Social media addiction is a clear way of saying addiction comes in many forms. A substantial amount of social media usage today is obviously generated out of addiction related behaviour rather than rationally led. And that also comes across in therapy space. Even though internet addiction started gaining attention with the rise of online activity and even before the true birth of social platforms, there has obviously been a massive rise in addiction when this online activity got its fertile ground in social media platforms. Discussions have been raised that problematic internet use (PIU) should be categorised as an official mental health condition.
(Related reading: Social Media Depression)
Social media addiction—like any other addiction—doesn’t need formal diagnosis for it to be a problem
However, despite the fact that neither social media addiction nor problematic internet use are treated as mental health disorders, this does not mean that the problem doesn’t exist. Nevertheless, the majority of emotional issues that impact people’s lives rarely reach the criteria of a psychiatric diagnosis, but they still exist and they still pose a problem. Take for instance excessive use of alcohol, drugs, casual sex, anxiety, depression, relationship issues—all these can have pathological intrapsychic sources and still be regarded as socially acceptable. Social media addiction is no different.
What makes social media addiction hard to tackle
One of the problems with social media addiction is that it is socially acceptable and even encouraged. On the other hand, refusing to succumb to this addiction is threatened by social isolation, which especially with younger generation may can be a terrifying thought. As with eating disorders, one cannot just stop eating.
Social media is part of everyday life and abstinence is often times not possible. All this makes social media addiction even harder to tackle. A lot of daily professional life depends on it. People use it to generate clients and promote their businesses, so saying that one can just plainly stop is just not real. But, even though that being true, when discussing actual activity on social media with clients that claim to need to use it for business, it quickly turns out that that’s just what they tell themselves.
Despite the fact that a person uses social media for professional purposes, does not mean that all of their activity is guided by that. In fact, in most cases, majority of the activity has nothing to do with business, but can in fact be considered driven by social media addiction. Many people get into a certain line of business because it will support their lifestyle of addiction.
Which leads us to the element of denial. As with any other addiction, people will also deny they suffer from social media addiction. Usually they will see others having it, but not themselves. The most common excuses—apart from them using it for business—are such as they only use it for messaging; to see what’s going on; to stay connected to their friends and family back home; I have even heard an excuse of having it to check for good content. Cruel as it may sound, when one finds themselves doing something else on their social media account from what they planned to as they went online is the first sign that the excuse is denial. And it is even more of a denial when you use social media to “take a break from work”.
Social media addiction and the spiral of social isolation
And then there are people who see the only way of coping with their social isolation and loneliness by using internet to connect to the world. I have had numerous psychotherapy and counselling clients in the most diverse life situations tell me that. It can range from anything such as social anxiety, depression to more severe mental health and also other health issues that affect someones interaction with others.
So, is something like this an addiction or is it a coping mechanism. It could be both. Knowing that social media might make loneliness less painful in that instant, one cannot remain indifferent to the fact that as time goes by they will probably succumb to it more and more and become ever more dependant on social media to compensate real-life interaction. So, does this make social media a helping hand or a crutch that is the lure of a siren.
Social media addiction is called lifestyle for millennials
With younger generations social media addiction is repackaged as lifestyle and sold as a trend. But so is “social drinking” and “recreational drug use” for some, which doesn’t mean it’s not addiction either. Again, it’s denial and making something seem less destructive than it really is. So, again we are looking at the same problem—how society actually makes it seem trendy and popular for younger generation to develop such addiction.
The problem with social media addiction in the case of the younger generation is not so much about the heavy usage. It’s about how this heavy usage is combined with the individual’s lack of emotional capacity and their underdeveloped sense of self. This is, at the end of the day, the main reason for any addiction—with social media addiction being no different.
Younger individuals—social media heavily affects teens and adolescents—have not yet gone through the developmental stages of forming their personality. They have not yet fully developed a view of others or the world and even less have they developed a view of themselves—even less so a healthy one. When that is combined with highly stimulating online environment, there is little chance that social media addiction will not develop.
Chatbots and artificial intelligence (AI) are taking social media addiction to another level
And if you think that social media brought the problem of addiction as far as it has, think again. Clients suffering from social media addiction are beginning to bring a whole other aspect of it to therapy. Chatbots present much more of a problem than we assume they do. They are—as we speak—affecting the younger generation—especially adolescents—more than is obvious.
It’s true that many started turning to social media because of social isolation, however, they are now starting to turn to chatbots because many people today—predominantly adolescents—suffer social isolation even online. What this means id that because of the AI algorithms that many of such chatbots use, these people are actually talking to themselves. Am I exaggerating if I ask how different this is from talking to the voices in one’s head?
Call it stimulus hunger, call it the fear of missing out, call it sensation seeking. It’s easy to intellectualise and look for evidence and truth in research. But over-intellectualisation is well known defence against oneself—and it’s no different with social media addiction. People engage in social media because of their need for recognition, relational needs and avoidance of isolation. And once truthful recognition is lacking; once there are no relational needs met in an authentic manner and once isolation becomes too painful, a person is bound to resort to an option at hand—especially if such option is not even a login away.