Am I Addicted to the Internet?

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Addiction comes in many forms, and if you don’t know what to look for, it can sneak up on you more quickly than you might expect. Not every addiction bears obvious symptoms like job loss or drastic changes in appearance. One of the most frequently overlooked addictions of our time stems is caused by simple internet access. With constant social connectivity as the personal norm, we each have unending access to a wealth of information – some of it helpful, and some of it decidedly less so.

While living in the information age presents a bevy of benefits and opportunities, it’s not without its problems. The average person in the United States spent over 3 hours on their smartphones every day in 2020, most of which may be on social media. Social media addiction has quickly become a tangible problem for many people. Knowing its signs and consequences can help as a first step towards finding a healthier relationship with the digital world.

Social Media Addiction

As of 2020, around three-quarters of the United States population regularly uses social media – over 233 million people. Between FaceBook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, TikTok, and LinkedIn, spending time on connectivity apps has dominated the landscape of American pastimes. While there’s nothing wrong with using social media in moderation, some studies suggest that up to 10% of Americans are addicted to social media. Experiencing an uncontrollable urge to check up on social media accounts can indicate an unhealthy relationship with it. Being addicted to social media is classified as a behavioral problem, which can manifest as becoming overly concerned about social media to the point that you are compelled to spend time using it at the cost of other areas of your life where your efforts might be better spent.

An addiction to social media can look similar to substance abuse, especially in causing emotional changes. Like alcohol, consistently using social media generates a pleasurable response in the brain, and like alcohol, when something has the power to bring you joy, it also has the power to do the opposite. Social media use can produce the same neural effects caused by gambling and drug use. Some have even compared social media interaction to a shot of dopamine being injected into your body. Losing access to social media can cause someone with an addiction to experience negative emotional and physiological effects. Even after refraining from internet connectivity for a time and reaping benefits from the break, returning to regular use can come swiftly.

The Effects of Social Media on the Brain

Your brain contains a built-in reward system that influences your decisions. Using an addictive substance activates neurons that produce dopamine, which is the same response your brain uses as a reward. The increased dopamine levels can trick your brain into equating the stimulus – drug use, social media, or any other addictive behavior – with positive reinforcement. The rush you get when you see new notifications on social media apps lights up the exact same part of your brain that lights up when you indulge in addictive substances. Spending a lot of time on social media floods dopamine into the part of your brain that receives rewards, causing you to feel pleasure.

Using social media can provide you with a seemingly endless amount of instant reward in the form of attention from others. As a result, the brain positively reinforces that attention, making you desire more likes and retweets. The brain’s reward system is typically more active when it comes to self-image. We already spend an estimated 40% of our conversations talking about ourselves, and social media has put each of us in the spotlight to show off our lives and innermost musings. Receiving positive feedback when you put yourself on display causes your brain to release more dopamine, rewarding the behavior and strengthening the habit.

Overusing Social Media

Social media can provide an easy outlet for coping with stress, depression, and loneliness. At the same time, overusing it can create a false sense of reality, leading to you to pay less attention to your relationships, work or school responsibilities, and physical and mental health. Like with any other form of addiction, what began as a coping mechanism can quickly snowball into something that eats up your time and energy and causes you to develop a psychological dependency. If you find yourself struggling to break away from the cycle of endless information, it may be time to reach out for professional guidance. A healthier relationship with social media may be only a phone call away.

Because of how quickly many people have turned to social media as an outlet or coping mechanism, it’s important to monitor your relationship with the internet for symptoms of addictive behavior. While social media can be highly beneficial when used in moderation, consistent use can have a significant effect on your mental health surprisingly similar to the effects caused by drug use and gambling. Reducing the time you spend on social media can improve your emotional stability and give you more time to put towards more valuable areas of your life. If you or a loved one are struggling with signs of addiction, Kimberly Center in Fort Myers, Florida, can provide the treatment and resources you need to break unhealthy cycles and live a better life. We offer personalized guidance to take you to long-term wellness. You don’t have to fight compulsive behaviors on your own. Reach out to us at (855) 452-3683 to learn more.

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