Social Media Addiction

Social media has become a key part of daily life, with around 2.7 billion people using platforms like Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, LinkedIn, TikTok, and Twitter, and many becoming addicted to using them. These platforms offer valuable opportunities for sharing information and creating virtual communities. However, the increasing dependency on social media has raised concerns about potential negative effects on mental health and well-being.

The prevalence of social media addiction among users is as high as 36.9% in the UK. The design of social media algorithms, prioritising content based on user engagement, further exacerbates this issue by encouraging prolonged usage.

Social media addiction affects mental health in several ways. Despite these challenges, there is no official diagnosis of “social media addiction disorder” yet, but the need for awareness and strategies to mitigate these negative impacts is clear.

What is social media addiction?

Social media addiction is a behavioural addiction. It is an overwhelming concern for social media, an uncontrollable urge to log on or use social media platforms, and investing so much time and effort into social media that it negatively affects other significant life areas. This addiction manifests through behaviours similar to substance use disorders, including:

  • Mood modification
  • False perceptions of how important social media is
  • Tolerance
  • Withdrawal symptoms
  • Interpersonal conflict
  • Relapse


The addictive potential of social media is significantly linked to how it stimulates the brain’s reward systems, particularly through the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with pleasure and reward. Platforms like Facebook, Snapchat, and Instagram create environments that trigger responses similar to those from gambling and drug use, effectively making social media interaction similar to receiving a dopamine injection directly into the system.

This process can lead to a behavioural loop, where the immediate rewards from social media engagement encourage continued and increasing use.

The modern digital environment worsens these effects by offering easy access and immediate rewards, making social media particularly addictive. Social media apps that deliver large dopamine doses exploit our innate desire for social connection. These platforms also leverage novelty and the human tendency to seek out new experiences, further fueling addiction.

Efforts to manage social media abuse on your own before it becomes an addiction can be two-fold:

  • Take significant breaks to reset the brain
  • Adjust usage habits to prioritise real-world connections over digital interactions

Who is at risk of social media addiction?

Risk factors include age, gender, psychology, and more. Here is an overview:

Age: Children and teens are particularly vulnerable to social media addiction. Their developing brains are more susceptible to the instant gratification and reward systems that social media platforms offer, such as endless scrolling and impulsive behaviours. Young social media users, particularly those aged 18 to 22, represent a significant portion of those addicted to social media in the United States, with average screen times of over 7 hours per day for teens and nearly 5 hours for younger children.

Psychological factors: Individuals with certain psychological traits or mental health issues are at a higher risk. This includes those with:

  • Depression
  • Low self-esteem
  • Impulsive traits
  • Narcissism
  • Extraversion

This is because instant gratification from social media can act as a form of dopamine-driven feedback, reinforcing compulsive behaviour patterns.

Gender: Social media addiction affects both genders, but young women are found to be at a higher risk compared to men.

Additional risk factors: Other factors that contribute to the risk include a history of addiction within the family, excessive social media usage (more than four hours a day), a struggle with face-to-face social interactions, loneliness, or personal dissatisfaction.

Causes of social media addiction

The causes of this addiction are complex, involving both psychological and technological elements that make social media particularly engaging and habit-forming.

Psychological and social factors: Several psychological factors significantly contribute to social media addiction. These include mental health issues like:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • ADHD
  • Low self-esteem
  • Body image concerns

People suffering from these conditions might turn to social media to seek dopamine boosts to “feel better” or gain positive feedback from others. This cycle can become particularly entrapping for individuals with low dopamine levels, commonly seen in those with depression or ADHD, making them more susceptible to social media.

The design of social media platforms: Social media platforms are designed to maximise user engagement, using algorithms that personalise content feeds based on past online behaviour.

This creates a “treasure hunt” experience for the user, where discovering engaging posts can feel as rewarding as winning a slot machine. The platforms’ focus on instant gratification, through likes, comments, and shares, encourages continual engagement and can lead to the rewiring of the brain towards dependency on these digital rewards for emotional satisfaction.

Neurological impact: Every time a user receives positive feedback on a post, their brain’s reward centre reinforces the behaviour. This process can make the brain dependent on social media for dopamine release, leading to withdrawal symptoms like cravings, anxiety, mood swings, and irritability when not engaged with social media.

How common is social media addiction?

Social media addiction is a growing concern globally, affecting millions of individuals worldwide.


  • Globally, an estimated 210 million people suffer from social media addiction.
  • In the United States, California State University reports that approximately 10% of the population, 33.19 million Americans, are addicted to social media.

Factors contributing to addiction:

  • Diversity in social media usage patterns significantly contributes to its widespread addiction.
  • Social media users engage with an average of seven platforms each month, varying based on factors such as country, age, and gender.

Market dynamics:

  • India and the United States have emerged as top social media markets with large user bases.
  • Younger demographics, particularly those aged 16 to 24, exhibit the highest percentage of regular social media use, underlining the platforms’ substantial impact among the younger population.

Symptoms of social media addiction

Social media addiction includes a range of symptoms affecting physical health, mental well-being, and daily life functioning, similar to behavioural addictions like gambling or substance misuse due to its impact on the brain’s dopamine pathways.

Physical symptoms of social media addiction include:

  • Neck pain
  • Backache
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome
  • Headaches
  • Insomnia
  • Eye strain due to prolonged usage of devices for social media activities

Behavioural symptoms can be:

  • Low self-esteem
  • Loneliness
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • FOMO (fear of missing out)
  • Poor sleep patterns
  • Diminished physical activity
  • Impaired work or school performance
  • Neglect of real-life relationships
  • Increased self-consciousness.

Myths about social media addiction

Addressing various myths is crucial for effectively understanding social media’s proper role in our lives.

Myth 1: Social media directly causes mental health decline

The notion that social media is a direct cause of increased mental health issues overlooks broader social changes. The rise in mental health discussions and diagnoses can also be attributed to decreasing stigma and increasing awareness, making it more socially acceptable to discuss mental health issues. Social media has played a significant role in facilitating conversations around mental health, offering platforms for support and information exchange, thus potentially contributing positively to public health awareness.

Myth 2: Social media use inherently decreases psychological well-being

Contrary to the belief that any amount of time spent on social media harms mental well-being, research and anecdotal evidence suggest that social media can be a vital source of support and information for many individuals, particularly those from marginalised communities. For LGBTQ+ youth, disabled individuals, and others, social media may offer the only accessible spaces to explore their identities, connect with similar individuals, and find community. The impact of social media on psychological well-being is not universally negative. It can vary greatly among individuals, highlighting the importance of nuanced research considering different experiences and backgrounds.

Myth 3: Social media is addictive like drugs

The comparison of social media to “behavioural cocaine” oversimplifies and misrepresents the nature of social media engagement. While social media companies design their platforms to be engaging, equating this engagement with drug addiction ignores the factors that contribute to social media use. Studies and surveys, such as those conducted by the Pew Research Center, indicate that many users do not find it difficult to disengage from social media if they choose to.

The narrative that social media is dangerously addictive often stems from broader anxieties about technological change rather than real evidence.

Treatment for social media addiction

Treatment for social media addiction encompasses a variety of therapeutic approaches aimed at managing excessive and compulsive use of social media platforms. These treatments are designed to help individuals regain control over their use, improve mental health, and enhance overall well-being.
Examples of treatment options:

1. Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT): CBT is a popular form of therapy that helps individuals identify and change destructive thought patterns that lead to social media addiction. By addressing these underlying thought processes, CBT can assist individuals in improving their self-esteem and reducing comparison with others on social media.

2. Dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT): Originally developed for treating borderline personality disorder, DBT is effective in managing behavioural addictions. It focuses on changing harmful behaviours and developing coping skills for handling intense emotions, which can be beneficial for those struggling with social media addiction.

3. Motivational interviewing (MI): MI aims to motivate individuals to change their social media use patterns. Through a non-judgmental approach, MI encourages self-compassion and empowerment to address the addiction.

4. group therapy: Providing a platform for sharing experiences and receiving peer support, group therapy can be particularly beneficial for social media addicts. It offers a sense of community and understanding, making it easier to navigate the challenges of addiction.

5. Additional therapies: Other therapeutic options include art therapy, biofeedback, experiential therapy, and music therapy, among others. These holistic forms of treatment can complement traditional therapies by addressing the addiction from different angles.

How to get help for social media addiction

If you are ready to tackle your social media addiction and cultivate a healthier digital lifestyle, begin by consulting with a specialist in behavioural addiction today. Start taking proactive steps towards a more balanced digital life.

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Is social media addictive?

Social media addiction is increasingly considered a real issue, similar to behavioural addictions like gambling. It manifests through excessive, compulsive use that interferes with daily life, impacting work, relationships, and mental health. Although not officially recognised as a disorder in the DSM-5, symptoms such as neglect of personal life, mood modifications, and withdrawal symptoms suggest addictive qualities.

How many people are addicted to social media?

Social media addiction affects a significant portion of the global population. Recent studies estimate that over 210 million people worldwide suffer from social media addiction, which constitutes about 4%-5% of all social media users. In the United States alone, it’s estimated that around 10% of social media users are addicted. This issue is especially prevalent among younger demographics, with teenagers and young adults being the most affected.