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Social Media Addiction Side Effects

It has been found that being addicted to social media can be just as harmful as being addicted to substances. However, there are identifiable symptoms and side effects of addiction, which can aid in recognizing the problem early on and seeking treatment.

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Side Effects of Being Addicted to Social Media

Like substance abuse, social media addiction can negatively impact mental and physical health. While social media addiction is a behavioral addiction that typically doesn’t involve substances of any kind, research has shown it can be just as destructive.

Research has identified certain signs to look for if you or a loved one is showing signs of social media addiction. By being more familiar with the effects of social media addiction, addicts and their loved ones can seek treatment before the consequences become dire.

How Does Social Media Affect the Brain?

The use of social media affects the brain in several ways, from shortening our attention span to diminishing our brain’s memory storage. However, social media’s most problematic effect is its ability to trigger dopamine release in the brain’s reward center.

Many aspects of social media use can trigger the release of dopamine. For instance, receiving likes and comments on your pictures or stumbling upon content that excites you can cause a dopamine release.

Each time social media use triggers dopamine release, reward pathways in the brain are altered and cause the desire to spend more time on social media to continue feeling good.

As these reward system pathways are strengthened, the brain can become dependent on dopamine release to function, quickly leading to an addiction.

What Makes Social Media Potentially Addictive?

Social media platforms are designed to keep people on their apps longer, as users view more advertisements which make money for the service.

Sadly, social media services benefit from users being addicted, so features often focus on keeping users engaged as long as possible.

Almost all major social media sites have an endless news feed for users to scroll, meaning users can easily find themselves mindlessly scrolling for hours without realizing it.

Within these endless feeds, a computer program called an algorithm presents content based on what the user has interacted with before, all to keep users on the app longer.

The most addicting part of online social networking, however, is the likes, comments, and engagement social media users can receive on their social media posts. For many addicts, seeing likes and comments on a post provides validation and a dopamine flood.

How to Recognize Side Effects of Social Media Addiction

Spotting social media addiction in yourself or a loved one can be difficult, considering how ingrained social media apps are in daily life.

However, a few key warning signs may indicate someone has a more serious issue with problematic social media use.

Common Effects of social media addiction include:

  • Withdrawal symptoms when not using social media
  • Spending excessive amounts of time on social media despite negative consequences
  • Preoccupied or obsessed with the next time you can go on social media
  • Withdrawing from the real world and social interaction, believing that online life is more important
  • Becoming too invested in the lives of strangers online
  • Doing dangerous things for social media content
  • Using social media as a coping mechanism for mental health issues or problems in life
  • Having low self-esteem or worsening mental health due to comparing yourself to others online
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Physical Effects of Social Media Addiction

While you wouldn’t expect behavioral addictions to affect physical health, research has shown these addictive behaviors could seriously affect the addict’s physical well-being.

The large effects of social media addiction tend to be mental, but the condition can have negative physical consequences. Many physical effects of social media addiction are related to the often sedentary lives addicts lead.

Neck and Spine Issues

How we position our bodies while at computer desks or scrolling on our phones damages our spine and neck. In fact, for every inch you move your head forward, the weight of your head increases by 10 pounds per inch.

Many social media addicts tend to crane their heads down and over their phones, putting 10 to 40 extra pounds of weight onto the addict’s neck.

Over time, addicts may experience chronic pain and mobility issues from repeated strain due to posture issues while scrolling social media for hours.

Higher Risk for Diabetes and Heart Issues

According to a recent study by the University of Buffalo, people who spend much time on social media had higher levels of C-reactive protein (CRP), a biological marker of chronic inflammation that predicts serious illnesses.

These CRP levels have been linked to diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and certain cancers. Combined with the elevated risks already associated with more sedentary lifestyles, social media addicts are at risk of developing serious health problems down the road.

Sleep Issues

Problems with sleep and internet usage go hand in hand, especially considering how artificial light interferes with the natural production of the melatonin hormone.

Although many phones have nighttime lighting settings that cut out harmful blue light, any light can still affect sleep quality.

Social media addicts tend to struggle with sleep for a few reasons, such as being awoken by social media notifications, being unable to stop scrolling when they should be sleeping, and the vicious cycle of sleeplessness and social media usage.

For example, many addicts will struggle to sleep and turn to social media while lying in bed, hoping to grow sleepy from scrolling. However, the falling asleep while scrolling tactic seldom works, as the mixture of light exposure and dopamine hits can ultimately worsen insomnia.

Poor Immune Functioning

The impact of social media on the immune system is a cumulative effect of the previously mentioned physical effects.

With less sleep, chronic neck, and back pain, and higher C-reactive protein levels predicting potential serious illness, social media addicts may have weaker immune functions.

The immune system is a delicate network of organs, cells, and proteins, all of which can be weakened by increased stress and limited or poor sleep quality.

When immune systems are weak or function poorly, the individual is at higher risk for viruses and infections.

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Mental and Emotional Effects of Social Media Addiction

The negative effect that social media can have on its users typically includes mental and emotional harm.

The discussion has brought about the rise in “digital well-being” or “dopamine detoxes,” where users will detox themselves from social media to avoid dopamine spikes.

For social media addicts, the negative impact on their mental health is significant. Because taking breaks or spending less time on social networking sites is a struggle, addicts take the full brunt of the emotional harm social media can cause.

Memory Issues

Research from Princeton University shows that social media affects memories’ content, recollection, and capacity.

While many of us use social media to record and share our experiences, documenting your experience through social media can actually diminish your memory of the experience.

Posting about a special moment on social media affects our transactive memory, which is how our brain divides information and decides where it will be stored.

Because we only post the best details or proof of the event, we no longer retain and store the minor details of the experience.

Posting on social media is “externalizing” the event rather than the natural “internalizing” process, where the memory is placed in long-term memory storage.

Damage to Relationships

For many young adults that display excessive use of social media, their social media accounts can seem more important than real-life relationships.

Like substance use disorder, social media addiction can be incredibly isolating and cause the individual to neglect relationships with loved ones.

Social media addicts may struggle to maintain healthy relationships because of cyberbullying others online or withdrawing from real-life activities in favor of social media use due to FOMO (a.k.a. “Fear of Missing Out”).

Low Self-Esteem

Many social media addicts experience low self-esteem or general dissatisfaction about their body image, career, or lifestyle due to the “perfection” many users portray online.

The prevalence of photo editing apps and the careful curation of only the best parts of life can leave users feelings inadequate by comparison.

When addicts connect their self-worth to the amount of likes and comments their post gets, this can heavily distort the person’s view of themselves and lead to serious mental health problems like eating disorders, anxiety disorders, and depressive symptoms.

Depression and Anxiety

The overuse of social media and internet addiction has been linked to high levels of depression and anxiety, especially for younger age groups.

For addicts with social anxiety, spending most of their time online is a way to cope with their anxiety and avoid building social skills.

However, the self-isolation, lack of physical activity, and distortion of reality caused by social media addiction can worsen depression and anxiety considerably.

Sadly, in some cases, addicts may become so depressed or anxious that they have thoughts of self-harm or consider ending their lives.

How Does Social Media Affect Young People?

Social media addiction can affect anyone of any age. However, young people are more susceptible to how addicting these apps are than adults. The heightened risk is because adolescents’ brains and neural pathways are still developing.

Social media design can rewire minors’ still-developing brains, causing them to constantly seek immediate gratification, leading to obsessive, compulsive, and addictive behaviors.

Teens have a higher risk of overusing their smartphones and developing social media addiction due to their inclination towards impulsivity and needing to increase their social influence and affirm their group identity.

Keeping Your Child from Being Affected Social Media Addiction

For young people, having a mobile device and social media accounts is social currency and determines hierarchy. With how commonplace being on social media is these days, it’s no surprise that parents struggle to draw the line between screen time and controlling behavior online.

If you’re concerned that your child may develop a social media addiction, try talking with them about their social media usage openly and without judgment. Meet your child where they’re at and show them they can trust you with their feelings on social media.

By having open and caring conversations, you can determine if their social media usage is problematic to their health and how that can be addressed.

One of the best options for limiting your child’s social media use is using the time limits that come pre-installed on smartphones or using apps like KidsGuard or AppBlock to help your teen limit their time on social media.

Getting Help for Social Media Addiction

Social media addiction can be tricky to identify and even harder to treat. However, many options are available for treating and managing social media addiction.

Talk to a trusted loved one or your doctor about the best treatment options for you.

You can also try meeting other social media addicts in recovery through support groups like Internet and Technology Addicts Anonymous, which offers peer support and 12-step programs for those interested.

If you don’t know what to start, try using SAMHSA’s treatment locator or call 1-800-662-4357 (HELP). SAMHSA can put you in touch with local treatment centers, therapists, and other resources on social media addiction treatment options in your area.

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FAQ's About the Effects of Social Media Addiction

What are some negative effects of social media?

Negative effects of social media include:

  • Memory issues
  • Insomnia or sleep disorders
  • Neck and spine problems and pain
  • Lower immune system
  • Elevated risk of diabetes and heart conditions
  • Low self-esteem
  • Worsening of anxiety and depression
  • Damage to relationships or opportunities through work or school

How is social media addiction affecting teens?

Teens are especially vulnerable to how addicting social media is due to their still-developing brains, tendency towards impulsive behavior, and desire to gain social influence and establish a group identity.

Excessive use of social media can rewire teens’ brains to start compulsively seeking instant gratification, ultimately leading to obsessive, compulsive, and addictive behaviors.

What are some side effects of social media addiction?

Common signs of social media addiction to look out for include:

  • Basing self-worth off likes, comments, and shares on social media
  • Mindlessly scrolling for hours without realizing it
  • Becoming obsessed with the lives of online strangers
  • Spending excessive amounts of time on social media despite negative consequences
  • Feeling withdrawal symptoms when not using social media
  • Doing dangerous things for social media content
  • Believing online life is more important than real life
Kent S. Hoffman, D.O. is a founder of Addiction HelpReviewed by:Kent S. Hoffman, D.O.

Chief Medical Officer & Co-Founder

  • Fact-Checked
  • Editor

Kent S. Hoffman, D.O. has been an expert in addiction medicine for more than 15 years. In addition to managing a successful family medical practice, Dr. Hoffman is board certified in addiction medicine by the American Osteopathic Academy of Addiction Medicine (AOAAM). Dr. Hoffman has successfully treated hundreds of patients battling addiction. Dr. Hoffman is the Co-Founder and Chief Medical Officer of and ensures the website’s medical content and messaging quality.

Jessica Miller is the Content Manager of Addiction HelpWritten by:

Editorial Director

Jessica Miller is the Editorial Director of Addiction Help. Jessica graduated from the University of South Florida (USF) with an English degree and combines her writing expertise and passion for helping others to deliver reliable information to those impacted by addiction. Informed by her personal journey to recovery and support of loved ones in sobriety, Jessica's empathetic and authentic approach resonates deeply with the Addiction Help community.

  1. Addiction to Social Media: Main Causes and Symptoms. Iberdrola Corporativa. (n.d.).
  2. Perrin, A. (2021, March 26). About Three-In-Ten U.S. Adults Say They are “Almost Constantly” Online. Pew Research Center.
  3. Reed, P., Vile, R., Osborne, L. A., Romano, M., & Truzoli, R. (2015, August 5). Problematic Internet Usage and Immune Function. PloS One.
  4. Riehm, K. E., Feder, K. A., & Tormohlen, K. N. (2019, December 1). Associations Between Social Media Time and Internalizing and Externalizing Problems Among US Youth. JAMA Psychiatry.
  5. Stevens, M. (2022, January 3). Effects of Social Media Addiction. Journal of Addiction Research & Therapy.
  6. Tamira, D. I., Templeton, E. M., Ward, A. F., & Zaki, J. (2018). Media Usage Diminishes Memory for Experiences. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.

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