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August 15 2022 3:20 AM ˚
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What is social media addiction?

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Checking and scrolling through social media has become an increasingly popular activity over the last decade. Although the majority of peoples’ use of social media is non-problematic, a small percentage of users become addicted to social networking sites and engage in excessive or compulsive use.


In fact, psychologists estimate that currently, as many as 5 to 10 percent of Americans meet the criteria for social media addiction. Social media addiction is a behavioral addiction characterized as being overly concerned about social media, driven by an uncontrollable urge to log on to or use social media, and devoting so much time and effort to social media that it impairs other important life areas.


How social media affects the brain


Because of its impact on the brain, social media is addictive both physically and psychologically. According to a new study by Harvard University, self-disclosure on social networking sites lights up the same part of the brain that also ignites when taking an addictive substance.


The reward area in the brain and its chemical messenger pathways affect decisions and sensations. When someone experiences something rewarding or uses an addictive substance, neurons in the principal dopamine-producing areas in the brain are activated, and dopamine levels rise. Therefore, the brain receives a “reward” and associates the drug or activity with positive reinforcement.


This is observable in social media usage; when an individual gets a notification, such as a like or mention, the brain receives a dopamine rush and sends it along reward pathways, causing the individual to feel pleasure. Social media provides an endless amount of immediate rewards in the form of attention from others for relatively minimal effort.


So, the brain rewires itself through this positive reinforcement, making people desire likes, retweets, and emoticon reactions.


Another perpetuating factor of social media addiction is that the reward centers of the brain are most active when people are talking about themselves. In the non-virtual world, it’s estimated that people talk about themselves around 30 to 40 percent of the time; however, social media is all about showing off one’s life and accomplishments — so people talk about themselves a staggering 80 percent of the time.


Social media use becomes problematic when someone views social networking sites as an important coping mechanism to relieve stress, loneliness, or depression. Social media use then provides these individuals continuous rewards that they’re not receiving in real life, so they engage in the activity more and more.


This continuous use eventually leads to multiple interpersonal problems, such as ignoring real-life relationships, work or school responsibilities, and physical health, which may then exacerbate an individual’s undesirable moods. This then causes people to engage in social networking behavior even more to relieve dysphoric mood states, so when social network users repeat this cyclical pattern of relieving undesirable moods with social media use, the level of psychological dependency on social media increases.


Recognizing social media addiction


Although many people habitually use social media, very few are genuinely addicted. To determine if someone is at risk of developing an addiction to social media, ask these six questions:


Do they spend a lot of time thinking about social media or planning to use social media?

Do they feel urges to use social media more and more?

Do they use social media to forget about personal problems?

Do they often try to reduce their use of social media without success?

Do they become restless or troubled if unable to use social media?

Do they use social media so much that it has had a negative impact on their job or studies?


A “yes” answer to more than three of these questions may indicate the presence of social media addiction.


A digital detox — a period of time during which someone significantly reduces the time spent using electronic devices such as smartphones or computers — could be a wise precaution. This can include simple steps, including turning off sound notifications and only checking social media sites once an hour.


Other changes can include having periods in the day where there is self-imposed non-screen time, such as during mealtimes, or leaving the phone in a separate room at night so as not to disturb sleep.


These steps allow for a restored focus on social interaction in the physical world and reduce dependency on networking sites.


Social media and mental health


Research has shown an undeniable link between social media use, negative mental health, and low self-esteem. While social media platforms have their benefits, using them too frequently can make people feel increasingly unhappy and isolated.


These negative emotional reactions are produced due to the social pressure of sharing things with others and the comparison of material things and lifestyles that these sites promote.


Recent studies have found that frequent social network users believe that other users are happier and more successful than they are, especially when they do not know them very well in real life. This is due to social media facilitating an environment in which people compare their realistic offline selves to the flawless, filtered, and edited online versions of others, which can be detrimental to mental well-being and perception of self.


Excessive social media use can cause unhappiness and general dissatisfaction with life in users and increase the risk of developing mental health issues such as anxiety and depression. Constantly comparing oneself to others can lead to feelings of self-consciousness or a need for perfectionism and order, which often manifests as a social anxiety disorder.


Finding a solution


While many people are able to use social media daily with no problem, those suffering from a social media addiction are consumed by their need to use and engage on social networking sites.


Luckily, the condition is very treatable, and many have successfully recovered. Reducing screen time is a great way to combat problematic social media use; however, if the addiction is too severe, you may require professional help.


If you have a hard time controlling your social media use and think you may be addicted, think about why you use social media and what the advantages and disadvantages of the time spent on various platforms have been so far.


To paraphrase a famous quote, doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting a different result is — at the very least — illogical.


However, there is good news; cutting down on harmful social media use is possible, and you’re not alone. We’re all in this together — and a healthy relationship with our social selves and our virtual neighbors is more than possible.



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