A pandemic, by the dictionary definition, is an illness that is prevalent across the world. Right now, we are living through COVID-19—a pandemic of physiological illness. But physiological illnesses aren’t the only illnesses to exist. Addictions and mental disorders are just a few illnesses that don’t fall under the physiological category. Nicotine and alcohol addictions are some of the most discussed mental illnesses, but numerous studies show social media can also be considered addictive.
UWG student AnnaGrace Henson studies the negative effects of social media and how it can become addictive.
“We are living in a social media pandemic,” said Henson. “When we hear of people having drug addictions, it is considered a serious issue. We think ‘wow, we need to get these people the help they need.’ But no one is ever talking about the social media addiction we all suffer with.”
An article by Yalin Sun and Yan Zhang, which was published in the international journal Addictive Behaviors, says that as social media usage increases, the amount of people addicted to social media also increases. Social media addiction comes with many problems including reduced productivity, unhealthy social relationships and reduced life satisfaction. As part of a generation that has grown up their entire lives with smartphones and social media, Henson stresses how important it is to realize that technology can lead to addiction.
“Every time we get a notification on our phone, we get a shot of dopamine sent to our brain—the same chemical that is released when using many types of drugs,” said Henson. “I find it hard sometimes to have conversations with friends without them checking their phones, and I am guilty of this too.”
Another study conducted by Singh, Dixit and Joshi, which was published as part of the Elsevier Public Health Emergency Collection, shows there is a correlation between COVID-19 and increasing social media usage. However, it is yet to be proven if the increase was just a coping mechanism or an addictive behavior arising out of the COVID-19 pandemic. Nonetheless, increased usage causes an increased probability of addiction and other negative consequences.
“During quarantine, I noticed my hours increased tremendously and that scared me,” said Henson. “On an average day, I get up to five hours of screen time, which to me is way too many. I know friends that get up to seven or eight hours a day.”
With these issues in mind, it is important for individuals to consider how much time they are spending on their phones. Just being mindful of how much time we are on our phones can help us to create better habits. After all, the world is much more than a digital screen.
“The world would be in such a better state if we didn’t have social media constantly infiltrating our lives,” said Henson. “People would be more genuine, more socially involved and there would be a decrease in mental health reports. Our lives would be so different if it never existed.”