Signs of Social Media Addiction

As social media use continues to grow in popularity, increasing numbers of people are at risk of falling victim to social media addiction. Young people are at particular risk of developing an addiction to social media. Children and teens are spending more time than ever online, and children are beginning to use social media at an increasingly young age.

Written and edited by our team of expert legal content writers and reviewed and approved by Attorney Matthew Bergman

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Written and edited by our team of expert legal content writers and reviewed and approved by

Attorney Matthew Bergman

a photo of Matthew Bergman

Read our editorial guidelines here   

What You’ll Learn

  • Social Media Addiction Is a Growing Problem​
  • Causes of Social Media Addiction
  • Know the Signs of Social Media Addiction
  • Getting Help with Social Media Addiction

Extended time on social media can cause changes to brain chemistry and structure. Excessive social media use can result in addiction that leads to many negative long-term consequences. 

Here’s how to recognize the signs of social media addiction and take action when a loved one needs help.

Social Media Addiction Is a Growing Problem

Addiction to social media looks much like an addiction to any type of drug or activity–an obsessive urge to engage with social media that can interfere with other life activities, detract from relationships and lead to mental health problems. Prolonged social media use can have a profoundly negative effect on an individual’s overall quality of life. 

Although social media addiction is not currently established as an official disorder, the signs, symptoms and effects mirror those of any other addictive behavior. This means that an individual struggling with an addiction to social media may not be aware of the problem and may need help to curb the behavior. 

In recent years, social media has become such a central part of life that it can be difficult to avoid. For younger generations, social media is the primary way to communicate with friends and stay informed. 

Businesses use social media to make announcements and promote sales. Restaurants post daily specials, and increasingly, even schools use social media platforms to share information with students. 

Add to that the influencer culture and the power an individual has to participate in content creation, and social media can seem more interesting and compelling than the real world. Instagram and TikTok, in particular, send users the message that anyone can become famous with the right content and enough followers. 

Social media is a powerful tool. As much as it can foster connection, creativity, and information-sharing, it can also cause users to fall under its spell in a way that becomes detrimental to other areas of life.

Person holding a smartphone with a social media app open

Causes of Social Media Addiction

Researchers know that social media use is inherently tied to dopamine production. Dopamine is a chemical produced in the brain that impacts motivation. 

When a social media user absorbs interesting or humorous content or likes and comments on posts, the brain creates dopamine. Continued scrolling leads to continued dopamine production. When the phone is finally put down, dopamine production stops. 

With balanced use of social media, a user can continue with the day and find motivation–and dopamine–from other activities, like going for a run, folding the laundry or meeting up with a friend. 

For some people, the attraction to social media is so strong that it becomes difficult to produce dopamine–and thus find motivation or interest–in anything outside of social media. 

There are many reasons that social media can have this effect on some users. Elements that often contribute to social media addiction include: 

  • Sense of community and inclusion found online
  • Idealization of influencer culture
  • Fear of missing out on interactions between peers
  • Distraction from real-life stressors
  • Lack of meaningful relationships
  • Mental health struggles
Signs of Social Media Addiction Infographic

Overall, the appeal of social media is twofold. On the one hand, the content itself holds a strong appeal. On the other hand, social media content can distract from issues and shortcomings in the real world.

Know the Signs of Social Media Addiction

Social media use exists on a spectrum. Most people use social media at least a little. Some people use it a lot. So when does social media use become an addiction? This might vary by individual. 

The primary way to identify a social media addiction is when you notice that it has started to take a toll on other areas of life. 

When social media and smartphone use lead to a reduction in spending time with friends and family, studying, exercising, and other life activities, it’s a good indication that an individual has developed an unhealthy dependence on social media. 

Signs to watch for include:

  • Excessive amounts of time spent on social media
  • Lack or reduction of time spent with friends and family
  • Skipping social events
  • Loss of interest in former hobbies
  • Reduction in exercise and other activities
  • Poor grades or work performance
  • Strong attachment to his or her smartphone
  • Anxiety when the phone is forgotten or taken by parents
  • Emotional withdrawal 

Not every individual struggling with a social media addiction will exhibit all of these signs. 

Social media addiction shows up differently in different people. In part, this has to do with the individual’s reasons for the dependence on social media. Does he or she have high levels of stress that social media helps to avoid? Or is there a pre-existing chemical imbalance that makes the dopamine hit more appealing than it is for others? 

Every person is different. However, methods for reducing a dependency on social media are fairly universal. In the age of smartphone overuse, aiming to consciously reduce social media use can be a healthy choice for everyone.

Group of friends playing cards with a "device free zone" sign in view

Getting Help with Social Media Addiction

Helping a person break a social media addiction is a three-part process. As a whole, the goal is to help the individual re-develop a connection to life. Real-life doesn’t happen through the glass screen of a smartphone. 

Ultimately, when a person can feel this and act upon it, social media loses its importance as healthier habits are consciously created.

1. Digital Detox

The first step to correcting a social media addiction is to reduce the amount of time spent online. This can extend to screen time in general. Watching television and surfing the internet have many of the same effects as using social media

A digital detox is one way to develop healthy boundaries around social media use. Set limits on the amount of time social media should be used. It can be helpful to have a designated place to put a smartphone outside of scheduled social media time. Be mindful that a digital detox may induce social media withdrawal symptoms, similar to those of a drug or alcohol detox.

2. Restore Balance

If social media use has advanced to the point that it seems addictive, it has probably taken a toll on other areas of life. In addition to reducing smartphone use, it’s helpful to consciously identify the areas of life that have been neglected and turn attention to them. 

If relationships have been neglected, arrange social time with family or friends. If exercise has fallen by the wayside, put it on the schedule. If your teen’s grades have suffered, encourage him or her to invite friends over for study time. 

In working to counter social media addiction, the most powerful tool is building community and fostering real-world human relationships. 

3. See a Specialist

Several studies have found a strong correlation between social media use and increased levels of depression, anxiety, and stress

In some cases, social media can be a welcome distraction from a pre-existing mental health condition. In other cases, a social media addiction can cause depression and anxiety, especially when it takes a toll on relationships, hobbies, or grades. 

Not every person with a social media addiction is necessarily depressed. However, it’s worth considering whether counseling, medication, or a combination can help an individual find a renewed interest in life. 

If you or a loved one has been harmed by a social media addiction, contact us for a free case evaluation.

Frequently Asked Questions

For individuals and children who have been

We only handle cases on a contingent fee basis. This means that we are paid a portion of any recovery obtained in the case and you do not owe us any attorneys’ fees if the lawsuit does not result in a recovery.

Every case is unique. Our attorneys will work with your family to evaluate your potential case and help you evaluate whether filing a lawsuit or other legal proceeding is in your family’s best interest. Generally speaking, the types of cases we handle involve serious mental health effects, including attempted or completed suicide, eating disorders, inpatient mental health treatment, or sexual trafficking/exploitation that was caused by or contributed to through addictive or problematic social media use by teens and young adults.

We are a law firm based near Seattle, WA comprised of lawyers who have spent their entire careers representing victims who have been harmed by dangerous products. We are also parents. Shocked and troubled by the recent revelations about the harm caused to teens and young adults by social media platforms, which powerful technology companies have designed to be highly addictive, Social Media Victims Law Center was launched specifically to help families and children who have suffered serious mental harm or exploitation through social media use to obtain justice.

Matthew Bergman
Content Reviewed by:

Matthew P. Bergman

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