A Student’s Experience with Social Media Addiction



For the past couple of years I’ve been struggling with my own internal battle. An addiction. Not to tobacco, nicotine, or other drugs. Not to alcohol. I’m addicted to something much more common and prevalent in our society; Social media.


I know, I know. There have been tons of studies and people from far and wide complaining about their own worries for the human population. But unlike those other stories, I’ve hit near rock bottom in my mental health almost purely because of social media.


My problem is mostly related to YouTube and other video-related platforms like TikTok. Ever since a young age I’ve felt drawn to the world of YouTube. It was a place where I could explore my passions and learn things about myself and the world around me. For instance, I uncovered my dream of becoming a minimalist and living a low-waste lifestyle. I learned how to crochet when I was 11 just by watching tutorials, which has become an important hobby of mine. I even dove into LGBTQIA+ content to become a more accepting individual, both of myself and others.


But that’s about the only good thing I can say about it. Sure, YouTube can be an important tool for learning, but that’s no comparison to the ways it can mess you up.


Imagine YouTube, and maybe social media as a whole, as a black hole. The people who created this black hole found ways to make it seem absolutely irresistible without you even noticing. They spray some mist around it that makes your brain go all fuzzy and your dopamine levels to shoot up. You might feel calm, almost blissful. They put up all these signs showing you all the cool things you could see in it.


At first you’re able to just skirt around on the surface of it for little bits of time, but each time you come back it gets harder to escape the gravity of the black hole. The mist gets into your brain, and each time you come back it gets thicker. It makes you go limp, unable to resist even if you tried. At some point, the pull is so intense you can’t get out of it anymore, but the mist calms you down and makes you forget why you’re trying to leave. Then you’re completely sucked in.


Getting Sucked into the Black Hole


There are multiple reasons why social media can be addictive. The main one is obviously the way that social media is constructed by the people who run them. You’ve probably heard of social media apps using specially designed “algorithms” that are supposed to provide users with relevant content on their homepage. This algorithm is probably most relevant to YouTube and TikTok. This can, however, also be a mechanism by which users get hooked to these apps for hours.


You’re constantly being bombarded with new suggestions of stuff to watch, and thanks to the algorithm, it’s likely you’ll click on something. It might be seen by some as a blessing, but in the long run you don’t need to be watching most of that content. If you’re looking for information, you can probably find what you need after a few tries. But after looking at some similar suggestions, you’ll probably find yourself falling through a bottomless pit of videos.


An article from scientificamerican.com stated, “YouTube’s algorithms will push whatever they deem engaging, and it appears they have figured out that wild claims, as well as hate speech and outrage peddling, can be particularly so.”


The information and ideas that some of these videos provide are undoubtedly enticing, and sometimes it seems like there’s no reason to stop. Maybe I’m bored so I decide to just keep watching. But that’s usually what leads me into that trap.


Have you ever felt that pull towards your device when you stop watching? It’s like it’s whispering in your ear, “Come back, it’s fun. You’re enjoying yourself.” Yeah, that’s what happens when you watch for a while. And, unfortunately, I usually listen to that little voice. I convince myself that since I’ve already messed up and broken my dopamine fast, I might as well just keep going. I mean, how could it really hurt me? It’s fun, isn’t it? So then it continues…


Losing my Thoughts


I’m sure a lot of people will assume I’m exaggerating when I say this, but the reason I’m so serious about this subject is because I’ve gotten to the point where I could no longer feel any emotion. This is actually a “normal” thing for me now.


Of course, it isn’t just emotions that I lose. When this happens, I also can’t imagine anymore. Visualization becomes impossible, which means I can’t read either. To most people this doesn’t sound so bad, but I’ve always loved reading and not being able to anymore is really distressing to me.


It also gets very difficult to have deep, interesting thoughts. When I was a kid, I had such a good imagination that my favorite time of the day was the bus ride back from school. I would lean my head against the rattling window and imagine myself with giant wings, flying over the bus instead of riding in it, or in the middle of one of my favorite stories. It’s the reason I always wanted to become a writer; I had so many cool ideas in my head and I wanted to share them, turn them into something real.


But ever since my addiction began, my mind has been a completely different place. At the point I’m writing this, I’m in the process of trying to stay away from YouTube again. Even though it’s been a couple of weeks, it takes a long time for my mind to go back to the way it naturally is. To be honest, I don’t know if I’ve made it back to that point in years. So, at the moment, I’m finally able to read again, but it’s still not exactly the way I know it can be.


It’s just disheartening. I look back on the way it used to be and it’s all I want. I want to have all of that back, because it made me so incredibly happy. I would get so lost in thought I would forget where I was and who was talking to me. Now I feel sort of empty.


I would love to insert some wise quotes from an article about other peoples’ experiences with this, because it would be nice to know that I’m not the only one dealing with this. However, searching anything in combination with “YouTube” will instantly pull up only Youtube videos. Besides, the only times I’ve heard this spoken about have been from YouTube videos, which I suppose makes some sense; if you’re hooked on YouTube you are probably more likely to post on it about the issues you’re facing.


Anyways, getting better with this is a process, but I always try my absolute best. This time around, I’ve made more progress than I have in quite a while, which makes me hopeful. I’m just reluctant to get too hopeful, because for the past three years or so it’s been continuously back and forth. I could sink back to my lowest point at any moment.


When I’m at that low point I can’t feel anything. No excitement or nervousness for cool events, no joy or bliss. I can’t even feel a sense of accomplishment from tackling a super difficult task or goal. All I can really think about is going home and watching more YouTube to relax.


What makes this all so scary is wondering things like: If I meet someone I like, would I know it? If a loved one died, would I even cry? If my life turned upside-down, would I even care? Sure, to some degree I would still have these feelings deep down somewhere. But this is the reality of losing your emotions- You’re missing out on your life.


However, this removal of emotion also includes the bad ones, which is actually a crucial point.


YouTube isn’t a Distraction, it’s a Way to Numb Myself


The other reason social media, particularly YouTube, has been so addicting to me, is because of its ability to rid me of emotion. I know, I know, I was just explaining how this was a bad thing, and it is.


However, gaining back my emotions also means dealing with some horrible feelings. Let’s be honest, High School can be excruciating. Drama between friends can be overwhelming, family members can be mean, and the workload can be impossible to handle. Not to mention the various mental disorders that are becoming more and more common in this society, especially among teens.


Personally, I’ve always struggled getting to know other people. To those who know me, it’s no secret that I’m awkward, shy, boring, and closed off. I keep everything to myself because that’s how I’m wired to operate. During times when I do feel emotion, I often feel crushed by loneliness, self-consciousness, and anger with myself. I know that I have friends and family that support me, but sometimes I can’t help but ask if anyone really cares, or really knows me. That can lead me into a different depressive spiral.


A lot of the time it feels horrible. I just can’t escape from those thoughts and feelings sometimes. It can be incredibly depressing, and I actually have lost good friends and distanced myself from everyone because of this. When I realized that I could make these feelings go away just by watching YouTube for hours, it wasn’t just a mindless activity, it was an antidepressant. I was pretty much just numbing myself with endless videos.


Even though this seems to paint a good light on social media, you have to think about whether these benefits truly outweigh the consequences, especially considering that there are other, better ways to deal with my issues. I would rather live with these emotions and figure out other, possibly more difficult ways of dealing with them than live my entire life as a brainless bag of meat.


Unfortunately, the brain likes easy things, and being a mindless bag of meat is a lot easier than dealing with pesky emotions.


Gaining Confidence but Ignoring the Problem


The addiction set me free from those heavy emotions, which gave more confidence. I felt like I was finally able to talk to people without constantly worrying about messing up my words.


The downside is, I would become even more unable to make deeper connections with people. It felt like everything was just so surface level. Every conversation meant absolutely nothing. Even though interacting with others became easier, I felt incredibly empty.


Because of this, there was almost no point in even numbing myself this way anyways. Sure, I didn’t get those bad feelings, but life no longer had meaning. This wasn’t a good way to go about my issue in the first place. Numbing yourself and avoiding the root of your problems is not actually going to help fix the issue, it can even make it worse.


That’s why it’s still important to try- Just to keep doing your best to get out of that rut for good. It’s super difficult and it may seem impossible at times, but it’s the only way to get past your issues, whatever you’re going through.


My Experience with Setting Boundaries- and Failing


Unlike black holes, it is possible to escape from this downward spiral caused by endless video-binging. Unfortunately though, physically distancing yourself from the devices that you mostly use is not exactly an option. Access to modern technology, specifically the internet, is crucial for almost everyone nowadays, and for most people it would be impossible to work for their jobs or passions without it. At this point, the internet is a part of human life. There’s not much chance of getting rid of it, even on an individual level.


Alas, when you have access to the internet (and if you’re reading this right now, you do), you also have access to just about every form of social media. You don’t even have to download an app to explore YouTube, you just have to open a tab and search. It takes seconds. This aspect of it has been the most difficult thing for me; I don’t have the ability to set concrete boundaries for myself.


Every time I attempt to distance myself from YouTube and other social media, I end up coming back in a matter of weeks or even days. The temptation is just too much. I know it sounds like I’m just weak, but trust me, I have good reason to be struggling this much.


I go through periods where I let YouTube suck up every ounce of my spare time, and others when I don’t watch anything at all. Trying to find ways of preventing these binging-episodes is very difficult though. What I usually do is go into my settings and block as many social media platforms as I can think of. That way, when I go to search for one of them, the website won’t open up and a notification will remind me that the website is blocked.


The only problem is that it’s way too easy to unblock these sites for this method to actually be effective. Sure, you could say that I just need to try harder, to not give up. But it sounds way easier than it actually is.


And it’s not like I can just lock up all my devices for a week. I need my computer for school, and I get important notifications and messages on my phone. Even if I had a break from school, I can’t just get rid of my phone for the same reasons.


This is ultimately where I end up returning to my bad habits. I just go in, change my settings, and let the binge-watching begin. The only thing that’s really keeping me away from that is my own will, which obviously isn’t usually enough to keep me away for long.


The Timesuck


Aside from all of the mental turmoil an addiction to social media can cause, it’s also just a massive waste of time. We only have so much time in this life, and you’re not even guaranteed to die of old age. Your time could be up at any time, so do you really want to risk spending your last days attached to a smartphone?


It’s just a really meaningless way to live your life. In my opinion, life is mostly about collecting your own experiences and learning from them, and just becoming the best version of yourself. But if you’re spending most of your free time staring at a screen and watching other people live their lives, well, you’re not really living.


Just think about it like this: According to hometownstations.com, “Research says that on average people spend around 2.5 hours a day on these platforms and Facebook is the most popular form.” Well, going by this statistic, the average person spends 17.5 hours a week, 75 hours a month, and 912.5 hours a year on social media.


Now, the average American lives for about 77 years. Going by this statistic, the average person spends about 70,262.5 hours on social media during the course of their lifetime. That also means that about 10% of the average person’s life is spent on social media.


That may or may not seem like a lot to you, but the truth is that the average does not necessarily accurately reflect the amount of time that certain people would actually spend on social media. For instance, today’s youth and middle-aged citizens probably spend a lot more time on social media than the elderly population.


Taking that into account, “A landmark report released by Common Sense Media finds that teenagers (ages 13-18) use an average of nine hours of entertainment media per day and that tweens (ages 8-12) use an average of six hours a day, not including time spent using media for school or homework” (stompoutbullying.com).


For teens that would mean a whopping 63 hours per week, 270 hours per month, 3,285 hours per year, and, if that trend were to continue for a lifetime, 252,945 hours over the course of your lifetime (which is 37.5% of your entire life).


That’s another reason why I’m so passionate about this. I dream of one day traveling and going on adventures, living in foreign countries and hiking and meeting cool new people. I can’t do all of that if I’m glued to my phone every minute of every day. I would much rather live a life full of meaning and wonder. While you can connect with people all over the world through the internet and learn about interesting things, it’s not the same as actually experiencing those things or interacting with those people. Living on a screen isn’t actually living.


Discovering a Deeper Meaning to Life


With all of that being said, I’d like to add one last thing. This addiction to social media has taught me more about myself and life. Sure, there have been plenty of downsides, and if I’d had the choice I would never have gone through all of it. But now I know how I don’t want to spend my life. I understand the risks that come along with a life attached to a screen.


For me, part of the motivation is wondering what it would be like to die during a time when I was numb from social media addiction. I would have died as someone else, I wouldn’t have even been myself. It would be like I never existed in the first place, like nothing ever mattered at all. Imagine lying on your deathbed and thinking back on all the things you wish you could have done, but you spent all of that time instead on instagram. That’s what scares me the most out of everything.


So now, at least for the present moment, I’m getting better. I take one day at a time because if I don’t, I know it will be too overwhelming and I’ll get close to giving up again. Staying away from such a huge temptation isn’t easy, it’s incredibly hard. But now I know that I would much rather struggle in the present moment than throw my life away for no reason at all.


My dream for my future now is to live out in nature, as connected with the real world and the real people that walk on it as I can be. I’m going to do everything in my power to make sure that my life is worth living, and this is just the first step.