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Is Social Media Addictive? How To Break The Screen Addiction Cycle

how to break screen addiction

The world we live in today is nothing like that of our ancestors. The pace with which technology has advanced in the last 100 years is breakneck—100 years ago speed limits were set around 20 mph, if they were set at all. Planes were exceedingly rare, and commercial aviation non-existent. And the main form of entertainment, the radio, was just becoming popular.

Of course, the advance that arguably has had the most resounding impact on our lives has only come in the last 20 to 30 years. The early 90s saw the explosion of the internet, from just a few hundred pages at first to hundreds of thousands of pages within a few years. In 2007 the first iPhone was introduced to the world, and suddenly you could hold over a billion pages of the internet in your pocket. And then we got apps, and social media.

With the availability of smartphones and the race to develop the “perfect app” has come an epidemic of mental health. The average American checks their phone 144 times per day, and spends around 4 and a half hours on their phone each day. And 57% of Americans say they are addicted to their phones. (credit to for these statistics)

This phenomenon is not restricted to any single demographic; it spans across ages, from youth to adults, making it a universal challenge. The question that arises is, how do we recognize the thin line between use and addiction? And more importantly, how do we break free from this cycle?


Understanding Screen Addiction

The landscape of internet addiction is diverse, encompassing a range of behaviors that cater to different interests and impulses. These can be broadly categorized into five main types, each presenting unique challenges and consequences for individuals dealing with them.

Cybersexual Addiction involves the compulsive use of internet pornography, adult chat rooms, or adult websites. Individuals struggling with this form of addiction may find themselves spending excessive amounts of time engaging in or pursuing online sexual activities, often at the cost of real-life relationships and responsibilities. Read more about Pornography Addiction, also called Out of Control Sexual Behavior, here. 

Net Compulsions represent a category that includes compulsive online gambling, stock trading, and shopping. This type of addiction is marked by an uncontrollable urge to participate in these activities, leading to financial hardships, strained relationships, and significant emotional distress.

Social Media Addiction is characterized by an excessive preoccupation with social networking sites, where the need for likes, shares, and online validation dominates one’s life. This addiction can result in feelings of inadequacy, anxiety, and depression, as individuals compare their lives to the idealized representations seen online.

Gaming Addiction focuses on the compulsive playing of video games, whether online or offline. Individuals with this addiction may neglect personal and professional obligations, leading to significant impacts on their social lives, academic or job performance, and physical health due to prolonged periods of inactivity.

Information Addiction includes an overwhelming compulsion to consume news, participate in forums like Reddit, or endlessly surf the web for information. This can lead to information overload, difficulty concentrating, and a disruption in one’s ability to manage daily tasks effectively.

Each of these types of internet addiction shares a commonality in the significant disruption they cause to an individual’s life, manifesting through a variety of mediums and content. Recognizing and addressing these specific forms of addiction is crucial in developing effective strategies for intervention and recovery.


what is internet addiction


Signs and Symptoms of Screen Addiction

Recognizing the symptoms of screen addiction is the first step towards addressing it. These symptoms can range from an incessant need to check devices, withdrawal symptoms such as irritability or depression when not online, to a decline in physical health due to prolonged periods of inactivity. Additionally, it can strain relationships, impact academic or job performance, and contribute to sleep disorders.

An internet addiction has more to do with the habits and routines we create for ourselves, rather than the chemical aspect of an addiction like nicotine or alcohol. Nonetheless, it can exert a powerful hold over an individual, and the results can be just as devastating. And there is evidence that the internet can be a powerful manipulator of dopamine levels in the brain, the “reward” neurotransmitter.

The best indicator that you’ve crossed the line from use to addiction is feeling a lack of control. If you couldn’t spend a day without the internet (work responsibilities aside), you’re probably dealing with an addictive pattern. If you find yourself picking up your phone when you don’t want to, or getting off your computer and wondering where your day went, you may have an issue you want to take steps to address.


The Co-relationship Between Internet Addiction and Mental Health

Research suggests a strong link between screen addiction and mental health disorders. Adolescents struggling with internet addiction may also face challenges like depression, ADHD, and substance abuse. For adults, the spectrum includes anxiety, compulsive behaviors, and sleep disturbances, among others. This interrelation highlights the complexity of screen addiction, indicating that it’s both a cause and effect of mental health issues.


Breaking The Cycle

Breaking free from screen addiction is no small feat, especially in an era where our professional and personal lives are intertwined with digital technology. It requires a holistic approach, combining self-help strategies, support from loved ones, and professional guidance.

  • Self-regulation and Awareness: Start by acknowledging the issue and understanding your usage patterns. Setting clear boundaries for screen time, taking regular breaks, and engaging in offline activities can help reduce dependence.
  • Filling the Void: Often, we turn to our devices to fill a void or escape reality. Identifying alternative activities that are fulfilling and engaging can divert attention from screen use.
  • Digital Detox: Periodically disconnecting from digital devices, even for a short duration, can significantly improve mental and physical well-being.
  • Support System: Lean on friends, family, or support groups to share experiences and strategies for overcoming addiction. Social support is crucial in the recovery journey.
  • Seek Professional Help: For some, professional intervention may be necessary to tackle underlying issues contributing to addiction. Therapies like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and medication can offer relief and coping mechanisms.


Managing Screen Time

One helpful approach for breaking screen habits is to set screen time limits for yourself. This can be done with dedicated apps, or on iPhone, can be done directly in the settings in such a way that you cannot override it. A trusted friend or partner can set a Screen Time password for you, then limit the availability of certain apps for parts of the day, for example, from midnight-5pm. Just make sure your partner or friend writes down the password—if they lose or forget it you may be out of luck.

In this way your phone can become just a phone for a segment of the day, helping to break the habitual loop.


screen time


Navigating the Digital Maze

While the digital age offers unparalleled benefits, it’s imperative to navigate this landscape with mindfulness and discipline. Technology is advancing faster than ever, and our mental health and well-being are at risk. Recognizing the signs of screen addiction, understanding its implications, and taking proactive steps to maintain a healthy balance between our online and offline lives is essential. Remember, it’s not about eliminating technology from our lives but learning to use it as a tool that serves us rather than controls us.



Robb Kornoelje is the owner of The Truism Center, a relationship enthusiast, and the creator of the “30-Day Relationship Challenge.” This 30-day, fully online email course offers gentle guidance to identify behaviors causing trouble, find ease with emotions, and enhance self-awareness. With a focus on stress-free communication, the challenge encourages a stronger connection with others, nurturing compassion, and fostering forgiveness. Join Robb on this journey to improve the fabric of your relationships—one day at a time.