I would like to receive information about how to overcome an addiction to social media.

Dear Friend,

Your request is a timely one, as this subject is a current topic of research around the world. Scientists, medical professionals, and even attorneys have a keen interest in this information, and academics in many fields debate whether the word “addiction” can be appropriately applied to people who have made significant changes in their daily lives in order to compulsively immerse themselves in social media.(1)

It is generally accepted that the majority of people who overuse social media are not actually addicted to it. There are clear criteria established by experts and objective standards of measurement which have been developed to evaluate the extent of social media misuse. So for the purposes of this response we will limit ourselves to offering information about how to use social media in healthy ways.

It is important to point out that the majority of those people who overuse social media cannot just stop using it altogether, as can be done by people who abuse drugs or alcohol. We live in a time when Internet usage and connections are practically required. Those who have not managed to become familiar with computers and the Internet (mostly elderly people) constantly encounter situations in which they are disadvantaged and require technical help.

Therefore, the dilemma is how to use the Internet and social media in ways that positively affect our lives without falling into the traps that are designed to cause us to do the opposite. It is common knowledge that social media makes use of complicated statistical formulas called algorithms to encourage us to stay connected for a longer time. When we interact by commenting or liking, our obvious interest leads to the social media platform algorithm offering us more content that is very similar.

Following such a trail causes the chemical, dopamine, to be released in our brains. And dopamine causes us to experience pleasurable feelings which lead to doing whatever it takes to experience more of those feelings. Over time, it takes more and more social media interaction to release the same amount of dopamine, so we gradually increase the time that we spend on social media.

In addition, certain people feel better about themselves when their content or photos evoke multiple comments or likes. Conversely, other people engage in harmful and even habitual self-condemnation when comparing their own lives to the public, and often curated, lives of others. Multiple studies have shown that excessive social media use contributes to low self-esteem, isolation and loneliness, anxiety, and depression.(2)

The first step that absolutely everyone should take is to turn on the features on their smartphones that put a limit on the amount of time they spend each day in each one of their social media apps. These features can be found in the settings of the phone and can be called screen time, digital health, or parental controls. We will not suggest a time limit that would apply to all individuals, but families would do well to discuss this among themselves and decide upon appropriate time limits for all. Parents should make sure they use the parental passcode when setting these limits on the phones of each child and teenager.

We wish you well,

1 Cecilie Schou Andreassen, “Online Social Network Site Addiction: A Comprehensive Review,” 1 June 2015, Current Addiction Reports, Vol. 2, pp. 175-84 < https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s40429-015-0056-9> Online 26 January 2024.
2 Bruce Goldman, “Addictive potential of social media, explained,” Stanford Medicine, Scope: Beyond the Headlines, Interview of Anna Lembke, MD, Dopamine Nation: Finding Balance in the Age of Indulgence (New York: Dutton, 2021) < https://scopeblog.stanford.edu/2021/10/29/addictive-potential-of-social-media-explained> Online 26 January 2024.