in 2021. In the wake of the pandemic, these numbers have continued to climb through our use of social media as a superficial substitute for the activities and relationships we had to halt.
Additionally, Statistica  found that of the 4.2 billion social media users worldwide, most people average 145 minutes of social networking each day. That’s over two hours every day!
Alone, these numbers don’t indicate addiction or a negative impact on your quality of life. But when we examine the statistics on the impact of excess social media on mental health, we begin seeing a clearer picture of the damage social media can create.
Social Media and the COVID-19 Pandemic
The risk for social media addiction increased significantly during the pandemic, as many of us became cut off from the sources of connection we found comforting and familiar. The forced isolation makes social media all the more addictive, superficially replacing the connections we previously enjoyed.
Paired with the stress and anxiety of COVID-19, social media has become a lifeline for many of us over the last two years. But with limitations on what we can do with our days, the temptation and ability to spend hours mindlessly scrolling becomes even easier. And although it helps connect us, social media’s positive effects don’t outweigh its negative impact on our mental health when we use it too much.
Social Media and Depression
Many studies  have identified a direct relationship between the amount of time spent on social media and the risk of developing depression. One study  of 1,787 U.S. adults between 19-32 years old found people who reported the most time on social media – 2+ hours per day – experienced twice the risk for feeling socially isolated. Feelings of perceived social isolation increased three times over for people who visited social media 58+ per week as compared to people who visited <9 times per week.
Another study  of teens 13 to 18 years old found suicide rates were higher for those who spent more time on new media than for adolescents who engaged in off-screen activities.
Social isolation directly impacts our mental wellbeing and has been linked to depression as well as mortality. A meta-analysis  exploring the effects of isolation found a lack of social support and connection heightens health risks as much as alcoholism or smoking 15 cigarettes a day.
It’s fair to say that the effects of excess social media are not harmless and can lead to significant and severe feelings of isolation and depression.
How to Heal from Social Media Addiction
The first step in healing social media addiction is accepting the addiction and how it has negatively impacted your life. Understanding the specific ways social media impacts you can solidify motivation as you decrease or stop use.
Other strategies you can try include:
- Digital detox. No tech, no social media.
- Need your phone for work or family? Delete your social media apps instead!
- Download apps to control time spent on social media.
- Keep your phone out of sight or powered off during important events or until after work.
- Select specific time slots during your day for social media.
- Make sure to schedule real face-time with the important people in your life, so your cravings for connection don’t prompt you to pick up the phone.
Are you or someone you love experiencing mental health challenges related to excess social media use and unsure what to do next? Reach out to us at Bhatia Psychology Group. Our licensed team of clinical psychologists is ready to help however we can so you can feel empowered, whole, and capable of tackling whatever hurdle life’s thrown your way.