Recognizing Social Media Use Vs. Misuse

Most people are familiar with social media and are active members of one or multiple platforms, such as Facebook, Reddit, Instagram, or TikTok. Many platforms have grown substantially throughout the years, with platforms such as TikTok doubling its number of users within just 3 years. Social media users in America are spending over 2 hours every day scrolling various platforms.  

Within the last decade, there has been growing concern that the overuse of technology and social media may result in reduced social engagement, decreased interest in activities, and increased development of mental health disorders in both adolescents and adults. Many argue that social media and other internet-based services, including gaming and online shopping, are an invasive and unavoidable part of everyday life. When many of these activities are an active part of the average person’s daily routine, the question of what defines a problematic relationship with social media, referred to as a social media disorder (SMD) or social media addiction, versus non-problematic social media use becomes more pressing.

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What Is A Social Media Addiction?

Addiction can be described as a chronic disease impacting the brain’s reward system, motivation, and memory. Even though internet-based disorders are not classified as addictions in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, 5th edition (DSM-5), there are similarities to be considered.

Internet gaming disorder is the only condition currently in consideration to be listed as a disorder in the DSM-V, though it still requires further research. This means that from a clinical and medical standpoint, internet gaming disorder is not a condition with a large amount of clinical research or clear treatment strategies. However, many medical professionals know and have observed that social media addiction is a real issue that generally mimics the behavior pattern of someone struggling with an addiction.

Addiction is not just the abuse of drugs or alcohol; it can also be behavioral. Some examples of process addictions include gambling, shopping, sex, pornography, gaming, food, work, and even exercise. Behavioral health professionals can identify intrusive behaviors that are driven from the disease of addiction.

The combination of social media and process addiction behaviors can result in significant concerns, especially in adolescents whose primary view of the world is shaped through their experience with social media. Some of the most common negative impacts of excessive social media use include comparisons to others resulting in feelings of insecurity, insufficiency, and dissatisfaction with their life. Without the proper opportunity to explore the world outside of social media and without a loving support system, unmoderated, excessive social media use among young people can result in higher levels of risk. 

It is important to understand that social media use is generally considered harmless when used in moderation. The challenge for many professionals is determining if the social media use is healthy or if it requires clinical intervention.

To better outline this condition, it is helpful to understand the signs of a social media addiction.

What Are The Signs Of A Social Media Addiction?

Since the discussion of including internet gaming disorder in the DSM-V, there has been a growing wave of research directed at social media misuse and finding clinically valid assessments to establish a list of criteria for social media addiction.

One of the assessments, the Social Media Disorder Scale, appears to have a strong validity and reliability score. This scale was developed to identify potential social media addiction by integrating the criteria developed for internet gaming disorder, due to their close similarities involving the internet.

The researchers also incorporated standards derived from other process addictions that focused on preoccupation, tolerance, withdrawal, relapse, consequences, and mood changes. The researchers developed this scale to measure the significant disruptions experienced in a person’s life with a social media addiction.

If there is any concern that you or someone you care about may have a social media use disorder, review the social media disorder scale and take an honest review of the behaviors involved by answering “yes” or “no” to each question.

image of Is My Social Media Use A Problem?

The scale requires at least 5 “yes” responses to consider the possibility of a social media disorder, though there is no formal diagnosis yet. However, it is still considered a condition that would benefit from treatment if social media use is causing difficulty in your life.

What Treatment Options Are Available?

The best approach for treating social media addiction is still being studied; however, it is suggested that behavioral health professionals would likely utilize similar addiction treatment strategies. These strategies would most likely include a combination of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), medication management strategies for any co-occurring mental health disorders such as depression or anxiety, and peer support programs. As with any behavioral health condition, it is recommended to work with a behavioral health expert for proper assessment and treatment.

Additionally, an individual can choose from several forms of therapy for social media addiction. For example, psychotherapy (also known as talk therapy) is a viable option for individuals who want to address underlying mental health conditions, develop positive coping skills, and change negative behaviors related to social media use. There are even online therapy options for those wanting to address their social media addiction, but who may have unique circumstances that make in-person therapy unfeasible.

Finding Help

If you or someone you care for appears to have a social media use disorder, it may be time to find help. It is best to work with a therapist who can help treat both the addiction elements involved and the possible co-occurring conditions. For those with extenuating circumstances that make attending in-person therapy service difficult, online therapy can provide individuals with the tools and coping skills necessary to improve their quality of life without leaving the house.

Social media addiction can stem from underlying mental health conditions, and an online therapist can help an individual work through the circumstances and conditions that may have led to their social media addiction. If you are or a loved one is ready to begin the recovery journey, learn more about your online therapy options today.

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