Social media addiction: Why it's a growing problem and what to do about it

Technology and social media can certainly be helpful and even enjoyable, but only to a certain degree.

We spoke with a mental health expert from Menninger Clinic about what to do when it starts to take over yours or your loved one’s lives.

"Like any addiction, when we find ourselves losing control of something, whether that's a cell phone or engaging in social media activities or too much time on Reddit, or the internet, or surfing or whatever, it can absolutely rule our lives and make it tough for us to manage our day-to-day obligations," states Dr. John O’Neill, Director of Clinical Services with the Menninger Clinic.

He says the problem has definitely gotten worse during the pandemic.

"Without a doubt, the last year has obviously been unprecedented! We've all said that a thousand times, but the last year has been about how do we find connections and someplace in the world where we feel secure and safe. I've been a therapist for thirty years and it's been a rough year, so I don't blame people for reaching out and using social media," says Dr. O’Neill.

MORE: Mental health-related ER visits among children, teens increase during COVID-19 pandemic 

That being said, he wants to make sure we all understand that there’s a point when social media can make you feel more distant from your loved ones, who might be under the same roof. That’s why he encourages everyone to not push away loved ones because of a device.

"Some of that is related to how we feel about ourselves, our self-esteem, it's related to how confident we are. It can be related to depression, anxiety. For so many people it's about coping, and if you don't find ways to cope in your everyday life, you might find comfort in getting on to a social media application or making comments online or whatever it is. So without a doubt, there are certain traits that people have that relate to being more prone to have problems with technology," says Dr. O’Neill.

Here’s how you can tell if it’s gone too far.

"Whenever we can't stop something, when it becomes compulsive, and we find ourselves needing it so much, to the point where we can't put it down, where we can't delay. We are going down a path of addictive behaviors," explains Dr. O’Neill.


If this involves a loved one you’re concerned about, trying to turn around the situation can start with a careful conversation.

"Don't accuse them of anything, don't blame them, because when we start to develop addictive behaviors, we become very defensive. We take steps back and we defend ourselves against any attacks that could take away our precious technology.  Take it from a non-defensive or non-aggressive approach, don't tell them you need to change, you need to do this. Express your thoughts, your concerns, your worries and say I've noticed, and then ask them, have you thought about ways that you could maybe take a step back or limit it a little bit," encourages Dr. O’Neill.     

Technology overload can affect more than your mental health. Studies show cortisol levels rise when many people just receive a notification on their phone, and that stress hormone is not what you want elevated. It can lead to a rise in blood pressure, heart rate, and anxiety. Doctors say all of that may increase aging. As always, moderation is the key to good physical and mental health. Dr. O'Neill says this is one addiction that can typically be treated at home and again, the first way to start that is with a respectful conversation.