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 What is Social Media Addiction?

June 27, 2022
Reviewed by: Rajnandini Rathod

Social media has become a vital part of our daily lives. When you meet a new person, your first means to connect with them is through social media. When you are at the red light for two minutes or trying to fall asleep at night for over an hour, social media is your source of entertainment. Social media sites utilize the reward system of the brain to keep you hooked on them.

But at the same time, social media has many benefits. It helped people stay connected virtually when social distancing was mandatory. It is a major source for people to connect and support issues they care about. For example, LGBTQ+ people have found social media to be an essential tool in keeping them connected with their community. 

Many of us have had positive experiences on social media: Connected with a long-lost friend, seen content that you can relate to, connected with a page or group that supports notions you care about, found a space to voice your opinions without having to hide your true self or received positive comments from friends or strangers. 

Some of us might also have had some negative experiences: Received a negative comment from someone, felt jealous or insecure looking at other’s posts, developed body image issues or low self-esteem, felt the fear of missing out, compared ourselves to others, been bullied or harassed over the internet, or simply felt anxious or upset after scrolling through social media for a long time. 

What is social media addiction?

For most people, social media use is non-problematic. But a small percentage of people might develop addiction-like symptoms. Similar to addictive substances, social media triggers the pleasure chemicals in the brain. Due to this people find it hard to stop using social media even if it affects their relationships or work. 

Social media addiction can be defined as a behavioural addiction characterized by preoccupation with social media, uncontrollable urge to use social media more and more, and spending so much time on social media that it impacts other areas of their life. Although it isn’t an official diagnosis, research indicates that it is a rising issue, especially in adolescents. 

Problematic social media has been linked to low self-esteem, increased anxiety and depression. We use social media to connect with people but ironically it can increase feelings of loneliness. A lot of people experience fear of missing out (FOMO) and body image issues when they use popular social media platforms like Instagram.  

Common signs of social media addiction

Loss of control

You spend more time on social media than you intend to. You feel a constant urge to go back online and had failed attempts of trying to stay off social media. You continue using it despite the problems or impairments it causes. 

Coping tool

You use social media to distract yourself from real-world problems. Instead of solving your problems or acknowledging your emotions, you try to escape them using social media. 


You spend a lot of time thinking about social media. Even when trying to do other tasks, you might feel distracted since you’re preoccupied with thoughts about social media. 


Like other substances, it is possible to develop a tolerance for social media. You might feel the urge to use social media for longer durations to feel the same amount of pleasure you did previously. 


Feeling restless or angry when access to social media is not possible. You might even feel uneasy at the thought of losing your phone, or running out of battery when you’re outside. Your sleeping schedule might also be altered to accommodate more time for social media. You might even experience physical symptoms of withdrawal e.g. difficulty in breathing, increased heart rate, chills etc. 

Negative effects

Your social media use has started affecting your work or academic performance. You use social media when you are working or spending time with your loved ones. This might start affecting your relationships as well.  

Losing interest

You might notice that you are starting to lose interest in things you enjoyed doing previously. You don’t hang out with friends face-to-face as much, spend lesser time on your hobbies or feel distant in your relationships. You might miss out on deadlines or perform poorly at work. 

How to maintain healthy Social Media use?

Social media can also be relaxing and pleasurable when used in a healthy manner. Most social media platforms are designed in a way to keep you hooked on them. They spark the release of dopamine in your brain. Your brain then craves more and more social media use like other addictive substances. 

As we know, problematic use of social media is linked with poor mental health. But is there a way to prevent this problematic use and promote safe and healthy use of social media? Here are a few tips to keep your social media use under check:

Limiting usage

Set limits on the amount of time you spend on each social media platform in a day. Make your bedroom a no-phone zone before going to bed. Avoid using your phone while you’re doing other things like working or having a meal. You can also customise your notifications settings so that you don’t get distracted easily. Another option is to delete social media apps and only use them on the browser on your laptop. You can also consider taking breaks from social media platforms for a week or so. 

Connect with people face-to-face

While social media makes it super easy to stay connected with our friends and family, it can not replace physical contact. Take some time out to spend some time with your loved ones and keep your phones aside when you’re with them. 

Develop hobbies

Whenever we get a short break to relax in between our fully packed days, our first instinct is to pick up our phones and open social media. While it is an easy form of entertainment, it might actually leave you feeling more tired than before. Give time to other things that you enjoy doing like painting, dancing or just taking a walk in the park. 

You can use these tips to make social media a tool to improve your overall well-being instead of letting it diminish it. If you feel that you have any of these signs of social media addiction, do not hesitate to reach out to a mental health professional.


Brandon, J. (2021, January 5). These Updated Stats About How Often You Use Your Phone Will Humble You. Inc.Com.

Odgers, C. (2018, March 23). Smartphones are bad for some teens, not all. Nature. 

Ricci, J. (2018, June). The Growing Case for Social Media Addiction | CSU. Calstate.Edu.  

Vogel, E. A., Rose, J. P., Roberts, L. R., & Eckles, K. (2014). Social comparison, social media, and self-esteem. Psychology of Popular Media Culture, 3(4), 206–222.