The use of social media networking sites has dramatically over the past decade, with mobile smartphones making it even easier to stay connected online. As a consequence of its popularity, for some, there’s an increased perceived need for individuals to maintain their online life. This can result in an increase of compulsive use of social media sites resulting in symptomatology similar to those with addictions.
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The Rise in Social Media Usage
The first social networking site of its kind - SixDegrees - was launched back in 1997, and followed by one of today’s most popular sites, Facebook, in 2004. Over 20 years since the first social media platform, it’s estimated that approximately 3.4 billion people globally were active social media users in 2019. Due to access to smartphones, increasingly affordable mobile data packages, and wi-fi, connecting to others through social media sites has never been easier. However, as the trend of those accessing the internet and being members of social media sites increases, so does the risk of developing a range of psychological issues.
Implications of Extensive Social Media Usage
It is suggested that one of the reasons why people are drawn to social media sites is due to its reflection of many western country’s individualist cultural traits. In contrast to traditional networking sites, contemporary platforms tend to focus specifically on individuals rather than a community in an egocentric manner. It’s suggested that this egocentric nature may cause to users to develop addictive patterns, and as a result use the sites in an addictive way. This can result not only developing symptoms synonymous with addiction, but also negatively impact users’ self-esteem.
What are the Symptoms of Social Media Addiction?
Despite not being deemed as a specific psychiatric disorder in the latest versions of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders or the International Classification of Diseases, many researchers refer to a so-called ‘Social Networking Site Addiction Disorder’. Many argue there’s plausibility for such disorder to be recognised as a mental health condition especially since the adoption of video gaming as a subcategory of addiction in 2018 by the World Health Organization.
Researchers argue that the behavior of those with ‘social media addiction’ could overlap with those seen in traditional addictive disorders such as hiding their addictive behavior from others, wanting to experience feelings of escapism, and mental preoccupation. Particularly, for those addicted to using social media, some of the following symptomatology may be experienced:
- Salience - experiencing emotional, behavioral, and cognitive preoccupation when using social media;
- Changes in mood - use of social media induces positive mood change in patients;
- Experiencing tolerance - users increase their social media usage over time;
- Withdrawal - if social media use is stopped or reduced, the user experiences aversive emotional and physical symptoms;
- Conflict - both intrapsychic and interpersonal issues are experienced due to excessive social media use;
- Relapse - following a period of abstinence users revert back to their previous excessive use.
How is Social Media Addiction Diagnosed?
As social media addiction has not been officially classified as a psychological disorder, there isn’t a specific set of diagnostic criteria. However, the following criteria set for online gaming addiction could be applied.
The patient shows the following:
- Inability to control social media usage;
- Increasing priority given to social media use to the extreme that impacts activities and other life interests;
- Escalation or continuation of social media use despite experiencing negative implications.
To be diagnosed, addictive symptoms should be experienced for at least 12 months, unless extremely severe.
Treatment for Social Media Addiction
Similarly, for video game addiction, there is a range of treatment options available to help manage symptoms.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Cognitive behavioral therapy is commonly used to treat a range of psychological disorders. The talking therapy aims to identify and change adversive thinking patterns to break the cycle of addictive social media use.
Counselling may be recommended for those with social media addiction to explore alternative ways to cope with general difficulties in their life which may be affecting their addictive behavior.
Ways to Prevent Social Media Addiction
There are certain strategies that you can employ if you’re worried about your social media usage such as:
- Leaving your phone in another room before going to bed to reduce the need to use it excessively before going to sleep.
- Set yourself time limits to use social media and adhere to them.
Additionally, many mobile phones allow users to lock themselves out of social media apps if they’ve used the app for more than a pre-specified period of time.
Due to the increased accessibility to the internet, social media usage has increased exponentially over the years. As a consequence, individuals are developing excessive use habits and symptoms similar to tradition addictive disorders.