According to a Pew 2015 smartphone report, 93 percent of adults aged 18 to 29 admit to using their smartphone to avoid boredom. 47 percent of smartphone users say they use their smartphones to avoid talking to people around them. Lastly, 46 percent of smartphone users say they could not live without their smartphone. What does this mean for phone users? Does every person with a smartphone run the risk of becoming addicted to their device? Shockingly or not, the answer can be summed up as “no”.

One person’s Twitter is another person’s addiction

Journalist Sarah Kessler’s experience with social media therapy was quite eye opening. With an explosion of “social media sickness” news and talk of how many of us are addicted to our phones, this study brought us back to the point that we are all people who love interaction and social media just happens to be a form of that. The article It shows that while most of us understand that social media has independently invaded almost every aspect of our daily lives, just like any other addiction it really depends on the individual.

Sure, everyone could benefit from distancing themselves from social media from time to time, but because of work many of us depend on these forums in order to complete our daily tasks. Just because someone is checking social media for work, does not equate to addiction. Comparable to other studies done on the subject of television and video game addiction the results vary largely from one person to another. Now, someone who misses work, loses sleep, and destroys relationships because of one medium or another is a completely different story. Using the word “addiction” for someone who checks their phone multiple times in a day is not a fair assessment.  As the old adage goes, “everything is fine in moderation” for most folks.

Sarah’s social media addiction therapist suggested that social media interaction is just another piece of a whole person. Just the same as someone mentioning a conversation that bothered them to their therapist, patients are now mentioning issues that have occurred on one social media platform or another – “he liked her picture and that bothered me” or “I wasn’t invited to their facebook event”. This doesn’t necessarily mean that someone affected by these social media behaviors is addicted. Additional analysis would be needed to determine if someone can in fact separate themselves, their thoughts and feelings, from social media. In the examples above, as a general statement, those not affected by addiction should be able to relate to that person outside of social media in “real world” context and say “he liked her picture because I know that they are friends” or “maybe they forgot to invite me to their facebook event”. This goes without saying, many people are unable to make these types of connections even before social media is introduced into their lives.

Addiction is a serious mental illness

For some, social media can absolutely instigate a form of interaction and behavior that is disembodied from their normal social selves. Generalizing that all social media creates bad habits and negative thinking is not accurate and has not been proven. Of course, as with any other type of interaction, people choose to act in positive or negative ways. This may be influenced by the comments or reactions of others within an individual’s social media family, but unsavory behavior for some does not translate to the same type of behavior for all.

None of this is to say that social media addiction is not real, because it is. The thing to understand is that in many cases of addiction other mental illnesses are present that perpetuate one form of addiction or another. Facebook does not cause addiction, mental illness causes addiction. Just as some are able to have one or two drinks in an evening and others must drink more because of their illness. Although it is unjust to compare true substance abuse to television or media, the basic concept is the same. Many things in life can be habit forming.

Overconsumption, obsession, consequences, and withdrawal are signs of a true addiction. Everyone browses the web now and then, but someone who has little time in the day for any other activities may have a problem. If social media is a constant topic of discussion with others and a need to be on social media envelops a person’s thoughts they might need help. A huge sign of dependency for any addict includes loss of relationships, loss of interest in other hobbies and work, and loss of care that their addiction is ruining their life. Finally, when the person is absent from their addiction they will show signs of withdrawal – irritability, expressing a “need” for the addiction, etc.

A smartphone in the hand of any person does not mean that addiction is imminent. Many other factors work cohesively in order to put together the puzzle that is our mental health. Setting boundaries with any activity is a healthy practice for any person that wants to discourage unhealthy habits from forming.

Featured photo credit: Pabak Sarkar/Flickr via

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