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According to recent statistics, roughly 4.5 billion people worldwide use social media, and on average, the typical user spends two hours and a half per day on social media platforms.

Do you think you or a loved one suffers from social media addiction? Do they have the most common signs of social media addiction, like spending hours on their phone?

Many people struggle to balance social media and real life, so your worry may be warranted. Luckily, there are many warning signs to watch out for so you can get help.

Keep reading to learn its telltale symptoms and things to watch for.

Is Using Social Media Addictive?

Think of the term addiction, and dependence on powerful substances like drugs and alcohol immediately comes to mind.

But people can become hooked on certain behaviors as well, and the impulse to engage in a particular activity, such as using social media, can be so powerful that, despite the resulting harm, they do it anyway. This is the very definition of addiction.

When you engage in gratifying or life-affirming activities, your brain produces the chemical neurotransmitter dopamine, which is associated with the powerful sensation of pleasure that rewards and reinforces such behaviors and leaves you wanting more.

Studies have shown that popular platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and the like, can have the same dopamine-inducing effects as highly addictive substances like nicotine and heroin.

With billions of users worldwide, addiction to social media is a growing problem with the potential to become a crisis.

What Symptoms Does Using Social Media Cause?

There comes a point when using social media as entertainment or to connect with people develops into a compulsive behavior that can turn someone’s life upside-down.

If you’re concerned about a loved one and fear they may be slipping away, watch out for the following symptoms that excessive social media use can cause.

1. Compulsive Social Media Use

One of the telltale symptoms of addictive behavior is when a user can no longer control the impulse to use social media. Checking social media apps for updates is a daily routine for billions of people, but it is the only thing that matters for some users.

This condition is known as salience, and when social media becomes the most important thing in your loved one’s life to the exclusion of everything else (family and friends included), you should watch their demeanor to see if things improve or worsen.

2. Mood Changes

The dopamine rush fueled by social media use can be such a powerfully addictive feeling that some users can no longer suppress the impulse to return for more.

Unfortunately, as with addictive substances, compulsive social media users can develop a tolerance to the “high” that these platforms provide and spend more and more time on them to satisfy their growing needs.

As their dependence grows, social media users can undergo mood changes that swing drastically depending on whether they are offline or on their devices.

Even when they are on social media, vulnerable users can exhibit depression, confusion, and anger if online interactions produce disappointing results (e.g., not getting enough likes for a recent post).

3. Withdrawal Symptoms

Like substance use disorders, social media addiction can produce withdrawal symptoms when an at-risk user stops engaging in the activity in question, which means going offline in the case of social media.

These dramatic changes in behavior can include:

  • Severe depression
  • Sudden bouts of anxiety
  • Uncharacteristic irritability and moodiness

If you notice these indicators when your loved one is off of social media, even if it is by their choice, you should consider the possibility they are struggling with social media use disorder.


FOMO stands for fear of missing out and refers to a feeling of isolation caused by the (mistaken) perception that everybody else on social media is living a blissful existence while your loved one plods through life in miserable obscurity.

One of the hallmarks of popular social media platforms like Facebook is users put aspects of their personal lives on full display, often filtered or enhanced for favorable responses.

For some users, the thought that others are living better lives creates an unhealthy and potentially dangerous mental state.

This mindset can lead to rivalries and bouts of one-upmanship played out on social media, and chronic FOMO is a telltale symptom of possible social media addiction.

5. Habit Checking

Another symptom indicating possible social media addiction is obsessive behavior on these platforms. In particular, constant logging on for up-to-the-minute updates on recent activity strongly suggests that a casual pastime has devolved into an all-consuming obsession.

Known as habit checking, the compulsive need to spend every free moment posting something new or checking out someone else’s latest post could be a symptom indicating addictive behavior.

3 Signs a Person Might Have a Social Media Problem: Things To Watch For

Knowing what to watch for and taking immediate action could be the difference between guiding your loved one toward recovery or watching their struggle worsen. These are the common signs to look for, indicating that someone close to you might have a social media problem.

1. Worsening Performance at School or Work

Because it involves activity and behavior, compulsive social media use often manifests itself by consuming all the user’s waking hours.

If you observe a loved one struggling to manage their school work or workload, it may be because they spend too much time on social media platforms.

Worsening classroom or workplace performance is a common sign of social media addiction, particularly if you can correlate low productivity and increased use of social media.

2. Disrupted Sleep Patterns

People suffering from social media use disorder often suffer from disrupted sleep patterns because the last thing they do before falling asleep is scrolling through various platforms, and the first task when they wake up is catching up on their social media feeds.

If someone close to you is constantly on their devices and seems to suffer from sleepless nights or appears chronically tired or groggy, you may be observing a sign of social media addiction and should direct them to help.

3. Emotional Instability

When your loved one is offline, increased edginess, anxiousness, and emotional instability can be telltale signs that social media use is a compulsion beyond their control.

Dramatic mood swings correlating to social media activity are a strong indicator that your loved one is struggling with a behavioral addiction and should not be ignored.

At What Point Is Using Social Media a Problem?

Billions of users around the world use social media without negatively impacting their productivity or real-life relationships with others.

But for some, the dopamine-fueled rush that social media platforms provide (by design, many argue) is too powerful to resist.

When someone close to you struggles to put their smartphone down at work or in the classroom, or if being offline causes personality changes, using social media has become a problem, and your loved one may need help.

How Do You Deal With Someone Who Has a Social Media Problem?

Dealing with someone who has a social media problem requires an understanding approach. Your loved one needs help and may have reached a point when the impulse to use social media is too strong to resist on their own.

Here are a few things you can do to help:

  • Monitor their social media use, and in the case of young users, establish firm rules for going online (e.g., specific times for use, no phones during meals).
  • Notifications are a trigger for using social media, so turn them off.
  • Encourage offline activities and face-to-face socializing with people, not avatars or online acquaintances.

Most importantly, if you observe one or more symptoms and signs of excessive social media use, talk to your loved one and chart an affirmative course of action, such as seeing a therapist.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are you concerned that someone close to you may be addicted to social media? Here are a few questions people commonly ask.

What is the main cause of social media addiction?

The main cause of social media addiction is the strong feeling of gratification that time spent on popular platforms can generate. Unfortunately, these feel-good moments are short-lived, and users seeking to relive these experiences develop addictive behavior.

What is the most addictive social media platform?

With roughly 3 billion daily users, Facebook is the world’s most popular social media platform by a wide margin. According to many experts, it is also the most addictive, particularly among adults.

Additional Addictions To Watch For

Compulsive social media use is a common form of addiction but there are additional types of addiction linked to behaviors. These include:

  • Signs of Video Game Addiction: with the enormous popularity of video games among players of all ages, video game addiction is another problem on the verge of becoming a crisis
  • Signs of Internet Addiction: compulsive internet use has similar attributes to social media addiction
  • Signs of Cell Phone Addiction: cell phone addiction is so prevalent that the term nomophobia (fear of being with a smartphone) was coined to describe it

Wrapping Up

Although behavioral addiction does not present life-threatening circumstances in the way of addiction to drugs or alcohol, it can turn a normal life upside-down.

Helping somebody with an addiction requires acknowledging that a problem exists. If a loved one is struggling with social media use, learn the telltale signs and symptoms so you can get them the help they need to recover.

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