Social media use is a prevalent issue. Many people don’t go a day without checking their social media accounts. This is especially true for teens and young adults. Sometimes, social media can become an addiction, marked by compulsive behaviors. Increasing evidence suggests that excessive social media use may contribute to other addictive behaviors, such as substance use. It is also a common risk factor for relapse among individuals recovering from substance use disorder (SUD).
What Is the Link Between Social Media Addiction and Substance Use?
As a form of behavioral addiction, social media overuse affects the same parts of the brain that respond to external stimuli and motivate certain behaviors through reward pathways that use dopamine—the feel-good chemical. For a healthy person, the reward pathways are activated when engaging in pleasant behaviors such as eating good food, viewing some kind of entertainment, or socializing with friends. However, pleasurable stimuli achieved through harmful activities can reshape reward pathways and lead to negative behavioral changes.
Reward pathways created by unhealthy behaviors are hard to unlearn. Addictive behaviors artificially cause dopamine floods, motivating the person to repeat their addictive behaviors. Even nonsubstance-related addictions like disordered eating, gambling, sex, TV, social media addiction, and more can produce these effects. The brain forms neural pathways around these activities as essential for survival and pleasure.
Social media addiction shares similar neurological mechanisms as substance addiction. Under certain conditions, one form of addiction can easily feed into another. Moreover, excessive social media use can lead to increased depression and social isolation rates, which are top risk factors for substance use. Additionally, it can increase the likelihood of young people being exposed to drugs or alcohol.
Mental Health Problems That Come With Social Media Addiction
People can become dependent on social media and emotionally attached to the digital experience, including images that may not represent reality. Addiction to social media may also be motivated by a fear of missing out on an experience, trend, or bit of news. A lack of grounding in the real world can lead to feelings of inadequacy and isolation. Lack of bonding with friends in the physical world rather than the digital landscape can impair a person’s self-esteem. These can all lead to mental health and behavioral issues.
Young women with social media addictions may be susceptible to dissatisfaction or comparison regarding body image, which can lead to eating disorders or depression. People who spend excessive time on social media may also experience cyberbullying via abusive messages, images, or interactions. This has become a major factor in anxiety and depression among young people.
Can Social Media Overuse Lead to a Relapse?
People who are in recovery must be particularly cautious about social media use. Even if they want to catch up with friends on Facebook after achieving sobriety, recovery experts recommend these people limit their time on social media. Research has found that social media use is positively correlated with relapses.
Social media use may trigger a relapse in several ways. For example, individuals may revisit memories or images that glorify substance use. Seeing instances of others engaging in substance use can trigger cravings. Additionally, people who overuse social media tend to experience poor sleep quality or sleep deprivation. When recovering individuals turn to heavy social media use post-treatment, it can compromise their progress. Whether it leads to relapse or substitute addiction, excessive social media use can only hurt people’s recovery.
Recovery From Social Media Addiction
Many people think that quitting nonsubstance-related addiction is easier than overcoming SUD. Unfortunately, this is not necessarily true. People tend to underestimate the power of non-substance addictions because many don’t understand how addiction forms. They need to respect the advice from recovery experts who can explain the close association between these two forms of addiction.
The first step of recovering from social media addiction is the same as the first step for SUD recovery: detox. By gradually decreasing time spent on social media or going cold turkey, people can reset and repair the reward pathways in the brain. Detox is only the first step toward sobriety in the media environment. Meanwhile, supplementing one’s social life with meaningful and healthy activities that channel the neurological pathways toward lifestyle changes can improve one’s chances of maintaining abstinence from or balancing social media use.
Apart from social media detox, individuals might consider avoiding or banning themselves from certain apps that tend to suck them into the vortex. This is about identifying triggers and stressors. Individuals may find that they spend too much time on certain apps or that there are apps that trigger substance cravings. With self-awareness of these traps, they can make better choices about social media use. Most importantly, recovering individuals should take this issue seriously and discuss it with people in their support system for accountability and support.
Social media overuse may cause mental health issues that precondition people for substance use. Additionally, for people who are overcoming addiction, social media addiction can also be detrimental to one’s recovery by causing relapses. To detox and heal from social media overuse, you need support from mental health experts. At Laguna Shores Recovery, we apply evidence-based treatment methods to help people recover from both substance addiction and non-substance addiction. You will also find quality therapy and well-attended peer support groups here. Laguna Shores offers aftercare alumni programs that connect you with a community of recovering individuals. We are with you for the long run. Do not delay treatment. Call us today at (866) 774-1532.