Although social media addiction is not yet listed in the DSM V, it is starting to be recognized by psychiatrists as a real phenomenon. Social media addiction, like any other addiction, can be disabling, interfere with social and occupational functioning, be very hard to treat, and present with a relapsing and remitting course.
What Are the Symptoms of Social Media Addiction?
Most people who have been close to a social media addict will believe that addiction is real. The classic traits are there, they are disconnected, have lost interest in usual activities, for example with refuse going to a movie, and instead spend the evening chatting on Facebook, there may be a decline in school grades, and even work performance, as more time is spent on social media and less on productive activities. Most social media profiles are free, but time is still money, and for example, freelancers may be earning less money as they are taking on fewer projects. Addicts may become angry with spouses or parents who try to force them to spend less time on social media, or disconnect from their Facebook or Instagram. However the crucial part of social media addiction is when an addict becomes anxious, and even starts experiencing panic symptoms when their profiles are deleted, or they cannot access their social media profiles. Addicts may refuse to take trips where they cannot access the internet, for example, and restrict themselves to urban vacations. Addicts can have difficulty in social situations; the classic is constantly checking of the phone, as well as being viewed as ‘narcissistic,’ as they may continuously be posting details of their life on social media. The fact that both phones and i-pads can access social media profiles, and Android tablets, makes it easier than ever before to check social media every few minutes.
There are different types of social media interactions:
- Posting- compulsively posts pictures and articles about themselves, their life, their events, their career.
- Voyeuristic – The social media stalker who is continually checking out the profiles of people whom you know.
- Political – People who want to share their views on politics, religion, current events, rather than share information about themselves.
- Interactive- Those who wish to make connections and interact with others on social media.
- Dating – Those who use social media to search for a partner or casual sexual liaisons.
- Sexual- Impulse to post or view posts or messages of a sexual nature. Addicts often have no desire to meet or speak to people he or she has sexual contact with on social media.
- Emotional- those who use social media as their ‘mood wall,’ and repeatedly post articles, pictures or statements reflecting their current mood on social media.
Why Is Social Media Addiction Hard to Diagnose?
As most social networking addicts are functional individuals, in the sense that most are working or in school, domiciled, and rarely get into any legal trouble, social media addiction is not viewed as being as severe or destructive as drug addiction. If anything it may be considered harmless sublimation:
People with autism spectrum disorder (formerly known as Aspergers), avoidant and schizoid personality types, as well as those with social anxiety, may prefer social media interactions. Such interactions sublimate their need for human contact, without the stress and anxiety of real-life interaction, combined with less risk of rejection and less risk of failure.
Groups and forums can be a source of support, for people who were formerly isolated, and the ease of interaction with hundreds of people at once, with instant replies to messages, chats, and being able to view the profiles of those you are speaking to cannot be replicated easily in other venues.
People have found jobs through people they have met on social media, built million dollar businesses, forged meaningful real-life social connections, made political change, and raised money for charitable organizations. Social media also helps with those that before social media an individual may have lost touch with due to geographic distance. So social media is not all bad. Like anything else, it can be healthy and useful in moderation. But identifying the difference between healthy use, excessive use, and addiction are still evolving.
Why Is Social Media Addictive?
Social media is addictive because it provides instant gratification and feeds the reward system. When a photograph is posted on Instagram and immediately receives twenty likes, it gives instant validation and triggers the dopamine-mediated reward system much like gambling and cocaine. Being addicted to the reward, or the excessive seeking of compensation, could be a sign of depression, and feeding the reward system provides temporary improvement in mood. It also counteracts automatic negative thoughts, ‘I am boring, ‘ ‘I am ugly .’ ‘Nobody likes me.’ ‘I don’t have any friends.’ A positive one replaces the thought, ‘Everyone is commenting on my picture.’ ‘Everyone likes me.’ ‘I am not so bad.’ Hearing words of encouragement from old friends and acquaintances can reduce heartbeat and anxiety after posting about your bad day.
How Is Social Media Addiction Different from Drug and Alcohol Addiction?
Although there may be many similarities between social media addiction, gambling addiction, and alcohol addiction, social media addiction rarely leads to problems with the law. It is less likely to lead to guilt and shame, unless addiction involves viewing and exhibiting posts of a sexual nature, is more socially accepted. It is also less likely to lead to financial difficulties, although it may lead to reduced income due to affecting career progression, or loss of employment. Therefore, despite impairment in social and occupational functioning as well as distress, social media addiction is less likely to be recognized as a real ‘thing,’ is not fully explained in the DSM V, and addicts are less likely to seek treatment, less likely to be forced to seek treatment, although friends, family, and even colleagues may know that there is something wrong.
What Is the Treatment of Social Media Addiction?
There is very little evidence-based literature on the diagnosis or treatment of social media addiction. In theory principles of treatment would mimic principles and treatment of alcohol or gambling addiction :
Step 1 – Recognizing there is a problem.
Step 2- Identifying triggers for using social media – staying at home alone, anxiety, depression.
Step 3- Joining groups- where the problem can be discussed with others.
Step4- Accurate documentation of time spent on social media profiles and time of day.
Step 4- Finding a sponsor or buddy to hold the individual accountable and whom they can call when the impulse to check social media profiles.
Step 5- Detecting profiles, or keep your profiles with two-factor authentification, and give an outside agency authority to allow you access to profiles. Purchase a phone which is not compatible with social media applications or removing applications from a mobile phone.
Step 6- Cognitive behavioral therapy for social media addiction.
Step 7- Effects of medications such as naltrexone and bupropion which affect the dopamine reward system have yet to be studied for social media addiction. Nor have serotonin reuptake inhibitors which are useful for impulsive behaviors such as binge eating and compulsive shopping.
Step 8- Understanding this is likely a lifelong addiction with a relapsing and remitting course.
When Should I Get Treatment for Social Media Addiction?
Spending excessive periods of time on social media, spending less time with friends and loved ones, declining school grades, loss of interest in previously enjoyed activity, loss of interest in career, and decreasing work performance, as well as anxiety when social media cannot be accessed are all signs that that treatment is needed for social media addiction.