Can New Instagram Tool Effectively Fight Social Media Addiction?

Olivia Pennelle
Calendar icon Last Updated: 09/13/2023
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Social media addiction is on the rise.

It was once a tool to connect with friends and family around the world instantly. But, over time, social media has become a tool of distraction. It takes us away from meaningful conversations in our daily lives.

I remember when Facebook showed up on my radar. It was around 2011. I watched coworkers logging into this site at lunch time, and they wouldn’t log out until it was absolutely necessary.

It seemed weird to me initially. I didn’t get the concept of Facebook. I wondered if it was like a digital phone book…but for faces.

I don’t think I was far off.

Social Media Takes Off

In the blink of an eye, all of my friends — and even my mom — were on Facebook. I decided to give it a go. Before I knew it, I’d connected with school friends from years ago and family members across the world.

For someone who is a dual citizen, Facebook made it easy to connect with both parts of my family at the touch of my fingertips.

Initially it was fun. Then I found myself on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter all the time. Social media started to take over my life.

Sound familiar?

My Personal Feelings on Social Media

I have no doubts that social media is addictive. I’m on my phone as soon as I wake up, scrolling through each social media account. I’m waiting for those mental hits of dopamine for each notification.

I wish that I only checked my phone in the morning. But as a writer, my life is linked to social media. It requires me to always have a tab open on my browser all day long.

Initially, it didn’t seem like a problem because I was able to network, grow my business, and get access to opportunities I wouldn’t have had were I not digitally connected to the recovery community.

But the reality is that I couldn’t put my phone down. Even my phone knew it! Every week I dread the screentime notifications, which show me that I am on my phone for hours every day.

It is no wonder I have difficulty concentrating on other tasks when I am constantly distracted.

Social Media Addiction: The Numbers

It’s pretty shocking to see how it accumulates during the course of the week. I start to dread the weekly screen time reports. It’s like a window into my social media habit in which I spend over two hours a day on my phone.

I’m not alone. While there is no official social media addiction diagnosis, social media overuse is very common.

Dr. Ofir Turel is a leading researcher in technology addiction and an associate professor at California State University. He says that compulsively checking social media could be hurting our brains.

Dr. Turel explains that, when we see a lot of likes on social media, it triggers the brain’s reward system. This leads us to seek out those rewards.

According to Dr. Turel:

We have observed that the reward system is more active and more sensitive in people who present symptoms of addiction to social media. What it means is that social media provides rewarding experiences that generate dopamine in the brain, the same substance produced when we eat cake or have sex. Over time, it trains your brain to want to check social media more and more often.

Signs of Social Media Addiction

Turel estimates that five to ten percent of Americans could meet the criteria of being at risk for addiction to social media.

Some signs you may have a problem with social media include:

  • Feeling anxious when you’re away from your phone
  • Social anxiety
  • Reduced empathy and a tendency to scroll through posts where someone is sharing a tragedy
  • Low self-esteem because other people’s lives may appear to be better than yours
  • Disrupted sleep from the blue light of your phone before bedtime
  • Being distracted from real life connections

It isn’t all doom and gloom, though. Instagram says they’ve come up with a way to limit social media use.

Social media provides rewarding experiences that generate dopamine in the brain, the same substance produced when we eat cake or have sex. Over time, it trains your brain to want to check social media more and more often.
~ Dr. Ofir Turel

Take a Break Tool

Instagram’s new “Take a Break” feature allows you to set a timer to limit your use of the app. Your timer can be set for 10 to 30 minutes. What happens next is pretty cool.

The app alerts you to the time passing. It then suggests alternative activities to picking up your phone again.

Here’s how to set it up:

  1. Open Instagram
  2. Tap on the three lines in the top right corner
  3. Tap on “Your Activity”
  4. Select the “Time” tab at the top
  5. Turn on the “Take a Break” feature by setting a reminder to take breaks and setting a daily time limit.

This option also tells you how much time you’ve spent on Instagram. These stats are presented as an average for each day of the current week. My average is one hour, nine minutes.

It’s no wonder I am struggling to do everything on my plate.

Tips to Reduce Social Media Use

Here are some ideas to limit social media use:

  • Leave your phone in a different location than your bed, that way you have to get up before reaching for your phone.
  • Make a cup of tea or coffee without scrolling through social media.
  • Set a boundary for yourself, such as only checking social media 10 minutes before you start school or work, or only checking apps at certain times of the day.
  • Find an accountability partner. Both of you can agree to a set amount of time spent on social media every day.
  • Find something else to do. This sounds simple…because it truly is simple. Meditate or workout instead of spending an hour on social media first thing in the morning.
  • Take a social media break. Consider taking a week off social media, deleting the apps from your phone, and seeing how you cope without it.
  • Reconnect in other ways. Socialize with friends in person, rather than commenting on their Facebook post. Watch a movie or eat dinner without burying your face in your phone.

There are lots of ways to reconnect with the world before you reach for a social media app. The trick is to get creative and see what works for you when it comes to overcoming social media addiction.

For information about treatment options for you or a loved one, call 800-681-1058 (Info iconWho Answers?) today.

Olivia Pennelle
Olivia Pennelle
Counselor, Expert Author, Podcaster
Located in Portland, OR, Olivia Pennelle (Liv) is an author, journalist & content strategist. She's the founder of Liv’s Recovery Kitchen, a popular site dedicated to providing the ingredients for a fulfilling life in recovery. Liv also co-founded the podcast Breaking Free: Your Recovery, Your Way. She found recovery in 2012 & her pathway is a fluid patchwork of what works for her.