What Is Instagram Addiction?

An Instagram addiction is defined as spending excessive time on the app and experiencing an uncontrollable drive to use it, even while its use leads to real-life adverse consequences.

This extreme urge to use social media is a sign of addiction. Instagram addiction is a result of the interplay of an individual’s innate characteristics and emotional needs, disposing them to addiction.

Is Instagram Addiction Real?

Instagram addiction is a real and documented phenomenon affecting a significant number of people. A study published in the Journal of Behavioral Addictions demonstrated the existence and prevalence of Instagram addiction and identified differing levels of the addiction’s severity.

The study found that 26.5% of study participants showed signs of mild addiction, 6.1% of participants were moderately addicted, and almost 1% had become severely addicted to using Instagram. Conclusions revealed that 33.5% of participants exhibited Instagram use that was considered high risk for addiction.

Who Is Affected By Instagram Addiction?

Youth and young adults are particularly prone to developing Instagram addiction. Young people go through a critical period in their development and maintenance of relationships with others. Today, they are turning more to social networking to fulfill this need. In this way, the desire for social approval is positively correlated with Instagram use and addiction.

Youth and young adults often develop their core identities by looking for approval from others, which ties into the way people who use Instagram share videos and photos to receive the self-affirmation that can result from getting comments and likes from other people.

This can be dangerous when a young person is seeking approval for the wrong things or from the wrong people. In 2021, the office of Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal created an Instagram account posing as a 13-year-old girl, and the Instagram algorithm quickly suggested accounts promoting eating disorders after the fake account showed an interest in diet and weight loss. Some of the names of these promoted accounts were, “I have to be thin,” and “Eternally starved,” according to CNN. Instagram acknowledged that these accounts violated their rules and removed them, but similar accounts are still easily discoverable on the platform in 2024.

In 2019, the BBC published a documentary on a network of over 1,000 Instagram accounts where teen girls shared content on self-harm and suicidal ideation. The network was linked to 15 suicides. In February of 2019, Instagram announced that they will no longer allow images of self-harm or any self-harm related content, but with over 1 billion Instagram users in 2024, it can be difficult to monitor every piece of content that is published on the app.

When young people connect with others online in a positive way, it can be a great outlet to find others with similar interests, offer encouragement and understanding, and become part of a constructive online community. However, when users stumble across accounts that are promoting unhealthy behaviors, it can be difficult for a young person to understand that they are being negatively influenced.

Signs And Symptoms Of Instagram Addiction

Addiction to Instagram can lead to an array of negative consequences, which can impact the daily lives of people using the platform.

People using Instagram in a problematic way can exhibit the following signs and symptoms:

When a person is addicted to Instagram, they may experience difficult-to-control or uncontrollable drives to use the application. Some key signs of addiction are spending an excessive amount of time on the app, and relying on it for affirmation.

Crystal Tan, an artist who shares her work on social media platforms like Instagram and YouTube, shared a personal story about how her online persona became her priority, “My online social media life was taking over everything. I was getting the constant positive dopamine hits multiple times a day. I was hooked. It was worse than crack cocaine.”

On Sat night, I had friends over and was a feeling slightly anxious after a few drinks and just retreated into my room for a breather. And found myself instantly seeking for my phone. I was seeking the comfort of my instagram home screen. Seeing how much likes I had gotten from my last post. Reading if there were any new comments.

- Crystal Tan

Tan’s story is exactly what many others with an Instagram addiction experience; relying on likes and comments for a rush of dopamine and feeling unsettled if they are not receiving positive feedback from other Instagram users.

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What Makes Instagram Addictive?

Multiple facets of Instagram increase the risk of addictive behaviors.

Accessibility

Instagram is easily and instantly accessible. So, not only does the social media platform supply instant gratification, but it can also provide immediate feelings of bonding and belonging that people get used to and start to crave.

Obligation

Instant notifications from Instagram can become a burden for young people, causing them to feel obligated to check the website and app for updates and respond to them. This can lead to even more time spent on Instagram and can end up in further increased addictive patterns of use.

Algorithms

Instagram’s algorithm is designed to keep people engaged and continuing to use it. Following particular accounts, clicking on their posts, and liking them prompts the algorithm to populate a person’s feed with an increasing amount of similar content. This, in turn, keeps a person on the app for longer than they may have initially intended.

Instagram Lawsuits

Multiple states have sued Meta, the company that owns Instagram, accusing them of damaging individuals’ mental health due to aspects of the site that can be addictive, such as never-ending feeds and notifications that constantly demand attention.

Instagram features were deemed manipulative and prone to lower individuals’ self-esteem, with those filing suit claiming that the app has created a widespread mental health crisis among youth in the US.

They alleged that Instagram preys on a person’s mental and emotional vulnerabilities by making them believe that the platform’s constant stream of pictures and videos will provide important social experiences and connections. They cite evidence that social networking negatively impacts youth in areas such as body image, depression, and anxiety that lead to interference with success in their daily lives.

Although there have not been any approved settlements or jury verdicts, the number of related lawsuits continues to soar, with more than 40 states suing Meta.

Treatment For Instagram Addiction

A focus on varying prevention methods is necessary to treat Instagram addiction.

Increased awareness of factors that contribute to Instagram addiction can help to avoid and mitigate it. Finding alternative ways to get entertainment, fulfill social needs, and improve self-recognition is also helpful.

A research study published in Cyberpsychology: Journal of Psychosocial Research on Cyberspace, looked into the connection between Instagram addiction and self-esteem and showed that aiding people in increasing their feelings of self-worth was a successful intervention in treating this addiction.

Psychotherapy has been shown to be an effective treatment for Instagram addiction. In particular, cognitive-behavioral therapy has been shown to help lessen Instagram use among those experiencing addiction to it by aiding in building self-confidence and working toward alleviating cognitive distortions.

Alternative therapy has also been found to help battle Instagram addiction. A 2022 study highlights that partaking in physical activity can decrease addiction to Instagram among current users. An increase in programs that encourage physical movement is recommended to parents, school personnel, and official policymakers. Activities such as walking, cycling, and participating in sports are advised.

Additionally, in response to criticism for their lack of safety practices for young people, Instagram created a feature called “Take A Break,” which they developed to assist people in decreasing their time on the platform. This feature provides a prompt for those who use Instagram to take a break using the site for a set amount of time.

Find Help For Instagram Addiction

If you, your child, or someone you love is struggling with Instagram addiction, know that help is available.

As with other social media addictions, therapy with a licensed counselor can provide the support necessary to help someone overcome their addiction to Instagram. To learn more about your options, explore our online therapy page today.

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