Millions of people across all generations use social media every day. It’s used to connect with family and friends, to promote and advertise businesses, to raise awareness for various causes and simply as a hobby. However, many are asking the question, “Can people really become addicted to social media?” While there is currently no formal mental health diagnosis of “social media addiction,” it’s a term heard more often because it’s becoming increasingly common for people to use social media in excessive and compulsive ways. Some experts estimate up to 10 percent of people in the United States are overusing social media, which is having significant negative effects on their lives and mental health.
Social media platforms are designed for excessive use. They’re engineered by teams of people to be a pleasurable and engaging experience. They make constant improvements and changes to keep the experience new and exciting. When you log onto your favorite apps, dopamine — a chemical in your brain associated with pleasure and reward — is released, but these positive feelings are temporary, and as the feel-good dopamine wears off, it keeps you coming back.
When you engage in social media occasionally, it’s not harmful, but excessive use can lead to:
— Low self-esteem.
— Increased isolation and loneliness.
— Anxiety, depression and insomnia.
— Decreased ability to empathize with others.
A mental health professional can help you determine if you’re overusing social media or if it’s just something you enjoy, but these are some key aspects to consider:
— Negative effects on your job, relationships or schoolwork.
— Increased use during other activities, such as hanging out with friends and family.
— Increased reliance on social media to cope with problems.
— Feeling restless and irritable when you’re not using social media.
— Thinking about social media when you aren’t using it, so much so that it’s the first thing you turn to when you have the opportunity.
— Inability to stop using it for long periods of time.
If you think you have a problem, you can try the following to decrease your social media use:
— Delete social media apps from your smartphone. If available, you can still access them from your PC, but removing them from your phone may help decrease the amount of time spent on social media overall.
— Turn off your personal phone during work, school, meals and other activities.
— Adjust the settings on each social media app so you can turn off certain notifications.
— Dedicate a certain amount of time to social media per day. Turn on a timer to help keep you accountable.
— Leave your phone, tablet and computer out of your bedroom.
— Take regular breaks from social media altogether to help find some real-life grounding. This can be as long or short as you want. You’re in control, not your social media account.
If you take these steps and your social media use is still affecting your sleep, school or work performance, or your mental health, then seek professional help. Ask your doctor, counselor or therapist. If you are unsure who to contact, you can try the Idaho CareLine at 211 and Optum Idaho’s Member Crisis Hotline at 855-202-0973, operating 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Dr. Julie Wood is the medical director for Optum Idaho, a health care company that manages the outpatient benefits for the Idaho Behavioral Health Plan for Idaho Medicaid members and the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare. She is a board-certified general adult psychiatrist with eight years post-graduate clinical and administrative experience in community, managed care and residential level of care experience.