Humans and Health

Excessive Social Media Use – A Troubling Addiction Or Just A Bad Habit?

social media
Marina Vujovic

Is social media usage really that addictive? A recent study argued against the addictive nature of excessive social media use, but is it something we should be worried about? Marina Vujovic discusses the negative impacts of social media and whether relying too heavily on its usage can be classified as an ‘addiction’.

You would be lying if you haven’t found yourself in an inescapable cycle of scrolling through social media at least once in the past week. I know I have. We’ve all started off by having a quick scroll through Instagram to see the latest Justin and Hailey Bieber meme, and then somehow, 3 hours later, found ourselves stalking our ex’s new partner’s dog.  

The overuse of social media should be classified as an actual addiction

As fun as it may seem to immerse ourselves into the world of social media, have you ever questioned whether this persistent need to check your socials might be bordering on addiction? Well, even some earlier researchers have in fact suggested that excessive use of the internet should be categorised as an addiction. This idea is still echoed in the 21st century, with researchers today emphasising the importance of labelling extreme internet use as addiction.  

Neuroimaging studies have also called researchers to label uncontrolled social media and internet use as addictive. For instance, we have found some evidence to suggest that similar brain regions are activated in both incessant social media users and those with substance addictions.  

Additionally, immoderate social media use has been shown to lead to issues with productivity, sleep and attention. So, if you’ve been sitting at your laptop, with your phone in one hand and a half-written essay in front of you, I think it’s safe to say it’s probably time to get off TikTok and put your phone in another room. In fact, you may find some comfort in being able to blame the addictive nature of mobile phones for your inability to start your next piece of work, so don’t be too hard on yourself. But that’s beside the point; I think what researchers are trying to get across is that the overuse of social media should be classified as an actual addiction since, evidently, it has negative consequences on many aspects of our daily lives. As a result, this issue needs to be attended to urgently so that resources can be used to avert potential damage that our wellbeing may fall victim to.  

More research with clear-cut measures and definitions is needed

Before you start to question whether you’re currently dealing with a crippling addiction to social media, it’s worthwhile to note that the evidence on this topic is mixed. For instance, a new article has reported that, after a week without social media, participants showed no withdrawal symptoms. Withdrawal tendencies have been reported to be a key element in making an addiction, well, addictive. All in all, if an individual suffers withdrawal symptoms from any form of substance, then they are likely to be addicted to it. Therefore, this recent study suggests that these individuals showed no signs of being addicted to social media as they didn’t show any craving tendencies.  

On the whole, the introduction of social media platforms and mobile phones is a relatively new phenomenon. Consequently, little research has been conducted in an attempt to explore the potential addictive aspects of social media. This means that, at this point in time, researchers are unable to make strong conclusions about the nature of this relationship. The studies already used to gather evidence on this topic are flawed in the sense that their measures and definitions of social media addiction are not consistent. So, more research with clear-cut measures and definitions is needed to fully gauge whether excessive social media use can be labelled as an addiction. 

Social media and mobile phone usage can lead to negative feelings of depression and anxiety

Needless to say, disorders of addiction are extremely personal and difficult to overcome; therefore it is important to recognise that these topics of discussion are sensitive. This point may give way to another reason as to why we shouldn’t be too quick to categorise overuse of social media as an addiction: those suffering with an addiction may feel invalidated if their addiction is compared to excessive social media usage. 

Regardless, social media and mobile phone usage can lead to negative feelings of depression and anxiety. The notion that these serious conditions have evolved from the supposed overindulgence of social media platforms is a massive issue in itself that needs to be tackled with urgency. So, perhaps by labelling this extreme reliance on social networking sites as addictive we can spark worldwide engagement in an attempt to find some answers and therefore some solutions.     

The point I’m trying to get across is that although there is not a colossal amount of evidence in support of viewing social media overuse as an addiction, I still believe that research does point in favour of categorising this phenomenon as an addiction. All things considered, I think the important take home message is that you shouldn’t overwhelm yourself with the thought that you might have a social media addiction. Having said that, if you feel as though your mental wellbeing needs a little revamp it’s probably best you give that social media detox a go.  

Marina Vujovic

Featured image courtesy of camilo jimenez via Unsplash. Image license found here. No changes were made to this image.

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