Social Media Addiction Explained

When you venture away from your home, it isn’t unusual to see people going for walks with their heads bowed down, staring their phones. Peeking over their shoulders, you are more than probably to see their mobile screens full of the news feed of a widely used social media site. Social media addiction is becoming more common. I help people with social media addiction in London and via online sessions.


social media addiction


As outlined by a study by the marketers at Mediakix, people spend more time on social media on a daily basis than they do on eating, drinking, and socialising put together. One of the most persuasive social media addiction statistics is that people spend two hours a day on social media, which equates to five years and four months in one life span! And that’s just according to current social media use. No one knows precisely what the future holds.

A different study by SmartInsights discovered that, in a minute, people publish 3.3 million Facebook posts, 448,800 tweets, 65,972 Instagram images, and 500 hours of YouTube online videos. Evidently, it’s getting more difficult to put our ever-present phones down.

Why Is Social Media So Addictive?

One thing that probably plays a role in social media being so addictive is the function it played in the rise of the digital age. Whilst social media was becoming popular, the internet also became more widely used, less costly to access, and faster to load up content.

An upswing of mobile phones with internet features and mobile internet also made it easier for social media to be accessible anywhere you go, and regardless of whatever you’re doing. Because of the popularity of social media, you can constantly and instantaneously update your community about what you’re enjoying, what you’re wearing, and who you’re with.

So which aspects and features help to make social media addictive?

The ‘Like’ Button

When Justin Rosenstein—one of the four designers of Facebook’s ‘Like’ Button came up with the idea for it, he did not imagine it would turn into a cultural phenomenon.

“The main intention I had was to make positivity the path of least resistance, and I think it succeeded in its goals, but it also created large unintended negative side effects. In a way, it was too successful.”

The negative unwanted effects he refers might include things like the fact that so many offline activities by Facebook users are now motivated by “likes”. For example, are you travelling somewhere new? Your social media addiction may lead to you feeling the need to post about it on social media for positive affirmation in the form of likes. It’s probable that being able to post about your trip on social media was in fact one of the motivating causes pushing you to take it in the first place.

It has gotten to the point where people do a lot of ridiculous things for the sake of updating their social media feeds, and whilst these things might not contribute positively to mental health, it is certainly a lucrative avenue for marketing and advertising efforts by businesses.


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Why companies are jumping to spend on social advertising and potentially fuelling addiction

Due to the fact it’s easy to see why social media is addictive. It’s tough to imagine something more effective than working to reach customers where they’re constantly (and happily) hanging out.

Your Ego

Owning your own space online means you have free reign to post about your favourite subject: yourself. After all, your profile, your rules, and no one is actively pushing you to ‘friend’ them or ‘follow’ them. In general, humans spend 30-40% of conversations talking about themselves. Interestingly, that number reaches up to 80% on social media posts.

FOMO (Fear of Missing Out)

FOMO is one of the primary drivers of social media addiction. People use social media to post about the greatest things taking place in their life, which gives them a self-esteem boost, especially when the people in their networks ‘like’ them.

But even when experiencing something wonderful, people often question if there is something much better and more interesting taking place at the same time, so they go on social media to check. Social media provides proof that there are other good things happening, through photos and status updates. When people compare what they’re doing to what other people are doing, they might start to feel negative about what they would otherwise view as a good time.

Occasionally people ignore the fact that social media can be both a world unto itself (suitable for undirected exploration) and also an extension of real life. Even if you are unconcerned by other people having more fun than you, social media is a powerful place to waste time.

A “High” of Sorts

When you see people responding to or ‘liking’ what you post about, it validates you and causes you to feel good. When you see that new notification alert, your mind secretes a neurotransmitter called dopamine, which regulates the brain’s pleasure and reward centre. The more dopamine produced, the more the brain understands that it is triggered by a reward and the brain always craves more.

This idea is best described by NYU professor Adam Alter, author of Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked:

“When someone likes an Instagram post, or any content that you share, it’s a little bit like taking a drug. As far as your brain is concerned, it’s a very similar experience. Now the reason why is because it’s not guaranteed that you’re going to get likes on your posts. And it’s the unpredictability of that process that makes it so addictive. If you knew that every time you posted something you’d get a 100 likes, it would become boring really fast.”

Relevant to a high feeling is the idea of gamification—particularly on mobile. In addition to goofy apps like Farmville and Candy Crush adding to Facebook addiction, Snapchat and Instagram are great examples of social networks that use gamification by allowing people to play around with filters. Snapchat even has their own points system and rewards people with trophies to encourage them to send high quantities of snaps, all the time.


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Social media addiction and creating your own, personal bubble

Social media can serve as your own personal slice of the internet. There are many who grew up with Xanga, Blogger, and now Tumblr blogs. They turned to these online platforms and internet strangers in order to express what they couldn’t tell the people in their “real” lives.

Thanks to different levels of privacy both then and now, it’s easy to create a news feed that only show the thoughts of like minded people. Whilst this effectively cuts out the trolls it can also strongly encourage a homogenized world view. It’s up to you to decide if you’re comfortable with that when trimming your friend list according to viewpoint differences.

On the idea of social media acting as a personal bubble, consider what British filmmaker Adam Curtis said in a New York Times interview:

“On a social-media network, it’s very much like being in a heroin bubble. As a radical artist in the 1970s, you used to go and take heroin and wander through the chaos and the collapsing Lower East Side, and you felt safe. That’s very like now. You know you aren’t safe, but you feel safe because everyone is like you. But you don’t have to take heroin, so it’s brilliant. You don’t get addicted, or maybe you do. Mostly you do.”

Social media addiction and the attention economy

It’s for this same reason that the term “attention economy” was coined. The term “attention economy” is relatively new and refers to the supply and demand of a person’s attention, which is the commodity exchanged on the internet.

The concept is pretty straightforward. The more attention a platform can draw, the more effective and valuable its advertising space gets to be. However, since human attention is a limited resource, so social networks are working hard to make each experience as smooth and as engaging as possible, feeding off our attention slowly and gradually through dopamine boosts.

Companies taking advantage of being on social media, gain from:

Large potential audiences

Extremely targeted advertising and marketing

Inexpensive results and high ROI

What is social media addiction?

Whether you use social media to connect with friends and family members, view videos, or simply “kill time,” the rise in popularity of this pastime has increased significantly over the last twenty years. This is particularly the case for youngsters and teens, as well as young to middle-aged adults.

So, how does a seemingly benign pastime turn into an “addiction”?

Like other types of behavioural addictions, using social media can influence your brain in unhealthy ways. You may use social media compulsively and excessively. You can become so used to scrolling through posts, images, and videos that it disrupts other areas of your daily life. Some experts estimate up to 15 percent of people in the United States have social media addiction. However, because of how popular social media use is in general, the quantity of those who have social media addiction might be higher.

Why is social media addiction so common?

Although social media can seem just like mindless and relaxing fun, it in fact has a considerable effect on your mind. Any time you log on to your favourite apps, dopamine signals in your brain increase. These neurotransmitters are connected with enjoyment. When you experience more dopamine following using social media, your mind distinguishes this as a rewarding and something you ought to perform repeatedly. Such a response might be more felt whenever you make a post of your own and gain positive responses.

The good feelings experienced during social media use are only momentary. The way your mind engages in this positive reinforcement is also noticed in other addictions. Therefore, as the feel-good dopamine wears away, you’ll go back to the source (in this case, social media) for even more.

In many cases, social media might be a welcome diversion if you’re on your own due to work or an illness. The more you get involved, the more your mind will tell you that this is an activity that can help lessen loneliness, which may not necessarily be the case, of course.

What are the downsides of social media addiction?

Engaging in social media occasionally is unlikely to be unhealthy. Nevertheless, there are adverse effects to think about when overusing social media.

Some possible downsides of social media include:

  • Reduced self-esteem, which may be encouraged by incorrect perceptions that others’ lifestyles are “better” than your own
  • Greater isolation and loneliness
  • Anxiety or depression
  • Onset of social anxiety disorder
  • A fear of missing out (FOMO), which can lead to even more social media usage
  • Interrupted sleep patterns, particularly if you use social media before bedtime
  • Reduced physical activity, which may impact your overall health and wellbeing
  • Poor grades or job performance
  • Neglecting the relationships in your “real” life
  • Decreased ability to empathize with others


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How do you know if you have social media addiction?

A mental health professional can help you decide if you truly have social media addiction or just really enjoy using it a lot. However there are a few key variations between social media addiction and a habit that you take pleasure in. These include things like:

  • Negative effects to your work life or schoolwork because of the excessive use of social media (e.g., scrolling through your apps at work or instead of studying)
  • Increased use during other activities, such as hanging out with close friends and family, or while eating
  • Increased reliance upon social media as a way to manage problems
  • Restlessness and irritability anytime you are not using social media
  • Anger whenever social media usage is decreased
  • Thinking about social media whenever you aren’t using it, so much so that it’s the first thing you go to any time you have the chance

Tips for social media addiction

Whether or not you have social media addiction or are just on your apps a lot more than you need to be, the good news is there are ways you can help reduce your overall use.

Think about the following ideas to help you achieve a much healthier balance with social media:

  • Remove your social media apps from your smartphone. Whilst you can still gain access to them from your personal computer, keeping these off your phone may help reduce the amount of time devoted to social media overall.
  • Switch off your personal phone during work, as well as during school, meals, and leisure activities. You can also change the setting on each social media app so you can switch off specific notifications.
  • Reserve a particular amount of time dedicated to social media each day. Switch on a timer to help keep you accountable.
  • Leave your phone, tablet, and computer out of your bedroom.
  • Take up a new leisure activity that’s not technology related. Examples include sports activities, art, cooking classes, and more.
  • Make it a point to see your friends and family in person whenever feasible.
  • It is also important to take frequent breaks from social media altogether to help discover some real-life grounding.
  • Depending on your needs, your break can last for one day each week, a whole month, or an entire season. Let yourself be in control of this choice — not your social media account.

Social media addiction explained – Conclusion

Social media is increasingly omnipresent these days, but this doesn’t really mean you’ll automatically develop an addiction to it. By taking regular breaks and establishing clear limitations for yourself and your children, you can help prevent an overreliance on social media before it gets to be harmful.

If you do believe you have social media addiction, you can find ways you can treat it to increase your overall well-being. Don’t hesitate to reach out to a mental health professional for help with this type of addiction. I offer sessions for social media addiction in London.

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author avatar
Jason Demant Clinical Hypnotherapist
London hypnotherapist. Seeing Clients in King's Cross and online.