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How to break social media addiction

how to break a social media addiction

At least 10% of people have a social media addiction, although the real number is likely much larger. Social media has become a part of our daily lives and impacts us in both positive and negative ways. If you are struggling with spending too much time on social media or are addicted to it, this article can help.

Why is social media addictive?

Social media is addicting because of how quickly it releases dopamine. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter—a messenger in the brain—that communicates pleasure. It’s the “feel good” chemical. When you experience pleasure, your brain is being doused in dopamine. 

Dopamine is also the base of many behavioral addictions. A behavioral addiction results in similar behavior, thinking patterns, and emotions as drug addictions, but the person isn’t addicted to the substance, they’re addicted to the feeling of engaging in their addicted behavior. 

For example, when you become addicted to alcohol, your body starts to crave the chemical makeup of alcohol. There is no digestible substance in behaviors like using social media, but your brain can still get hooked on the feeling of it.

Social media is a particularly high-dopamine activity. Every time you swipe, like a photo, or scroll comments your brain releases quick spurts of dopamine. It’s engaging, colorful, lively, and emotional. It connects you with people, engages your hobbies, and twists your heart. All of this works together to create a landmine of addictions. 

Social media is addictive because it’s easy pleasure. You don’t have to work for it like you do other sources of dopamine. You can open your phone and scroll. 

Once your brain is accustomed to this quick fix dopamine, it will crave it more and more. The slower forms of dopamine—engaging in a hobby, exercising, completing a task—become less and less engaging. Your brain wants more and it knows the easiest way to get more is through your phone. 

This need is where an addiction starts. 

Signs you’re addicted to social media

Social media addiction is not one officially in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for therapists, meaning there’s no well-defined list of symptoms like there is for other addictions. However, some signs you have a social media addiction are:

  • You reach for your phone first thing in the morning. 
  • You scroll social media instead of working or studying. 
  • Even when you’re not using social media, you’re thinking about it. 
  • You have trouble focusing on anything that isn’t social media. 
  • When you are forced not to use social media, you feel restless or anxious. 
  • You feel irritable whenever someone accidentally or intentionally interferes with your social media usage. 
  • You ignore others in your physical presence for your phone. 
  • You turn to your phone whenever you’re experiencing distressing emotions like sadness, loneliness, anxiety, anger, or fear. 
  • You have trouble doing mundane or boring tasks without the help of social media. (Example: You can’t eat a meal, take a shower, or clean without having social media up.)

Addictions exist on a spectrum, and just because you exhibit some of these behaviors does not mean you have an addiction. However, as social media becomes more and more prevalent, it’s becoming increasingly common to be addicted to your phone, especially social media.

Is Social Media Bad for Your Health?

You’ve heard the discussion before: Social media is bad for your mental health. No, some argue, It’s a way to connect with others. It helps with loneliness. It engages with your online community. 

Which one is it?

Well, both can be true. 

First, some positives about social media:

  • Maintain friendships
  • Foster positive community
  • Provide connection with others who share identities, abilities, and interests. 
  • Provide access to important information or diverse ideas
  • Create a space for self-expression

In fact, one study found that the majority of adolescents feel more accepted on social media (58%), feel supported when they go through hard times (67%), and have a place to show their creative side (71%). 

However, the study notes that an important factor in this was how social media was being used. Time was an important factor: 

“. . . adolescents who spent more than 3 hours per day on social media faced double the risk of experiencing poor mental health outcomes including symptoms of depression and anxiety.”

And the study found that by deactivating social media, participants increased self-reported happiness and life satisfaction and decreased self-reported depression and anxiety. 

So, in summary, social media can lead to: 

  • Lower happiness 
  • Lower life satisfaction 
  • Higher rates of depression 
  • Higher rates of anxiety 
  • Less quality sleep 
  • Lower self-esteem 
  • Difficulty focusing 

A Social Media Addiction is not officially in the DSM, the handbook for diagnostic criteria that therapists use.

How to stop being addicted to social media

A social media addiction acts and feels like a real addiction. Although it’s not a substance you’re addicted to, your brain still craves the dopamine quickly released while scrolling social media. It’s going to take time, effort, and probably a few setbacks to break free from a social media addiction. 

Here are some steps you can take to stop your social media addiction:

Delete your apps

This is the simplest method to break free from a social media addiction. You’ll still have access to your accounts from a laptop or computer (and even your phone’s internet browser), so you can still stay up-to-date with your friends and family. However, removing the apps makes it more difficult to engage in social media, as the mobile apps are designed in a way to streamline your experience and make it easier (and more addicting) to use.

Block apps for a certain period of time.

A lot of social media apps will have a timer feature that will kick you off it after a certain amount of time. Iphones also have the capability to block apps. However, these are usually easily bypassed. Some apps have come out that make it more difficult for you to access your apps after blocking them by instating a 30-second waiting period before changes can be made or giving you only a set number of bypasses per day. These apps include:

  • Opal: Set work times and choose which apps you block. Has a social component so you can encourage your friends, too. Available for Android and IOS systems. 
  • Engross: Available for Android and IOS systems. Uses a Pomodoro style timer, so you’ll have more frequent access to apps built into a pre scheduled work time. 
  • Flipd: Join a community of people trying to get off social media and compare your productivity and work times. 
  • Stay Focused: One of the most popular productivity and social media blocking apps for Android phones. 
  • Freedom: Works across all browsers so you can control access to social media for your phone, tablet, and computer all at once. Available for android and IOS systems.  

Blocking apps works because you’re still able to use social media during your off-times, to relax, connect with friends, and be involved in your community. But it won’t cut into your productivity time. 

Many people also find success in blocking social media in the morning, and then allowing unlimited access during the evenings. As you wake up, your brain goes through 4 different brain wave stages. However, when you check social media as soon as you wake up, you skip the middle two stages, going straight to an alert and aware stage. This primes you for stress later on in the day.

Keep your phone in a different room

Did you know that even the presence of a smartphone can decrease cognitive functioning? That’s right, even if you resist the urge to check your phone, sitting next to you during a meal or at work, you’ll be less creative, responsive, and able to problem solve. 

A simple solution to this is to keep your phone in the other room. Have a charging station in the kitchen, for example, and keep your phone there unless you need it. This will not only help you concentrate but require you to get up and walk to a different room if you want to check your phone. This requires a mental (and physical) step that prevents us from reaching for our phones unconsciously.

Have Social Media Specific Hours

We understand it’s unrealistic for everyone to completely withdraw from social media. Your friends are there! You find new activities, ideas, and hobbies there. It makes you laugh and feel less alone. Remember, there are positive effects of social media, too. But too often, we let social media control us instead of controlling social media ourselves. 

So, to reign in the pull social media has on our lives, thinking, and emotions, set aside specific time to engage with it. For example, one hour every evening, a slow Sunday breakfast, or during your lunch break at work. Outside of these times, set up blocks or delete the apps from your phone.


Engage in a new hobby

If you are like the typical social media user who spends 2 hours and 23 minutes a day on social media, you’re going to have a lot of free time to fill when you start cutting back. 

When you’re trying to quit a bad habit, it’s generally considered good practice to replace it with a good habit. For example, smokers will chew gum or people who pick at skin will get a fidget. It will be easier to replace your social media habit with a habit that takes a similar amount of effort. If you try replacing scrolling with learning a new language for the first time… you might get frustrated quickly and go back to social media. 

Here are some hobbies you can replace with social media:

  • Video Games: Wait… really? Yes, video games are a healthier alternative to social media. For one, it’s a form of long-term content, meaning you have to be focused for longer periods of time. (As opposed to social media, in which you’re only focusing for up to 2 minutes at a time, depending on the video.) Try to choose games that have either a social, puzzle, or creative outlet. Obviously, video game time should be watched too, but the switch from scrolling to video games can be an easier switch for many people. 
  • Read a book: This might be tricky when you’re first starting out, because reading requires much more attention and cognitive effort. Try reading with friends or joining a book club. Alternatively, you could listen to an audiobook while playing a game on your phone to get a similar feel of social media while engaging more of your brain. 
  • Go for a walk: Upping the difficulty, try to go for a short walk around the block. Often we reach for social media during our transitions. How often do you come home from work and immediately collapse onto the couch with your phone? We get it—you need time to decompress. But walking is one of the most natural ways to decompress, release stress, and transition your brain into a more relaxed state. 
  • Talk with a friend: If it’s the social aspect that draws you to social media, take that into the real world by calling or video chatting with a friend! Make a list of everyone you want to catch up with, and then assign them a day of the week. During the time you normally would spend on your phone, give them a call. 
  • Be creative: Pick up a new hobby that you’ve always wanted to try. Crocheting, drawing, photography, video editing, writing, a musical instrument, welding, woodworking, why not try something new?


Breaking your social media addiction won’t be easy. It is a real addiction, and your brain craves it. You might feel more tired, worn out, irritable, or sad while you’re quitting social media. Stay strong and give yourself grace if you slip up. 

If your social media addiction is getting in the way of your happiness, ability to function, or mental, physical, and social health, therapy can help. Just like therapy can be a powerful tool in addressing other addictions, counseling is effective in helping you break free from social media addiction. For more information, reach out to our licensed therapists.

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Frequently Asked Questions

A social media addiction refers to an excessive and compulsive use of social media platforms that interferes with an individual's daily life and well-being. It is characterized by a strong compulsion to constantly check and engage with social media, leading to negative consequences such as neglecting responsibilities, social isolation, and experiencing distress when unable to access social media. Like other addictive behaviors, social media addiction can be challenging to control and may impact one's mental health and relationships.

 Social media addictions can form due to various factors, including the following: 1) The addictive nature of social media platforms, designed to trigger reward circuits in the brain through likes, comments, and online interactions. 2) Escapism or using social media as a coping mechanism to avoid stress, loneliness, or other unpleasant emotions. 3) Fear of missing out (FOMO), the constant need to stay updated and connected to avoid feeling left out. 4) Using social media to seek validation or boost self-esteem. 5) Underlying mental health issues, such as anxiety or depression, that may be exacerbated by excessive social media use. Understanding these factors can help individuals gain insight into their own patterns of social media addiction.

If you have concerns about your social media use, it's essential to reflect on your behaviors and their impact on your life. While a formal diagnosis would need to come from a mental health professional, you may have a social media addiction if you experience the following signs: 1) Difficulty controlling the amount of time spent on social media. 2) Neglecting responsibilities, such as school, work, or personal relationships, due to excessive social media use. 3) Feeling preoccupied with social media even when not using it. 4) Experiencing withdrawal symptoms, such as irritability or anxiety when unable to access social media. 5) Needing to increase the time spent on social media to achieve the same level of satisfaction. If these symptoms resonate with you, it may be beneficial to seek further support and guidance from a mental health professional.

 Breaking a social media addiction requires commitment and self-awareness. Here are some strategies that can help: 1) Set specific goals and establish boundaries for social media use, such as designated time frames or limiting the number of platforms. 2) Find alternative activities or hobbies that provide enjoyment and fulfillment. 3) Practice mindful usage by being intentional with your social media interactions and avoiding mindless scrolling. 4) Utilize apps or tools that can help limit your time spent on social media. 5) Seek support from friends, family, or a support group to hold you accountable. Remember, breaking addiction takes time and effort, but it is possible.

Yes, therapy can be an effective treatment approach for addressing social media addictions. A therapist can provide support, guidance, and strategies to help individuals understand the underlying reasons for their addiction and develop healthier coping mechanisms. Therapy can also assist in exploring any underlying emotional or mental health issues that may contribute to excessive social media use. With the help of a therapist, individuals can work towards creating healthier habits, improving self-esteem, and finding alternative ways to meet their emotional needs.

At Lifebulb, we are dedicated to helping individuals live their brightest lives, which includes supporting them in overcoming challenges like social media addiction. Our experienced therapists are here to provide compassionate guidance and evidence-based strategies to help you regain control over your social media use and improve your overall well-being.

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