Social Media Addiction Solutions and Treatment
Excessive social media use is an epidemic among adolescents and young adults that can lead to a dangerous and consuming addiction. Fortunately, the mental health field has taken notice, and parents can find social media addiction solutions for their teens, including inpatient treatment.
Written and edited by our team of expert legal content writers and reviewed and approved by
Attorney Matthew Bergman
What You’ll Learn
- The Appeal of Social Media for Teens and Tweens
- Why can’t my child just stop using social media?
- How to Break Social Media Addiction
- Types of Therapy
- Does my child need inpatient or outpatient therapy for social media addiction?
- How much does social media rehab cost?
- How can I prevent a relapse?
- Can social media dependency be prevented?
- Which social media platforms are the most problematic?
- How can the Social Media Victims Law Center help?
An estimated 210 million people suffer from social media and internet addiction, according to Technology in Society. Like most behavioral addictions, the latest edition of the official handbook of psychiatrists, the DSM-5, does not recognize social media addiction as a medical condition.
However, social media dependency is a real addiction that causes symptoms similar to drug addiction, including withdrawal when social media cannot be accessed.
The Appeal of Social Media for Teens and Tweens
Social media provides young people with a social setting that appeals to their need to belong. Teens may use social media as a replacement for real-life interactions due to shyness or other social deficits. Teens can present idealized versions of themselves on social media and reap instant social rewards.
Social rewards occur in the form of likes, comments, and shares when users post stories, images, or videos. For some teens, this may be the only social validation they receive.
Why can’t my child just stop using social media?
The American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse defines behavioral addiction as “the failure to resist an impulse, drive, or temptation to perform an act that is harmful to the person or to others.”
Susceptible teens experience such strong responses to the social rewards they receive on social media that they are unable to resist the urge to keep coming back to garner more likes and shares. Teens addicted to social media reach a point at which their participation is no longer fueled by pleasure but by a rewired brain that thinks social media use in an increasing measure is necessary for survival.
This is the brain’s reward system at work. Stopping social media use is not a matter of willpower or self-control. Social media addiction leads to withdrawal symptoms when attempting to abandon social media and prevents teens from enjoying other formerly pleasurable activities.
Why Teens Are More Susceptible
An understanding of how the human brain works and brain development during the teen years is key to understanding why teens are more likely than adults to become addicted to social media. Understanding these mechanisms is also important for helping your teen recover.
Social Media’s Addictive Algorithm
Social media is addictive by design. The companies are aware of how the reward system works. Their profits increase when users spend more time on their platforms. As a result, they display custom content to individual users that is most likely to hold their interest and keep them engaged as long as possible.
The Altimira Recovery Program explains that neural pathways are processes that form between distant parts of the brain as actions and behaviors activate them. Repeated thoughts and actions strengthen pathways, resulting in the formation of habits.
Neuroplasticity is the brain’s ability to rewire itself and form new neural pathways by changing responses to various environmental and emotional triggers. An adolescent’s developing brain is more sensitive to neuroplasticity than adults. Fortunately, neuroplasticity can also reinforce positive habits that foster recovery.
How to Break Social Media Addiction
Well-established neural pathways are the easiest pathways for the brain to access and use. However, new pathways can be formed by consciously establishing new habits. New habits may come less easily while a new pathway is being established, but consistent, conscious actions feel increasingly natural and effortless as the pathway becomes stronger.
This requires a teen to undergo a process:
- Setting new goals
- Responding consciously to triggers
- Deriving pleasure through healthy pursuits
While this may seem straightforward, it is not a natural process. The brain’s reward system will continually draw your teen back into established patterns as a matter of survival. Your teen may not be able to complete this process without outside intervention.
Types of Therapy
The types of therapy your child needs will depend on individual factors such as the following:
- Why your child was initially drawn to social media
- Whether your child has experienced trauma in the past
- Your child’s social difficulties, if any
- Your child’s personality
Social media addiction often leads to other addictions, including disordered eating, substance use disorders, and self-harm. Your teen will need treatment that also addresses these addictions. In many cases, your teen will need intervention beyond what you could provide at home.
Counseling has evolved to include multiple forms of therapy that have shown promising results for a variety of disorders, including social media and internet addiction.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Cognitive behavioral therapy is based on the premise that psychological problems are at least partly based on unhelpful thinking and behavioral patterns, according to the American Psychological Association. It generally focuses on changing thought patterns and specific behavioral patterns.
This form of therapy essentially teaches patients to become their own therapists by assigning homework and teaching new coping skills. Research has shown that it is at least as effective as other forms of psychological therapy and even psychiatric medications.
Dialectical Behavior Therapy
Dialectical behavior therapy is based on cognitive behavior therapy but is geared more toward people who experience intense emotions and have difficulty managing them. While it does focus on learning how to change unhelpful behaviors, it also teaches patients to accept their lives and behaviors.
This form of talk therapy has proven successful in a variety of addictive behavior pathologies, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
Psychodynamic therapy is based on the premise that the patient’s issues stem from unresolved past conflicts. This form of therapy aims to identify the root of the problem and overcome it. A psychodynamic therapist helps patients identify recurring emotional responses and defense mechanisms that stem from previous experiences and relationships.
According to Talkspace, this method is effective in treating mental health conditions like depression and anxiety, which are often exacerbated by social media addiction.
Group therapy is a type of counseling that can employ any of the above therapy modalities. Therapy groups are led by psychologists and consist of teens facing similar challenges. Group therapy provides benefits that individual counseling often cannot, such as the following:
- A support network
- Inspiration from the success of others
- Assurance for teens that they are not the only ones facing their issues
- Ideas from teens with diverse backgrounds
- An opportunity to hear others talk about their problems
A study by Trends in Psychiatry and Psychotherapy found that cognitive-behavioral group therapy is effective in reducing symptoms of internet addiction.
Does my child need inpatient or outpatient therapy for social media addiction?
Therapy for social media addiction is available on both an inpatient and outpatient basis. The type of therapy that will be most effective for your child will depend on several factors, including the following:
- Your child’s desire to decrease social media use
- The severity of your child’s addiction
- Whether your child has developed secondary addictions
Outpatient therapy requires trust and cooperation from your teen. It is more likely to be effective for teens who can acknowledge their social media dependency is unhealthy and have expressed a desire to decrease or eliminate social media use.
Online therapy is a flexible and often budget-friendly method of attending therapy for your teen.
Talkspace is a counseling app for teens that uses text messaging, audio, and video for communication. Upon signing up, your teen is matched to a licensed therapist who will provide the type of therapy you and your teen choose. Talkspace therapists have experience with social media dependency.
Since your child is already accustomed to communicating via online apps, they may be amenable to using Talkspace even if they do not realize their social media use is problematic.
Talkspace employs the following therapy modalities:
- Cognitive behavioral therapy
- Dialectical behavior therapy
- Psychodynamic therapy
- Emotion-focused therapy
- Exposure therapy
- Grief counseling
- Humanistic therapy
- Mentalization therapy
- Somatic therapy
Talkspace offers a variety of plans, including a plan that allows unlimited texting directly with the counselor. If your teen fails to click with the counselor, Talkspace lets your child switch for no extra cost.
TeenCounseling is another affordable online app-based counseling service for teens where they can talk, text, and video chat with their therapist. Parents can sign up and ask questions before enrolling their teens.
Individual In-Person Counseling
In-person counseling may be a better option if your teen needs significant time away from smartphones. Choosing this mode of counseling may help your teen become more comfortable with real-life interactions. Real-life interactions also allow the counselor to observe your teen’s nonverbal cues.
How to Find a Therapist for Your Teen
Selecting the right therapist is critical to your child’s success at overcoming social media addiction and adopting healthier habits. The relationship with the therapist is an integral part of recovery, according to Psychology Today. You can obtain referrals through your teen’s doctor or guidance counselor. Your insurance company may also offer a list of providers.
Select a therapist with experience counseling teens with behavioral addictions and, if possible, social media and internet addiction specifically. Talk with the counselor to determine which approaches they have used and which approach they will choose for your child.
Talking to Your Teen About Therapy
When bringing up the idea of therapy with your teen, frame it as a means to help the teen feel more comfortable in their environment rather than implying your teen is defective. Discuss the topic positively and help your teen see it as an opportunity.
The idea of meeting one-on-one with a therapist in real life may provoke anxiety in your teen. Allow your teen to assist with the selection process. The more control your child has over the process, the more likely they will warm up to the idea and take advantage of the opportunity.
Inpatient Treatment Options
If your child’s social media addiction is severe, it may be time to consider an inpatient social media addiction treatment center. This may apply to the following circumstances:
- Outpatient intervention has been ineffective
- Your teen has developed an eating disorder or substance use disorder.
- Your teen has engaged in non-suicidal self-harm.
- Your teen has displayed warning signs of suicide or attempted suicide.
- You cannot reach your teen.
- Your teen’s social media is causing intense anxiety or depression.
An increasing number of residential treatment centers offer treatment to teens with social media addictions. Treatment centers often accept out-of-state patients. You can also check with local substance abuse treatment centers to determine whether they also offer inpatient treatment for social media addiction.
Treatment modalities used in inpatient facilities may include:
- Cognitive behavioral therapy
- Dialectical behavioral therapy
- Art and music therapy
- Neurofeedback therapy
- Somatic therapy
- Experiential therapy
- Interpersonal therapy
- Psycho-educational therapy
- Motivational interviewing
- Trauma therapy
Programs may offer family, individual, and group therapy, as well as aftercare programs. Many facilities that treat social media addiction also treat co-occurring disorders, such as anxiety and depression.
Co-Occurring Disorders that May Accompany Social Media Addiction
- Eating disorders
- Substance abuse
- Video game addiction
- Sleep deprivation
- Loss and grief
- Mood disorders
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder
How much does social media rehab cost?
The cost of outpatient treatment is significantly lower than inpatient treatment. Talkspace works on a subscription plan that starts at $69 per week. In-person counseling may vary, and some localities provide a sliding scale. Insurance may also cover some or all of your counseling costs.
Inpatient treatment costs may be substantial. CBS News reported that the cost of treatment at Paradigm Treatment Center is $50,000, but insurance may cover some of these costs.
How can I prevent a relapse?
Although the brain has created new neural pathways, the old pathway is still there. The relative ease of following that path makes your teen vulnerable to relapse, especially in the early days before the new pathways are well-established. Just as neuroplasticity plays a role in addiction and recovery, it can also play a role in relapse.
Psychology Today explains that addiction essentially hijacks the pleasure center of the brain. Building new pathways retrains the brain to derive pleasure from other activities, but it does not remove the old pathway.
Real-life interpersonal relationships play a significant role in brain health. People who are isolated do not recover as well from addictions as those with a support system. This has been confirmed by numerous studies in neuroscience.
Thus, even after treatment is completed, it will be important to model good social media hygiene, limit your teen’s time on social media, and encourage real-life interactions and experiences.
Can social media dependency be prevented?
Social media dependency is not 100 percent preventable, but parents can significantly reduce their children’s likelihood of developing a dependency.
- Talk openly with your teen about the dangers associated with social media use.
- Limit your teen’s use of social media to less than two hours per day.
- Encourage real-life experiences and interactions, such as outings, family nights, and meetups with friends and family.
- Model good social media hygiene, and hold yourself to the same restrictions as your child.
- Turn off all notifications from social media platforms and only check social media at scheduled times.
- Limit social media sessions to 30 minutes at a time.
- Avoid screen time during the last two hours preceding bedtime.
- Avoid engaging with negative posts and users. This will only serve to fill your feed with similar content.
Foster an atmosphere of openness within your home so your teen feels free to talk to you about concerns. Be vigilant and mindful about your teen’s habits, and if you see even a slight indication of problematic use, be proactive and take action before it progresses.
Social media dependency is difficult for parents to prevent because teens are often able to conceal the extent of their social media use. Most notably, Instagram has a history of serving posts to young users that coach them on how to circumvent parental controls.
For younger users, we encourage parents to keep their children off of social media. Social Media Victims Law Center has a no-consent campaign designed to empower parents to inform social media platforms that their children do not have permission to use the platforms. There is a simple form for parents to complete and send.
Which social media platforms are the most problematic?
How can the Social Media Victims Law Center help?
The Social Media Victims Law Center is on a mission to hold social media companies accountable for harming our children. If you believe your child has been harmed by their addiction to social media, contact us today for a free consultation.
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 P. Bergman
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