Intended for healthcare professionals


Is excessive use of social media an addiction?

BMJ 2019; 365 doi: (Published 15 May 2019) Cite this as: BMJ 2019;365:l2171
  1. David Zendle, lecturer1,
  2. Henrietta Bowden-Jones, psychiatrist and honorary lecturer2
  1. 1York St John University, UK
  2. 2Imperial College London, UK
  1. h.bowdenjones02{at}

We don’t yet know, and social media companies must help us find out

Huge numbers of people use social media, such as Instagram, Facebook, and Snapchat. Some 77% of internet users in the UK have a social media profile,1 and one recent study estimates that 20% of adolescents may use social media for at least five hours every day.2 These levels of exposure to social media have led to considerable concern over whether its excessive use should be considered a distinct form of behavioural addiction, and clinically treated as such.3

Some of the available evidence supports this position. Excessive social media use has been linked to symptoms typically associated with substance use disorders and behavioural addictions. For example, it has been shown to coincide with higher levels of social anxiety4 and depressive symptoms.567 Furthermore, when describing interactions with social media, people commonly report experiences that mirror widely used criteria for establishing addiction8—for example, the inability to reduce their use of social media despite wanting to, or the experience …

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