Social media addiction is the compulsive and harmful use of social media platforms like TikTok, Snapchat, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, Reddit, or Discord. It can involve endless scrolling through feeds, compulsively seeking external validation in the form of comments or likes, a heightened fear of missing out (FOMO), low self-esteem from comparing ourselves to others, and withdrawing from our lives to spend more and more time on our screens. As a subset of internet and technology Addiction, over time social media addiction can lead to changes in the brain that compromise our ability to focus, prioritize, regulate our mood, and relate to others. This can lead to other negative consequences including mental health issues like depression, social anxiety, or strained relationships with loved ones.
Those of us who have come to identify as social media addicts experienced several common symptoms. We engaged in excessive social media use, and turned to these platforms as coping mechanisms if we felt lonely or unhappy. Ultimately though, our use of social media made us feel worse, not better. Even when we were aware of the consequences and wanted to stop, we were unable to do so. Over time, many of us struggled to enjoy real life in the offline world. Overuse of social media often altered our mood, and we used it to try to escape our problems. When we weren’t online, we experienced distraction, anxiety, and irritability. Our addictive behaviors jeopardized our relationships, educational pursuits, and career opportunities. We felt shame and demoralization about our social media use.
When we first noticed these troubling experiences, we began to acknowledge that something wasn’t right. But many of us still questioned whether we really had an addiction. For those of us still wondering, the following questions may help us better identify whether there are signs of social media addiction in our own experience.
Social Media Addiction Questionnaire:
- Do I ever go on social media sites to quickly check something and then discover that hours have passed?
- Do I ever swear off or set limits around social media, and then break my commitments?
- Do I have social media binges that last all day or late into the night?
- Do I turn to social media apps whenever I have a free moment?
- Does my use of social media lead me to neglect my personal hygiene, nutritional needs, or physical health?
- Do I feel isolated, emotionally absent, distracted, or anxious when I’m not on social media?
- Does my social media usage contribute to conflict or avoidance in personal relationships?
- Has my use of social media jeopardized my studies, finances, or career?
- Do I hide or lie about the amount of time I spend on social media or the kinds of digital content I consume?
- Do I feel guilt or shame around my use of social media?
Nobody should have to suffer due to their social media use. If you’ve answered yes to several of the above questions, we encourage you to consider getting support.
What are the effects of Social Media Addiction?
Social media addiction is a subset of internet addiction disorder (IAD), which was first investigated by the psychologist Dr. Kimberly S. Young, who published the original diagnostic criteria for this mental health disorder in 1998. Today there is still an open discussion in the scientific community regarding how to define, qualify, and study the various forms of internet addiction disorder, and the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5-TR) has begun to acknowledge the severity of this class of addictions through its inclusion of internet gaming disorder. There is widespread consensus from both researchers and clinicians that the problematic and compulsive overuse of the internet, social media, and smart devices has been rising over the past two decades, and that the prevalence of this behavioral addiction is associated with a variety of mental, emotional, physical, interpersonal, and professional problems.
Perhaps most significantly, the dopamine releases triggered by internet and technology addiction have been shown to cause structural changes in the brain very similar to the changes experienced in people with alcohol or drug addictions. These changes lead to impairments in our decision-making, reasoning, reward expectation, executive function, cognitive function, emotional processing, and our working memory. A variety of studies have shown that access to television and video games decreases the amount of pain medication needed by hospital patients.
Of course, the effects of internet and technology addiction are not only reflected in the structure of our brains, but in our daily lives as well. Internet and technology addiction is strongly associated with impulse control disorder, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), anxiety disorders, increased substance abuse, and depression. Perhaps most tragically of all, individuals with internet and technology addiction have much higher rates of suicidal ideation, planning, and attempts—roughly three times the average. The negative impact of these effects can be exasperated by unethical or problematic social media use, such as cyberbullying or stalking.
These findings are cause for serious concern. While some might minimize the impact of internet and technology addiction in comparison to chemical substances, the truth is that internet and technology addiction changes our brains in a manner similar to the effects produced by an addiction to alcohol, heroin, or other drugs.
Who is at risk for Social Media Addiction?
Social media addiction is a condition that can affect people in all age groups, from children and young people to those later in life. Our meetings include young adults, college students, working professionals, parents, and retirees. While the risk factors are varied, internet addiction does not discriminate based on age, educational level, socio-economic status, geography, race, or ethnicity. Its negative effects impact not only the addict themselves, but also their family members and friends. By damaging our potential, self-esteem, and quality of life, excessive use of social media can impair our lives. Additionally, by contributing to depression and suicidal tendencies, our addiction can be life-threatening. Regardless of our background, if our use of social media is causing us to experience distress or difficulties, there are actions we can take to improve our situation and find relief.
A Solution for Social Media Addiction
While internet and technology addiction has only begun to receive attention in recent years, the disease of addiction is not new. Millions of people have found sustainable, long-term freedom from their addictive behaviors through mutual aid support groups modeled after Alcoholics Anonymous. A recent systematic review conducted by Stanford public health researchers determined that participation in Alcoholics Anonymous was nearly always found to be more effective than other therapies in achieving continuous abstinence from alcoholism. The AA model has been successfully adapted to help people suffering from a variety of addictions, including narcotics, marijuana, nicotine, sex, pornography, and food, among others.
In continuation of this tradition, Internet and Technology Addicts Anonymous applies the proven model of AA to help those who are suffering from an addiction to social media find long-term freedom from their self-destructive behaviors. We share our experience, strength, and hope with each other through group meetings and one-on-one relationships, and we work a recovery program based on the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. Our meetings are free and anonymous, and we welcome anyone who thinks they may benefit from support to visit one of our meetings.
Members Share Their Experiences Finding Recovery in ITAA
I justified using social media as a kind of creative expression when in reality, it again and again got in the way of my creative goals, left me “comparing and despairing,” and strained my health, sleep, and relationships. Since joining ITAA, I have found daily support to give me a healthy relationship with technology, and my attention has been redirected to the parts of life that matter the most to me.
I’d constantly read and re-read my posts and comments on Facebook and Instagram. I was obsessed with checking notifications on my stories, responding to followers, and perfecting the content of my posts. Looking at my social media accounts was the first thing I did in the morning and the last thing I did at night, and my kids always saw me with my eyes glued to the screen. I haven’t touched social media since joining ITAA six months ago. My life is so much better now and I don’t plan to ever go back.
I spent years since I was a teenager trying to control and limit my Instagram use, but no matter what strategy I tried on my own, I’d quickly fall back into painfully long binges. Even when I desperately wanted to stop, I was excessively consuming content that I had no interest in, and I became obsessed with refreshing my likes and my story views over and over again throughout the day. Since joining ITAA and attending daily meetings, I’ve found freedom from my compulsive social media behaviors, and a supportive community of welcoming people with behaviors similar to my own. I feel like my time and my life have been given back to me.
Our program has helped countless people find long-term freedom from internet and technology addiction. For more personal stories, we encourage you to read and listen to the recovery stories on our website.
How to Recover From Social Media Addiction
While there is no permanent or quick cure for social media addiction, there are concrete actions we can take to recover from our compulsive behaviors and restore our emotional and mental wellbeing. We have found the following actions to be of significant help in finding long-term, sustainable freedom from our compulsive and problematic use of social media.
- Attend daily meetings. In addition to a growing number of face-to-face meetings around the world, ITAA has daily online meetings where our global fellowship meets to share experience, strength and hope with each other. We are encouraged to try attending six meetings in a short time frame to help decide whether ITAA may be helpful to us.
- Make daily outreach calls. Our social media dependence drew us into isolation and self-reliance. As we begin to recover, we learn that we can trust others and be vulnerable. Calling other members outside of meetings helps us stay connected, supported, and sober, and it gives us an opportunity to share in greater detail than we might during a meeting.
- Abstain. With the help of other members in recovery, we identify and abstain from the specific addictive behaviors which are causing the greatest difficulties in our lives. We recognize that this is a process that unfolds over time, and we make use of the support available to us in ITAA to remain sober one day at a time.
- Learn more about the recovery process. Our website has many resources about the nature of our addiction and how we might best chart our recovery journey, navigate withdrawal symptoms, and respond to cravings. In addition, there’s a rich body of literature from other 12 Step programs that we can lean on to better inform our healing process and to learn more about the time-tested methods which have helped millions of other addicts recover.
- Find a sponsor and work the steps. We have benefitted from asking somebody we resonate with to sponsor us and working the Twelve Steps together with them, which is the vital and transformative basis of our long-term recovery from our addiction. A great way to connect with potential sponsors is to make outreach calls with other members who are sober and working the Steps.
- Make use of outside help. Many members supplement their recovery with a variety of resources beyond ITAA, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), psychotherapy, psychiatry or other mental health wellness resources. Some members have found it helpful to engage in a ‘digital detox’ for a period of time to help kickstart their recovery. While we do not endorse any one treatment option or intervention in particular, we encourage all members to avail themselves of any outside help that can support them in their recovery journey. A healthcare or mental health professional may be able to give advice tailored to your situation. This can include cross-addiction treatments, such as for other substance use and eating disorders.
What Does Sobriety From Social Media Addiction Look Like?
Sobriety in ITAA is a process of discovery that looks different for each of us. As part of this process, we identify and abstain from the specific behaviors which trigger our addiction. We have also found it beneficial to establish a positive vision for our internet use. For example, we may practice using technology purposefully, minimally, or only as necessary. Some of us have replaced our smartphones with flip phones, decided to abstain from the platforms that enabled our specific addictions (e.g. Facebook addiction, TikTok addiction, Instagram addiction, etc.), limited our screen time, and decided to not use our phones when engaging in real world conversations with friends and family.
We respect each member’s dignity to discover their own path to recovery, and we work with other experienced members to help define what sobriety means for each of us as individuals. As part of this process, we lean on meetings and phone calls to help maintain our sobriety commitments. Rather than using social media for distraction or to numb our emotions, we seek to use technology as a tool for meeting our goals, living in alignment with our values, and developing flourishing lives.
Types of Internet Addiction
While we all suffer from a common disease, it expresses itself in different ways for each of us. The following are some common compulsive internet and technology behaviors. It’s important to keep in mind that this list is neither comprehensive nor prescriptive—it is essential to identify our own personal compulsive or unnecessary internet and technology behaviors with the help of other members.
- Streaming addiction is the compulsive and addictive use of any streaming platforms or content. This includes online videos, movies, television, podcasts, and platforms such as YouTube, Netflix, Amazon Prime, Twitch, or TikTok.
- Phone addiction is the compulsive and self-destructive use of smartphone devices and apps. This may involve excessive mobile phone use or compulsive notification checking, especially at inappropriate times such as late at night or while studying, working, or driving.
- Video game addiction refers to obsessive, unhealthy, or excessive use of video games, as well as any other digital or online games. This includes computer games, console games, phone games, and social media games.
- Porn addiction is the addictive consumption of digital erotic content and can also entail other unhealthy digital sexual behaviors. This can include pornographic videos, images, or writing, sexually arousing imagery, anonymous chat rooms, and dating apps.
- Information Addiction is an addictive and unhealthy relationship to researching and consuming information. This can include an addiction to the news, scrolling social media feeds, online shopping, online encyclopedias, and compulsive online research such as product or health research.
Internet and Technology Addicts Anonymous is a Twelve-Step fellowship based on the principles pioneered by Alcoholics Anonymous. Our organization is entirely volunteer-based and self-supporting. The only requirement to participate in ITAA is a desire to stop using internet and technology compulsively.
We have no opinions on outside issues, and we neither condemn nor condone any particular technology. We are not affiliated with any political agenda, religious movement, or outside interests. Our single purpose is to abstain from compulsive internet and technology use and to help others find freedom from this addiction. We are a US 501(c)(3) federal tax-exempt nonprofit incorporated in the state of Colorado.
Page last updated on September 3, 2023