5 biggest signs of social media addiction

Man looking down at phone in dark room
Social media addiction is becoming a serious condition, particularly for younger people spending significant portions of their time on social media platforms. Like any other addiction, certain signs and symptoms can indicate the formation of severe addiction. It’s helpful to identify addiction as quickly as possible, and typically some signs can help identify an addiction.

Is social media addiction real and are you addicted?

Social media addiction is not yet considered a disorder by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V), published by the American Psychiatric Association. Nevertheless, numerous clinical phycologists and researchers are advocating for social media addiction to be included. These phycologists see more and more young people with signs of social media addiction linked to excessive social media usage.

However, addiction to social media is rapidly increasing at an alarming rate. In particular, young people seem to be more susceptible, and now scientific evidence has shown that social media has detrimental impacts on students academic outcomes. Moreover, social media is now one of the most concerning health concerns for young people worldwide. As more countries get access to social media platforms, we will only see this problem increase.

Graph showing the percentage of young people who are addicted to social media in different countries around the world

The 5 signs you are addicted to social media

1. Feeling anxious when not using social media

If the notion of spending a few hours a day away from social media causes you anxiety, there’s a very high chance you suffer from social media addiction. A study conducted on more than 500 18-22-year-old adults in the US revealed that more time spent using social media was significantly associated with anxiety symptoms.

2. Fear of missing out (FOMO)

One of the biggest problems with sites like Facebook and Instagram is that they seem to show that others have more fun or live better lives than you. It’s important to understand that influencers only show the best parts of their lives. In most cases, many of these seemingly candid moments are staged and presented in a certain way. These influencers do not show the boring, mundane or sad parts of their lives.

Even knowing that most social media posts are fake can still make you feel like you’re missing out and can impact your self-esteem. A study aimed explicitly at measuring FOMO amongst 143 undergraduate social media users found that a 4-week reduction in social media usage led to a significant decline in fear of missing out and anxiety. The study also found that people who experience more FOMO are more likely to check their social media within 15 minutes of trying to sleep, significantly contributing to sleep issues.

3. Difficulty sleeping

Looking at a phone or tablet before bed can harm your sleep pattern. You are bombarded with endless stimulation, which signals your brain to stay awake. The type of content you happen to see before you sleep can have a significant impact. For example, passively scrolling through peaceful photos will not affect your sleep as much as an active debate about global politics on a messaging platform. 

The link between social media usage and insomnia was studied in a now-famous study across 855 participants of all ages and gender. The critical points of the study are highlighted below.

4. Lack of focus

New social media platforms are focusing heavily on short-form media. Starting with Twitter which restricts the number of characters per post. Vine and TikTok followed Twitter by promoting short-form high-intensity video clips.

Similarly, Snapchat provided extra incentives for its users from 2016 onwards to use it more intensively. For example, Snapchat launched “Snapstreaks,” which indicate the number of consecutive days users exchanged photos with particular friends. The new feature may have made social media even more attractive to adolescents and made them harder to resist. These changes may tax adolescents’ self-control more heavily, in turn increasing ADHD symptoms.

By focusing on short-form media, these platforms are starting to impact the attention span of heavy social media users. You may notice yourself not being able to keep your focus on videos that are longer than a few seconds.

5. Phantom notifications

If you felt or heard your phone ring in your pocket and later realised it wasn’t ringing once you check, then you be suffering from a new phenomenon called phantom notifications.

Imagine carrying your phone in your pocket for more than 10 years. Not having it there anymore will feel like you’re missing a limb, since your mind becomes programmed to answer to the stimulus.

David Brudo, founder of Swedish mental health and well-being app Rement Tweet

The phenomenon has been researched extensively in a study conducted on 766 students. These students completed a survey to gauge their level of dependence on their smartphones. Researchers also asked the students about their smartphone usage and the amount of “phantom vibrations” they experienced. Researchers concluded that phantom notifications are a huge indicator of addiction.


With social media addiction rapidly becoming a significant problem, it’s important to identify the signs of addiction if you suspect you are addicted. If you suffer from the 5 signs listed above, it likely that you could be an addict. There are a few easy and simple steps you can take to overcome your addiction. Social media is designed to keep you addicted. The business model of the tech giants that operate these platforms rely on addicted users. It’s up to you to identify and prevent your addiction from getting worse.


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