Can We Become Addicted to Social Media?

Social media is so ingrained in our culture that it’s easy to forget it hasn’t been around that long. But more research is emerging about how our social media behaviors could be measured against standards for addiction.

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CLEVELAND – Social media has become so ingrained in our culture, that it’s easy to forget that it hasn’t been around for very long.

It’s so new, that, according to Joseph Rock, PsyD of Cleveland Clinic, the research is just emerging on how our behaviors surrounding social media could be measured against standards for being diagnosed as an addiction.

He said one of the pitfalls of social media is that, for some, it can produce feelings that keep them coming back for more.

“They get a sense of social well-being – it’s as though they’re interacting with somebody, like they’re interacting with friends,” he said. “Researchers find people who are really heavy users develop a tolerance to that feeling, so they need more and more exposure to get the same effect. What does that sound like? Drug and alcohol use.” 

One recent study showed that people using one social media platform for long periods of time had the tendency to make riskier decisions.

Another study linked heavy social media use with having more physical ailments.

Dr. Rock said it’s important to note that these studies did not show cause and effect, but the results are still worrisome.

“People who have a tendency to be addictive might head toward social media, and people who are sedentary and might have a lot of physical ailments may head toward it, but the bottom line is, it’s still kind of concerning,” he said.

While we don’t yet know how much social media use is too much, Dr. Rock said we do know that spending too much time being sedentary is not good for our physical or mental health.

And he said it’s possible that constant use of our devices for social media might be changing how our brains function, because it is constant, readily available and interruptive.

For those who are unsure if they’re spending too much time on social media – Dr. Rock suggests asking friends and family – those who spend the most time with you.

And if you still have any question about whether you might be addicted to your social media platforms – try letting them go for a while.

“Try stopping and see what it feels like, if you can, just for a few days, try stopping cold turkey,” said Dr. Rock. “If it’s really very uncomfortable for you – keep in mind that breaking any habit feels weird – but if it’s really, really uncomfortable for you, that’s not a good sign.”

Dr. Rock said researchers are starting to draw parallels that people may actually be able to form addictions to social media, but because social media is so new, the research is just beginning to scratch the surface. He believes there will be more studies to come to see if social media addiction can be considered a mental disorder.

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