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Causes of Social Media Addiction & Illness

By University Staff

Causes of Social Media Addiction & Illness

Social media is part of our daily lives, but a dark side comes with it, including anxiety and depression as a result of FoMO, or fear of missing out. Let’s uncover more of the causes and effects of social media in our lives, which I see often as a licensed psychologist.

Causes of Social Media Depression and Anxiety

According to Nick Zagorski (2017), a writer for Psychiatric News, recent studies have shown that social media use is linked to feelings of social isolation, depression, insecurity, jealousy, and poor self-esteem. However, these findings beg the question: how do these negative feelings transpire from just perusing social media sites?

Here are some real examples of reasons you might feel worse by increased exposure to social media:

  • The illusion that others are more popular due to the number of “friends” or “followers” they have
  • Seeing pictures of a group of friends that you consider yourself to be close to but you weren’t invited to join them
  • Seeing pictures of happy people enjoying their lives, which creates sadness and jealousy because your life doesn’t seem as grand
  • Lack of “likes” to your post, resulting in feelings of disappointment and decreased self-esteem
  • Seeing a love interest with someone else may make you feel depressed and insecure
  • Political posts that you don’t agree with
  • Feeling like you can never keep up with what everyone else has
  • Being directly attacked about a message or picture you posted

Illness & Antisocial Behaviors Associated with Social Media

Social media is allowing mental illnesses to rise to new prevalence in the forms of narcissism, voyeurism, paranoia, and antisocial tendencies. FoMO could be the initial trigger to inappropriate behaviors that are posted in social media newsfeeds. Some love the shock factor and the more people react to their post, the more this behavior is reinforced.

Antisocial traits consist of bullying behavior, inability to be remorseful for wrongdoings, inability to show empathy, and a complete disregard for other people’s feelings (American Psychiatric Association, 2013). These antisocial traits are something that have shown themselves more on social media lately.

We have seen how individuals are showing antisocial traits. There have been a series of incidents on Facebook Live that depict horrible acts such as violence, self-mutilation, and death.

Social Media: Mental Illness or Addiction?

While you might say that FoMO is an element of obsessive-compulsive or anxiety disorder rather than addiction, typical addict behaviors do include a difficulty in controlling the use of a substance, and withdrawal from said substance can result in anxiety, cravings, and feeling uncomfortable or antsy without access to their substance of choice (Nauert, 2010). One part of being a social media addict is the inability to stop checking social media sites throughout the day. A study on college students showed that 45% admitted to social media use 6-8 hours a day (Wang, Chen, & Liang, 2011). So are we dealing with addiction or mental illness? I would say a little bit of both. The addiction causes the symptoms of mental illness.

In a study by Rosen and colleagues in 2013, the main question that the researchers wanted to answer was, “Is Facebook creating ‘iDisorders?’” In their study, they tested whether the use of technology-related anxieties would predict clinical symptoms of six personality disorders and three mood disorders. Having more Facebook friends predicted clinical symptoms of Bipolar Disorder, Narcissistic Personality Disorder, and Histrionic Personality Disorder. Also, an interesting find was that the anxiety of not being able to check Facebook is associated with antisocial and narcissistic traits.

Social media platforms, such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, have created a major shift in the way people communicate with others online. If you’ve had a social media account, since you first heard about it, then you can probably attest to the transformation of social media communication styles over the years. It’s not the same as it once was.

A few different ways that individuals create negative outcomes within social media include:

  • Communicating thoughts and emotions across the board without much thought of consequence
  • Saying things that they wouldn’t normally say to anyone face-to-face, such as bullying and body-shaming behavior
  • Posting the amazing things going on in their lives, when truly they are hiding behind emotional pain
  • Sharing political and religious views that may be offensive to others
  • Giving way too much personal information for all eyes to see when the information should be intended for one close friend or trusted family member
  • Posting pictures of delicious meals everywhere they eat – we call these people “foodies”
  • Narcissistic behavior as evidenced by the “selfie”

Now you may be wondering if you are a social media addict. There are several social media addiction quizzes online, but I found one that seemed rather reputable.

Dr. James Roberts (2015) from Baylor University developed six specific features (salience, tolerance, euphoria, withdrawal, relapse, and conflict) and corresponding questions that identify social media addiction. Take the quiz to understand where your FoMO falls.

We all use social media, and it’s a helpful communication tool. The key is to find a healthy balance that empowers you, not takes away from you.



Written by Dr. Sonja Bethune, PsyD, Core Faculty in the Division of General Education.


American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Washington, DC: Author.

Are You Addicted To Social Media? Expert Offers Six Questions to Ask Yourself. (2016). Media Communications | Baylor University. Retrieved 22 August 2017, from

Facebook Newsroom. (2017). Stats. Retrieved from

Nauert, R. (2010, April 23). College students ‘addicted’ to social media, Study finds. Live Science. Retrieved from

Pew Research Center. (2017, January 12). Social media fact sheet. Retrieved from

Rosen, L., Whaling, K., Rab, S., Carrier, L., & Cheever, N. (2013). Is Facebook creating ‘iDisorders’? The link between clinical symptoms of psychiatric disorders and technology use, attitudes and anxiety. Computers in Human Behavior, 29(3), 1243-1254.

Roberts, J. A. (2015). Too much of a good thing: Are you addicted to your smartphone?. Austin, TX: Sentia Publishing.

Tarsha, A. A. (2016). The role of existential therapy in the prevention of social media-driven anxiety. Existential Analysis, 27(2), 382-388.

Wang, Q., Chen, W., & Liang, Y. (2011). The effects of social media on college students. Johnson & Wales University, Providence, RI.

Zagorski, N. (2017, January 17). Using many social media platforms linked with depression, anxiety risk. Psychiatric News. Retrieved from

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