Should we treat social media addiction like alcohol addiction?

Health Assured CEO and wellbeing expert, David Price, considers the symptoms of social media addiction – and whether we should be more cautious in our usage

In the last 15 years, there has been an explosion in the way people organise their social lives. Social networks such as Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat have made the world a much smaller place. Everything and everyone is accessible immediately. And the feeling when someone ‘likes’ your post feels great.

Maybe a little bit too great?

Research has shown that excessive social media use can be defined as an addiction, in the same way as dependence on drugs or alcohol. They trigger similar responses from the brain, and the symptoms that someone will experience are the same. And while it might not have the same detrimental physical effects as alcoholism, it can have a huge effect on the user’s mental health.

A report has stated that in a survey of 1,000 younger people, 41% were planning to quit social media for good—because it made them feel anxious, sad, or depressed about themselves and the world around them.

And earlier this week, it was reported that social media companies could be banned, if they don’t remove harmful content from their sites that have been alleged to impact the mental health of users.

Social media tends to be carefully curated by the user. When someone makes a post, they can spend a long time framing and editing an image, writing about how great their life is, and timing it to reach as many followers as possible. When bombarded with this constant demand for perfection, many people report dents in their self-esteem.

Beyond the mental health dangers of social media addiction, it can also cause problems in the workplace. Time spent curating and editing posts and images can be one of the biggest killers of productivity during the working day and an addict may be spending more time thinking of what to post about their day than actually doing their work.

The first thing to ensure is that your company has a clear policy in place which outlines that accessing social media whilst at work is not permitted and the consequences for doing so — you wouldn’t tolerate the use of harmful substances in your office, after all.

Ask yourself— and your employees—a few questions:

  • Do you spend a lot of time thinking about social media?
  • Do you use social media to forget about personal problems?
  • Do you often try to reduce your use of social media without success?
  • Do you use social media so much that it has had a negative impact on your job?

If the answer to more than a few of those is ‘yes,’ it might be worth organising a chat one-on-one about how they can curb their social media usage at work.