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Social Media Addiction Treatment

It has become evident that a major public health concern is the effects of excessive social media use.

Triggered by their engagement on social media, teenagers and young adults often mention feelings of:

  • Isolation
  • Sadness
  • Nervousness

In many cases, the following factors play into these feelings:

  • Seeing others have fun on social media without them
  • Feeling worried about something they have posted
  • Feeling self-conscious about their bodies
  • Being cyberbullied

The topic of social media has been widely discussed in the world; however, the focus of the discussion has always been on the advantages of using social media to connect with others. Only recently has the conversation switched to a focus on its potential adverse effects on mental health.

What is Social Media Addiction?

Social media addiction is characterized by a person who is overly concerned about social media, has an uncontrollable urge to use social media, and devotes a significant amount of time and effort to using social media platforms in ways that impair important areas and responsibilities of their life.3

What are the Detrimental Effects of Social Media Addiction?

In 2020, it was reported that over 223 million Americans (70%) were using social media.12 Research has shown a direct link between social media use and mental health disorders (anxiety, depression, eating disorders, etc).2, 4, 10 Of all the social media sites (Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, Snapchat, and Twitter), Instagram has been shown to have the most detrimental effects on people’s well-being, followed by Snapchat.11

Research shows that social media use becomes detrimental to mental health the more that it is being used. For example, people who spend 5 hours on social media a day are 2.8 times more likely to become depressed within six months than a person who uses social media less than 2 hours per day.9

Research has also shown that more time spent on social networking sites has a detrimental effect on:

  • Body image concerns
  • Eating
  • Anxiety
  • Socialization
  • Self-objectification
  • Negative mood2, 6, 14

In addition to time spent on social media, it appears people who use 7 out of 11 platforms are more likely to display higher levels of depressive symptoms than people who use only 0-2 platforms.10

Social Media Addiction and Depression

The way a person engages with a social media app can also have negative effects on a person’s mental health condition. Interestingly, symptoms of depression are more significant among users who use social media in a passive way (such as viewing other people’s posts) versus an active way (such as posting a picture).7

This can be due to the negative thoughts and feelings associated with looking at and comparing themselves to celebrities, people in fitness, classmates/friends, and higher socioeconomic users.2 Though depressive symptoms are higher in those who passively use social media, it is also present in individuals who manage their profiles and images on Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, etc.8

Social Media Addiction and Anxiety

Anxiety has a significant role in social media use and can be exacerbated when you develop an addiction. Socially anxious individuals will use social media more frequently to regulate their social fears and compensate for the lack of social support experienced in the real world.15 For example, teens who experience a fear of loss with their friends will go on social media often to ensure they are responding to and checking all of their friends’ messages regularly.5

However, excessive time spent on social media takes away time from forming meaningful relationships in person or face-to-face, achieving personal goals, and having time to oneself without all the pressures involved in social media.9 While individuals seek communities to combat loneliness and social isolation, they may find communities that can be detrimental to their recovery from an eating disorder.12

The Link Between Social Media Addiction, Body-Image Issues, and Eating Disorders

Multiple studies have also shown a correlation between social media use and negative body image, specifically with using Instagram. For example, young women who follow Instagram accounts that are appearance-focused or fitness-inspired often have an increase of negative feelings towards their body (thin-ideal internalization, body surveillance, drive for thinness, self-objectivation, and body image concerns).1, 2 Research shows that individuals post images online that make themselves appear thinner and “more attractive,” which leads to unrealistic expectations of their appearance, even to themselves.12

Due to the ability to like and comment on pictures on social media, people who desire and need validation/praise are more likely to use social media to gain that validation. Teens will not only alter their appearance for gratification but engage in risky social media challenges and negative behaviors to feel more socially relevant and included.4

From clinical experience, we have noticed that clients tend to fall into a cycle with their Instagram use and experience heightened anxiety. For example, they will see pictures of others on social media, compare themselves to the pictures, experience negative self-thoughts/decrease in self-esteem, edit/alter their own pictures, and post altered versions of these pictures to receive validation and gratification. However, their sense of gratification is momentary and typically diminishes when the client sees another picture or post from someone they admire. This can lead them to fall into the cycle of feeling bad about themselves again.

Treatment for Social Media Addiction in Manhattan, New York City

At Fifth Avenue Psychiatry, our doctors work with teens and adults who experience many different types of addiction problems (e.g., alcohol, opioid, marijuana, and gaming), social media use being the newest form of addiction we’re treating for teens and young adults.

At our practice, we look at the underlying causes and triggers of their use (e.g., social anxiety, body consciousness, depression, need for validation) and help them find other outlets to meet their needs in a healthier way.

Schedule an appointment with us today.


Social media addiction is typically the result of an individual’s need for social influence and reaffirming their place among their peers, a group identity. When their self-worth comes from the approval of others, social media can become an addicting activity with each online interaction, “like,” and compliment they receive.

The creators behind these apps design it to be cognitively addictive. Every time a positive interaction occurs, such as receiving a like or gaining a new follower, the brain releases dopamine. Over time, reward pathways develop that make you crave these positive social media interactions, which is why withdrawal symptoms are possible with social media addiction.

Research has shown differing results regarding whether males or females are more addicted to social media. According to one study, males have a higher average daily social media usage than females. Another study points to females being more prone to social media addiction itself.

Young adults ages 18 to 22 account for 40% of Americans addicted to social media. Teenagers are also highly prone to internet and social media addiction, spending an average of 7 hours and 22 minutes per day online.

Based on expert advice, spending over three hours a day on social media is considered unhealthy and “heavy use,” indicating a potential addiction.

Aside from excessive time spent on social media, other signs of addiction include:

  • Inability to stop using social media
  • Depression
  • Decreased sleep
  • Poor academic performance
  • Relationship problems
  • Spending the majority of the day online
  • A compulsion to check social media
  • Boredom when not on social media
  • Decreased physical activity
  • Developing an overall internet addiction
  • Disrupted sleep patterns
  • Emotional instability
  • Emotional withdrawal
  • Loneliness
  • Using social media in secret
  • Cyberbullying
  • Loss of interest in former hobbies
  • Social anxiety and embarrassment
  • Posting constantly


  1. Cohen, R., Newton-John, T, & Slater, A. (2017). The relationship between Facebook and Instagram appearance-focused activities and body image concerns in young women. Body Image, 23, 183–187. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.bodyim.2017.10.002
  2. Fardouly, J., Willburger, B., & Vartanian, L. (2018). Instagram use and young women’s body image concerns and self-objectification: Testing meditational pathways. New Media & Society, 20, 1380–1395. https://doi.org/10.1177%2F1461444817694499
  3. Hilliard, J. (2021, August 30). Social Media Addiction. Addiction Center. https://www.addictioncenter.com/drugs/social-media-addiction/
  4. Hurley, K. (2020, November 16). Social media and teens: how does social media affect teenagers’ mental health. Psycom. https://www.psycom.net/social-media-teen-mental-health
  5. Karim, F., Oyewande, A. A., Abdalla, L. F., Chaudhry Ehsanullah, R., & Khan, S. (2020). Social Media Use and Its Connection to Mental Health: A Systematic Review. Cureus12(6), e8627. https://doi.org/10.7759/cureus.8627
  6. Keyte, R., Mullis, L., Egan, H. Hussain, M., Cook, A., & Mantzios, M. (2021). Self-compassion and instagram use is explained by the relation to anxiety, depression, and stress. Journal of technology in behavioral science, 6, 436-441. https://doi.org/10.1007/s41347-020-00186-z
  7. Odgers, C.L., & Jensen, M.R. (2020). Annual Research Review: Adolescent mental health in the digital age: facts, fears, and future directions. Journal of child psychology and psychiatry, and allied disciplines, 61 (3), 336-348. https://doi.org/10.1111/jcpp.13190
  8. O’Reilly, M., Dogra, N., Hughes, J., Reilly, P., George, R., & Whiteman, N. (2019). Potential of social media in promoting mental health in adolescents. Health promotion international34(5), 981–991. https://doi.org/10.1093/heapro/day056
  9. Primack, B., Shensa, A., Sidani, J., Escobar-Viera, C., & Fine, M. (2020). Temporal associations between social media use and depression. American Journal of Preventative Medicine, 60(2), 179-188. doi: 10.1016/j.amepre.2020.09.014.
  10. Primack, B. A., Shensa, A., Sidani, J. E., Whaite, E. O., Lin, L. Y., Rosen, D., Colditz, J. B., Radovic, A., & Miller, E. (2017). Social Media Use and Perceived Social Isolation Among Young Adults in the U.S. American journal of preventive medicine53(1), 1–8. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.amepre.2017.01.010
  11. Royal Society for Public Health. (2017, May). Status of mind: social media and young people’s mental health and wellbeing. RSPH. https://www.rsph.org.uk/our-work/campaigns/status-of-mind.html
  12. Sidani, J. E., Shensa, A., Hoffman, B., Hanmer, J., & Primack, B. A. (2016). The Association between Social Media Use and Eating Concerns among US Young Adults. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics116(9), 1465–1472. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jand.2016.03.021
  13. Statista Research Department. (2021, June 15). Social media usage in the United States – Statistics & Facts. https://www.statista.com/topics/3196/social-media-usage-in-the-united-states/
  14. Vannucci, A., Flannery, K. M., & Ohannessian, C. M. (2017). Social media use and anxiety in emerging adults. Journal of affective disorders207, 163–166. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jad.2016.08.040
  15. Weidman, A. C., Fernandez, K. C., Levinson, C. A., Augustine, A. A., Larsen, R. J., & Rodebaugh, T. L. (2012). Compensatory internet use among individuals higher in social anxiety and its implications for well-being. Personality and individual differences53(3), 191–195. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.paid.2012.03.003