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Is Social Media a Friend or Foe During Addiction Recovery?

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March 7, 2022
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Social Media and Addiction Recovery

In the past decade or so, social media has become a fundamental part of our lives—myself included. From reconnecting with old friends and posting pictures I love learning more about life around the world, using social media can be wonderful. . However, as with many other things, I’ve found that social media is best when used in moderation, especially if you’re just beginning your journey of recovery.[1]Jha, D., Singh, R. Analysis of associations between emotions and activities of drug users and their addiction recovery tendencies from social media posts using structural equation modeling. BMC … Continue reading

What Role Does Social Media Play in Addiction?

Social media’s role in addiction can be hard to calculate. That’s why using social media while you’re in recovery has both pros and cons. Depending on the person, the nature of the addiction, and how social media is used, social media can either help or hinder your journey. Here are some of the ways social media can positively and negatively affect your life while in recovery.

The Good

Social Media Helps You Connect with Others

Social media opens us to an immense network of different people we’d otherwise never be able to connect with. When in recovery, it’s easy to feel alone, and with added stress and isolation from current world events, loneliness can be a real issue when you’re trying to heal.[2]Hawkley, L. C., & Cacioppo, J. T. (2010). Loneliness matters: a theoretical and empirical review of consequences and mechanisms. Annals of behavioral medicine : a publication of the Society of … Continue reading Using social media can help us connect with old friends and even make new ones, too. The online world offers a variety of people and communities that you can connect with, despite your location.

Social Media Allows You to Find Support

Another similar benefit of using social media while you’re in recovery is that you can always find support. Because social media is open to such a wide range of people around the world, I’ve found that it’s easier than you might think to connect with others that are dealing with similar issues. On top of that, unlike in-person support groups, social media is always at your fingertips. Whether you find one person or an online community that understands the struggles of addiction, finding support online can make the process of recovery a bit easier.

Social Media Helps You Find Inspiration and Motivation

I’ve found that social media can be a great tool to help me find motivation and stay in recovery.[3]Vornholt, P., & De Choudhury, M. (2021). Understanding the Role of Social Media-Based Mental Health Support Among College Students: Survey and Semistructured Interviews. JMIR mental health, 8(7), … Continue reading Because healing isn’t linear, we all have days where it can be hard to find the motivation to keep going. Social media can be a place to find both inspiration and motivation to continue the journey.

Again, social media is so diverse that there are many people that might be like you on your chosen platform, as well as many more that might be dealing with the same struggles. Searching for inspirational videos or following an account that helps you stay motivated and feel supported are two great ways to use social media while in recovery. With a little work, you’ll find groups, communities, inspirational speakers, videos, and more, all dedicated to the healthy journey of recovery.

Social Media Provides a Distraction

Sometimes, we could all use a distraction, especially when in recovery. When beginning your journey, it can often be difficult to keep your mind off the negative habits you used to do to stay busy. When you’re bored, the temptation to return to them is even worse. Social media can be used as a positive distraction in a variety of ways.[4]Wiederhold, B. K., Gao, K., Sulea, C., & Wiederhold, M. D. (2014). Virtual reality as a distraction technique in chronic pain patients. Cyberpsychology, behavior and social networking, 17(6), … Continue reading For example, many people use social media as an outlet for art, including photos, drawings, music, videos, podcasts, and more. When used in moderation, this artistic expression can serve as a quick distraction in times of need. You may even find yourself wishing to produce your own.

The Bad

Social Media Is Full of Negative Influences/Triggering

Unfortunately, negative influences can be just as common as positive ones on social media. When you’re at the beginning of recovery, we often recommend that you expose yourself to as little media as possible to avoid the triggers and negative influences that might make you want to go back to your old habits.

While you can control who you follow on most platforms, it can be harder than you might think to avoid all the different negative influences that exist. Even if you only follow positive influencers on your Instagram, for example, your explore page (or “for you” page) might not necessarily be filled with the same. Remind yourself that it’s okay to unfollow negative influences or remove parts of social media that you know are negative for you. Making social media a more positive place for you is a task you’ll need to actively participate in.

Social Media Can Be Bad for Mental Health

There has been much research done on the different effects social media can have on its users’ mental health. The University of Pennsylvania found that symptoms of depression and loneliness were much higher in students that used social media often as opposed to the control group, who was only allowed 30 minutes a day.[5]No More FOMO: Limiting Social Media Decreases Loneliness and Depression. Melissa G. Hunt, Rachel Marx, Courtney Lipson, and Jordyn Young. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology 2018 37:10, 751-768

Unfortunately, while social media can be motivational and inspiring in some ways, it can also be negative and toxic in others. Many people in recovery are already dealing with low self-worth and depression and may risk worsening them with social media use.

Social Media Can Force You to Compare Yourself With Others

Social media makes it incredibly easy to compare yourself with others, which may affect your self-worth, anxiety, and other co-occurring disorders. Keep in mind that most people only post the best versions of themselves—it’s easy to assume everyone is happier and healthier than you, but that may not be the case. Everyone has their struggles, and very few of them are posted on social media.

Social Media Can Become a Transfer Addiction

A transfer addiction is a term used to describe a secondary addiction that occurs as an individual attempts to shift focus from the primary addiction.[6]Glasner-Edwards, S., & Rawson, R. (2010). Evidence-based practices in addiction treatment: review and recommendations for public policy. Health policy (Amsterdam, Netherlands), 97(2-3), 93–104. … Continue reading For recovering individuals who once abused substances, social media can be a prime target for a transfer addiction. Of course, in recovery, we are all looking for new ways to cope.

As I’ve stated above, social media can be a healthy coping mechanism full of positive aspects and available 24/7. However, social media is designed to be addictive. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, TikTok, and even LinkedIn employ algorithms designed to keep the user wanting to come back for more, whether that means looking at their likes, reading messages, or viewing new posts. In this way, social media can easily become an addiction, even for those who have never struggled with addiction before.

Should You Take a Break from Social Media If You’re in Recovery?

Should You Take a Break from Social Media If You’re in Recovery?

Ultimately, the decision regarding whether you should take a break from social media at the beginning of your recovery journey is up to you. While social media doesn’t have to be a hindrance to your healing, I’ve found that taking a break or at least reducing and moderating the amount of time you use social media can help when first starting out.

In addition, it’s always a good idea to limit the things that might make the recovery process harder for you. Those things can include triggers ranging from going out with your friends to a restaurant where drinks are served to encountering an unhealthy influence online. Regardless of your triggers, beginning recovery might be easier if social media is an afterthought rather than a priority in the process.

How to Avoid Triggers on Social Media

Even if you begin recovery without social media, at some point, you might find yourself wanting to reincorporate a social platform into your life. Or, you might wonder how you can make social media a more positive experience for yourself. Here are a few simple ways you can help keep negative influences off your screen when using social media:

  • Follow accounts that promote healthy influences. One of the most important things you can do to ensure a better social media experience is to solely follow people that promote positivity in your life.[7]Cohen, R., Newton-John, T., & Slater, A. (2021). The case for body positivity on social media: Perspectives on current advances and future directions. Journal of Health Psychology, 26(13), … Continue reading Consider starting a new account and follow people that support your beliefs and your journey of recovery.
  • Unfollow negative accounts. If you’re using your original social media account, unfollow any people or accounts that might influence you to engage in negative discussions. Unfollow any accounts that promote unhealthy behaviors or other negative things that might trigger you to relapse.
  • Remember that most people only post the best versions of themselves online. Most people only share the parts of their life they want others to see. Remind yourself that social media isn’t always a real representation of what is going on behind closed doors.
  • Manage the time you spend using social media. While using social media might not be a bad thing as you recover, it’s important to manage the time you spend on it. Avoid developing a secondary addiction.
  • Share photos, art, and pieces of your life when you want. Don’t feel pressured by the people you follow or the unfair standards you see online. Use social media how it was intended—to share parts of your life. Ignore the likes and the comments and focus on what helps you stay in recovery.

Social Media and Addiction Recovery

Social Media and Addiction Recovery

Whether you decide to limit your social media usage on your journey of recovery is up to you. I’ve found that with some moderation and attention to eliminating poor influences, social media can be positive for those in the later stages of recovery.[8]Taylor-Jackson, J., & Moustafa, A. A. (2021). The relationships between social media use and factors relating to depression. The Nature of Depression, 171–182. … Continue reading

Always remember to put yourself and your health first and believe in yourself and your ability to heal. To add a positive influence to your online experience, browse my blog. And, follow me for daily doses of positivity!

Stay strong,

Jim

References

References
1 Jha, D., Singh, R. Analysis of associations between emotions and activities of drug users and their addiction recovery tendencies from social media posts using structural equation modeling. BMC Bioinformatics 21, 554 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12859-020-03893-9
2 Hawkley, L. C., & Cacioppo, J. T. (2010). Loneliness matters: a theoretical and empirical review of consequences and mechanisms. Annals of behavioral medicine : a publication of the Society of Behavioral Medicine, 40(2), 218–227. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12160-010-9210-8
3 Vornholt, P., & De Choudhury, M. (2021). Understanding the Role of Social Media-Based Mental Health Support Among College Students: Survey and Semistructured Interviews. JMIR mental health, 8(7), e24512. https://doi.org/10.2196/24512
4 Wiederhold, B. K., Gao, K., Sulea, C., & Wiederhold, M. D. (2014). Virtual reality as a distraction technique in chronic pain patients. Cyberpsychology, behavior and social networking, 17(6), 346–352. https://doi.org/10.1089/cyber.2014.0207
5 No More FOMO: Limiting Social Media Decreases Loneliness and Depression. Melissa G. Hunt, Rachel Marx, Courtney Lipson, and Jordyn Young. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology 2018 37:10, 751-768
6 Glasner-Edwards, S., & Rawson, R. (2010). Evidence-based practices in addiction treatment: review and recommendations for public policy. Health policy (Amsterdam, Netherlands), 97(2-3), 93–104. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.healthpol.2010.05.013
7 Cohen, R., Newton-John, T., & Slater, A. (2021). The case for body positivity on social media: Perspectives on current advances and future directions. Journal of Health Psychology, 26(13), 2365–2373. https://doi.org/10.1177/1359105320912450
8 Taylor-Jackson, J., & Moustafa, A. A. (2021). The relationships between social media use and factors relating to depression. The Nature of Depression, 171–182. https://doi.org/10.1016/B978-0-12-817676-4.00010-9
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James Haggerty
JAMES HAGGERTY

Welcome to my ongoing journey… Join me as we continue our path to sobriety and balance. Thanks for reading. Stay strong.

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