3 Ways Social Media Makes Recovery from Addiction Harder

February 27, 2020

Social media has become a daily part of life. According to research by Hootsuite, a social media management platform, about 88 percent of Americans between the ages of 18 and 29 use social media. And that number is only going to grow. Controversy in recent years has been growing around whether social media is good for us–both as individuals and as a society. Questions like these are especially important for those recovering from addiction. Although technology in itself isn’t inherently good or bad, the way that we choose to use it and allow it to impact our lives can be. If you’re recovering from addiction, there are several reasons why you should be cautious about your social media use.  

Social Media Is Bad for Your Mental Health

Commonly, people with substance use disorders also experience co-occurring mental health issues. Major depression and anxiety disorders are two of the co-occurring mental health disorders that occur with substance use disorders most frequently. One study found that, among people with mood disorders such as major depression or bipolar disorder, 32 percent had a co-occurring substance use disorder. That’s several times the rate of substance use disorders in the general population. A similar relationship exists when looking at anxiety disorders and substance use disorders. If you’re recovering from a substance use disorder, it’s crucial to prioritize your mental health in order to maintain successful long-term sobriety.

Correlational Research

An increasing number of studies are making it appear likely that excessive social media use is not good for your mental health. Most of these studies focus on correlations that illustrate relationships between the two factors. One correlation shows that people who spend more time on Facebook are more likely to experience depression and anxiety. 

Causational Research

Another study sought to discover if social media actually causes worse mental health outcomes. In this study, 143 students at the University of Pennsylvania were divided into two groups. One group was asked to limit their social media use to just 30 minutes a day, while the other group was asked to keep using social media as usual. Both groups filled out mental health questionnaires at the beginning and end of the study. Results showed that the group that reduced its social media use reported feeling less lonely and depressed at the end of the three-week study, compared to the other group. The effect was especially strong among participants who reported more symptoms of depression at the beginning of the study. 

Social Media Contributes to Attentional Fatigue

Numerous theories have been proposed as to why social media tends to make people feel worse. One theory has to do with attentional fatigue. A study found that there was a linear relationship between the number of social media platforms a person uses and their depression symptoms. To clarify, the more platforms you use, the worse you feel. Researchers speculate that this may be related to the cognitive cost of multitasking. Unfortunately, according to the Hootsuite research cited above, the average American Internet user has more than seven social media accounts. 

Social Media Promotes Destructive Comparisons

Another theory with strong evidence is that social media promotes destructive comparisons. Social comparisons, in general, are bad for our mental health. One study found that making frequent comparisons increases your feelings of envy, guilt, defensiveness, and regret while making you more likely to lie, blame others, and have unmet cravings. Another study found that comparing ourselves to others makes us feel worse even when we feel like we compare favorably.

A lot of research on social media and mental health has focused on the comparison connection. It’s perhaps obvious that we feel worse when we compare ourselves to people who seem happier, prettier, and more successful than us–especially if it’s someone we know personally. Since social media promotes these kinds of comparisons, it may be wise to use it less or at least make a conscious effort to avoid making comparisons. 

Social Media Can Trigger Cravings

People love to post pictures of themselves having fun drinking at the bar, the club, or on vacation. If you’re recovering from addiction, that’s the last thing you need to see, especially if they’re people you actually know. Fear of missing out is real and it’s one of the big reasons people feel ambivalent about recovery. Seeing pics of your friends having fun drinking might remind you of the good times. However, your friends who post pictures of themselves having fun on a Saturday night, typically don’t post photos of themselves hungover on the following Sunday morning. Curation gives you a very one-sided picture of the fun you’re supposedly missing out on. You can always reduce the number of people you follow in order to limit exposure to these kinds of images. However, controlling third-party content is very difficult on platforms like Twitter and Facebook. Ultimately, your best bet might be to decrease the time spent on social media overall.

Use Social Media Intentionally

While it may have a bad reputation, social media can also be used for good. Start by making sure you primarily use it to facilitate real-life contact with friends and family. Also, try to avoid aimlessly scrolling through your feed, comparing yourself to others. Finally, you can actually use social media to engage with sober communities. Chances are that there is at least one Facebook page for sober people in your area and several supportive addiction-related subreddits. Resources like these can’t fully replace real-life interaction, but they can offer additional support throughout your recovery. If you’re a Steps alumni, be sure to follow us on Facebook for news and updates. We know that treatment is just the beginning of recovery and we want to give our alumni the tools to maintain long-term sobriety. Our social media support is just one of the many resources we offer our alumni to help them achieve this goal. To learn more about our alumni services, call us today at 385-236-0931.

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