While social media can be a tool for connection, it can also be a challenge in addiction recovery.
Most people use social media as their primary source of information, news, and interaction with others. However, social media and addiction recovery are not always a good combination, and social media consumption can significantly impact your recovery.
How Social Media Affects Recovery
Social media and addiction are deeply interlinked, and some researchers are investigating social media addiction itself. Social media addiction can present as a compulsive need to check your social media accounts, grow a following, or constantly update yourself on the latest feeds.
There’s a stunning overlap between the way social media apps and other addictive substances stimulate the brain.
Social media and addiction can fuel each other. One study focused on young adults found a significant correlation between substance use and social media. This study noted that spending more time on social media every day increased substance use in young adults, particularly women.
But why, exactly, is this the case?
Social Media Contributes to Loneliness
Several studies have found that frequent social media use can increase loneliness. Despite the surface-level appeal of social media as a platform to connect with others and spend more time socializing, the reality is that it can make people feel estranged, sad, and isolated.
One of the ways that people deal with loneliness is by trying to fill the void with alcohol and other substances. Drinking or using drugs while feeling lonely can quickly turn into a dependency that leads to substance use disorder.
Social Media Can Trigger Depression, Anxiety, and Distress
Similar studies have also found a link between social media use and depression, anxiety, and distress. While we need further research to determine the exact mechanism, researchers have found that heavy social media users are more likely to meet the criteria for various mental illnesses.
Some researchers believe this is due to a decreased amount of sleep, an increase in sedentary behavior, or simply feeling overwhelmed by the need to keep up with multiple social media accounts.
People who experience mental illness such as depression or anxiety are at higher risk of developing a substance use disorder. They will often turn to alcohol or drug use to self-medicate. While this strategy may work for a short time, ultimately, substance use makes these problems worse in the long term.
How Social Media Affects Recovery
So, how does social media impact someone who is already in recovery? Can social media and addiction recovery have similar negative outcomes, or is there a potential for social media to be a positive outlet for people to gather support for their abstinence?
First, we need to take a closer look at what recovery is and examine how social media can affect recovery outcomes.
What Is Recovery?
To understand social media’s effects on addiction recovery, we must first define “recovery.” Recovery is about more than mere abstinence and extends far beyond treatment alone.
While the definition of recovery may differ for different people, there are a few key aspects that many people identify as part of their own recovery.
Improved Bandwidth for Responsibilities
People with substance use disorders often struggle to maintain their obligations and may find themselves unable to manage a career, academics, parenting responsibilities, and other commitments.
In early recovery, many people start to step back into their responsibilities or take on new healthy obligations with boundaries. This improved bandwidth for responsibilities will look different for everyone. In general, consistently showing up for ourselves and others is crucial for our emotional, physical, and spiritual health in recovery.
Addiction is destructive and creates a lot of collateral damage that can cause serious harm to our relationships. Someone in active addiction may lash out in ways they never would while sober, which can create a lot of hurt and broken trust between friends and family.
Repairing relationships is an integral step in the recovery process because it centers accountability and community.
Personal growth extends far beyond mere abstinence. It’s about becoming a better person and being more honest, less selfish, and more active in your family or community. These traits often fall to the wayside for someone in the throes of a substance use disorder. A growth mindset leaves room for improvement and helps us approach recovery sustainably.
It’s no surprise that self-help groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous and SMART Recovery emphasize personal growth as a part of their treatment programs. Learning to flourish in your recovery helps you maintain your abstinence for the long term.
The Negative Impacts of Social Media and Addiction Recovery
Recovery is a process that prioritizes physical, emotional, and spiritual health. With this definition, we can recognize anything that poses a barrier to these priorities as a challenge to recovery.
Of course, some healthy stressors can also act as challenges to recovery – the goal isn’t to avoid stress entirely. Instead, it’s essential to evaluate your relationship with stressors and make mindful choices about exposure.
With that in mind, several negative effects can impact people in recovery who use social media. Everyone in recovery who uses social media is still at risk for:
- An increased likelihood of depression
- Feelings of anxiety caused by social media
- Feeling isolated or lonely as a result of social media
- Experiencing the “fear of missing out”
In particular, social media can stand in the way of the three pillars of recovery outlined above.
A Time Tax on Your Bandwidth
Social media is a great way to burn time – it’s easy to get lost in scrolling, liking, and commenting on an endless feed of new content. It’s hard to capitalize on an improved bandwidth for responsibilities and achieve in school, work, or family life with social media notifications snagging your attention.
A Distraction from Real Relationships
Social media can often feel like a stand-in for genuine relationships and get in the way of repairing connections with friends and family. If you previously engaged in communities that share an interest in substance use, it can be difficult to overcome the algorithms and connections that feed you triggering content.
Building a positive, supportive, and sober community is one of the key aspects of addiction recovery. Continuing to surround yourself, even digitally, with people that continue to use can be incredibly tempting.
A Damper on Personal Growth
Social media can interfere with personal growth because it predisposes you to stress, anxiety, and depression. The “Instagram effect” can be very convincing – influencer feeds tend to downplay the human moments and emphasize shiny, filtered, curated content.
When people hyperfocus on likes and comments, they can sometimes abandon common sense in favor of going viral. Social media trends can quickly gain traction for all the wrong reasons, fueling dangerous behaviors and encouraging users to put themselves and others at risk.
While social media offers increased access and awareness to current events, constant exposure to secondary trauma and cyberbullying can create a huge strain on our collective mental health.
Dopamine, Social Media, and Addiction
Like many addictive substances, social media can trigger an intensely rewarding dopamine release. Dopamine is the brain’s reward neurotransmitter linked to learning, repeated behaviors, and a sense of accomplishment. Addictive substances cause large spikes in dopamine that fuel addiction and make it harder for someone to quit on their own.
Social media apps can have a similar effect: people get a dopamine rush with every notification as the likes and shares roll in. This dopamine rush encourages people to repeat the behavior, check social media more often, and post more, making it more difficult to enjoy other activities.
Social Media as a Replacement for Addictive Substances
The final issue with social media use in addiction recovery is that social media can sometimes become a substitute for drug use.
One of the goals of addiction treatment is to help people find rewarding and healthy activities that support the eight dimensions of wellness. Healthy activities like exercise, meditation, journaling, art, and giving back to others make us feel good about ourselves and encourage us to form safe habits.
Social media can rapidly become a quick-fix solution for low dopamine levels and take the place of these healthier activities. Without a foundation of recovery-focused behaviors, social media can become destructive and make someone in recovery feel overexposed, unproductive, and less equipped to handle conflict.
Support for Social Media Addiction
It is possible to use social media in moderation, and hundreds of accounts focus on connecting with people in recovery. Still, it’s important to recognize the potential dangers so that you can make an informed decision about your relationship with social media.
If you struggle to regulate your social media use, or you’ve noticed negative consequences related to social media, we can help. At All Points North Lodge, we offer a social media-free atmosphere so that you can focus on creating healthier habits in treatment and beyond. Contact our team today to see how we can help you evaluate your relationship with social media and create healthier boundaries.
- Betul Keles, Niall McCrae & Annmarie Grealish (2020) A systematic review: the influence of social media on depression, anxiety and psychological distress in adolescents, International Journal of Adolescence and Youth, 25:1, 79-93, DOI: 10.1080/02673843.2019.1590851
- Ohannessian, Christine McCauley, et al. “Social Media Use and Substance Use During Emerging Adulthood.” Emerging Adulthood, vol. 5, no. 5, Oct. 2017, pp. 364–370, doi:10.1177/2167696816685232.