TikTok Addiction Signs
TikTok addiction is real. The term ‘TikTok brain’ has been coined to describe the negative impacts of TikTok on a person's brain. Excessive use of this platform is associated with increased anxiety, depression and reduced attention span and memory.
Alarmingly, it has been found that young adolescent girls in particular are at increased risk of suicide when they engage in social media for two or more hours a day and increase their usage over time. Progression and increased time spent engaging in TikTok are the hallmarks of addiction.
Teenagers, in particular, are vulnerable to developing any addiction. Key areas of the teenage brain that control impulse, decision making and logical processing of information are still being formed for the first 25 years of life. Therefore they are more likely to act impulsively, be unable to process stress healthily and be unable to regulate their emotions. Throw into the mix peer pressure, hormones, social acceptance, cyberbullying and underlying problems at home or school, is it any wonder that some teenagers seek to escape through gaming and social media apps?
Evidence Supports TikTok is Addictive
Most recently, evidence has been published in the journal Addictive Behaviours showing how users can develop pathological dependencies on the social media platform TikTok.
This is quite a big deal. There has been a lot of work focusing on the negative psychological impacts associated with unhealthy amounts of Facebook use. However, TikTok is relatively new to the scene. It only became available outside of China five years ago.
Nevertheless, a study, by Smith and Short (2022), looked at whether so-called “Facebook addiction” behaviours and patterns could be applied to TikTok use.
What Makes TikTok So Addictive?
Essentially TikTok is addictive as it raises levels of Dopamine in the brain. Right from the start of creating content, uploading it and the anticipation of likes, shares and comments are all cues for the release of dopamine.
Additionally, the TikTok algorithm is interest-based, so it targets the user's interests even if they do not personally create content. The algorithm targets a person's hobbies, humour, music and fashion preferences, sexual orientation and more. The constant stream of interesting content can keep a person engaged with the platform for hours.
After a high, there always comes a low. When the constant stream of dopamine created by TikTok engagement stops, a person will feel anxious, low in mood and demotivated.
Dopamine is mother nature's feel-good chemical; when released in healthy amounts, it is extremely beneficial for our brains. Unhealthy amounts, however, that are initiated by drugs, social media and excitement-inducing behaviours have adverse effects.
TikTok Tok addiction forms when a person keeps returning to the source of instant gratification at a cost to their mental well-being, their personal relationships, education or career and even their physical health.
TikTok Addiction Symptoms Include Depression and Anxiety
Simply put, excessive, compulsive use of TikTok increases depression, anxiety, and stress levels, and decreases working memory ability. This is often referred to as ‘TikTok brain’. In short, excessive users will be more stressed, more depressed, with impaired ability to complete certain tasks.
A study among teenage TikTok users conducted by Peng Sha and Xiaoyu Dong, published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, shows that working memory can be impacted by addictive tendencies surrounding TikTok. Teen users who showed these tendencies performed worse in short-term recall tasks.
The authors of the study put this down in part to increased levels of depression and anxiety. This is backed up by a large body of research and literature. Excessive smartphone use can also negatively impact working memory to quite a startling degree.
Sha and Dong hypothesized that depression, anxiety, and stress followed this same pattern with regard to TikTok use and working memory.
There are also some gender differences at play, here. Researchers separated data between men and women. They found that stress was not significantly associated with poor scores in certain cognitive tasks tests amongst men. It was a lot more significant amongst women. However, men had far higher depression, anxiety, and stress scores, with far lower working memory capacity.
Is TikTok addiction real?
There is a difference between harmful or disruptive behaviour and outright addiction.
Therefore, we must ask, is TikTok addiction actually real, or is excessive use just that?
Research conducted by Smith and Short (2022), where relapse and withdrawal in substance use disorders are compared to TikTok addiction ensued.
Author Troy Smith used to joke that his wife was obsessed with TikTok and WhatsApp. However, when chatting with colleagues about their interactions with so-called ‘addicted’ teenagers – teenagers they thought were addicted to social media or the internet – he decided to look a little closer.
One of his colleagues mentioned that their son seemed anxious and often refused to eat; he often lied to get access to social media when his use was regulated. At the same time, news was breaking of several instances of adolescent death or harm surrounding TikTok’s famous challenges.
Smith wondered: Could TikTok addiction actually be real?
The Research on Tik Tok Addiction
Smith and Short’s study looked at data from 354 college students, including 173 TikTok users and 313 Facebook users, with a fair degree of overlap.
The Facebook users completed the Bergen Facebook Addiction Scale, a scientifically validated questionnaire commonly used in these cases. It assesses six criteria, such as obsessive thoughts surrounding the platform, an increasing desire to use it, using it as escapism, and so forth.
Smith and Short created a modified version of the Bergen Facebook Addiction Scale, simply switching out all references to ‘Facebook’ to ‘TikTok’. This created what we might call the TikTok Addiction Scale.
The statistics on TikTok - Addiction Risk
As Smith and Short had suspected, higher-intensity TikTok use led to high scores on the TikTok Addiction Scale.
A 68.2% majority of users were classified as having no risk. 25.4% were classified as being at ‘low risk’. 6.4% of TikTok users were classified as being ‘at risk’.
The TikTok Addiction Scale: Signs of TikTok Addiction
The signs of TikTok addiction can be matched to a tailored version of the Facebook addiction scale. TikTok works on similar principles and is able to match algorithms to personal use. TikTok, like Facebook also ‘rewards’ the user for engagement - with dopamine, instigated by validation and creativity etc.
Am I Addicted To TikTok?
If you are worried your son or daughter may be addicted to TikTok, ask them to relate to the following statements that are signs of TikTok addiction and rate them with the scores below. If you feel that you may have an addiction, the same criteria applies.
(1) Very rarely, (2) Rarely, (3) Sometimes, (4) Often, and (5) Very often:
- Spending a lot of time thinking about TikTok or planning how to use it.
- Feeling a strong urge or compulsion to use TikTok more and more.
- Using TikTok as a distraction from personal problems and stress.
- Tried to reduce TikTok use without success
- Feeling restless, irritable or anxious if you cannot use TikTok
- Engagement with TikTok negatively impacts your mental health, education/work and personal relationships
You can gauge the severity of the problem with TikTok by the amount of 4’s and 5’s you or they score.
So, what do you do if you or your child has a problem or addiction to TikTok?
We have some valuable suggestions
Tips to overcome TikTok addiction
There are some things you can do to come away from TikTok and social media addiction. You can overcome TikTok addiction. Though some form of counselling or other medical intervention may be appropriate in more serious cases, you will probably be able to get most of the way there with a few simple changes.
1. Switch off from TikTok and social media
This may sound obvious. Switch off from social media and TikTok to stop obsessing over it. It’s simple and workable, yet perhaps not that easy. If your problem with TikTok is severe you may find yourself suffering TikTok withdrawals. Rest assured these uncomfortable feelings will pass.
Firstly, turn off your notifications. This can be full-time or only at certain times. I would go with the former, especially if you are suffering from something like TikTok addiction. Then you can check in a few times a day when you choose to, rather than being constantly interrupted and tempted by a ringtone and your screen lighting up.
It can become incredibly stressful and unhealthy to live like this. It is distracting and intrusive. If social media is like an itch, notifications are like itching powder, or an old woolly jumper, constantly aggravates you until you have to scratch. Likes and follows are anxiety-inducing, so only check in with them every so often.
2. Keep those TikTok notifications off.
Secondly, keep your phone and any other devices away from your bed. If you rely on them for your alarm clock, buy a separate, old-school alarm clock. It’ll set you back a tenner. That tenner will buy you peace of mind and a good night’s rest. It will help you to stop your first waking thoughts to be about social media. It will stop you from delaying trying to sleep by hours as you scroll through TikTok and Instagram.
Charge your phone on the other side of your bedroom. Better yet, charge it in your living room. Either way, keep it far away from arm’s reach, put it to bed each night, and then put yourself to bed.
3. Don’t involve your smartphone devices in your morning routine
We’ve all been there. You get up, go to the loo, and brush your teeth, all the while glued to your phone for any updates that have occurred over the night. Social media, emails, newsfeeds… it goes on and on. Your TikTok addiction is unremitting.
Some of us don’t even get up first. We reach straight for our phones (which will be a lot harder if you follow step one and keep it away from your bed).
Try to avoid this. If there is anything urgent on your phone, it will ring. If somebody needs you that urgently, they’ll call you. Anything else is non-urgent and you can tackle it at your leisure, at a time of your choosing.
Try getting ready for the day without checking your devices. Wash, clean your teeth, get dressed, have your morning coffee and maybe a bite to eat.
4. Live your life in the real world
Plenty of people curate their lives online. They want everything to look perfect. Avid TikTok users are no different. TikTok addiction maybe you living your worst life, simply airbrushing it to look good.
If you spend a lot of time and effort planning and editing your social media, it’s a sign that maybe you need to step back. A nice day out isn’t a chance for TikTok and Instagram posts. It’s just a nice day out. Go ahead and record it if you want. Take some pictures. Take a video or two. If they work out, put them online. But don’t make any of this the point.
Live your life. You will suffer far less anxiety and stress for doing so. You will be able to engage with the world – the real, actual world – a lot more tangibly and meaningfully by doing so.
This is far easier said than done. Everything on this list is. But give it a go.
5. Ditch the digital world
As above, the world is out there, outside your window, not on a five-inch screen.
Your pastimes needn’t be online. They needn’t be screen based at all. Instead of following fitness classes online, try going out to a real-life gym or class. Don’t watch people painting – go and join an art class!
Instead of scrolling your news feed endlessly, or refreshing pages and tabs, try getting a real, physical newspaper (yes, they still exist!) or reading a book.
It will help you to break away from the online world, from social media and the stress that accompanies it.
It could be that this kind of detox is exactly what you need.
What to do if your child is addicted to TikTok
Children are more likely to develop a problem with TikTok. Therefore if you feel your child is suffering as a result of TikTok addiction, as their parent, it is up to you to help them.
Any child that develops an addiction will only benefit from counselling. More often than not, there can be underlying reasons why they develop obsessive use of social media. It may be that they are suffering from low self-esteem, problems at home or at school, or have an undiagnosed co-occurring disorder. Sometimes it is down to conditioning and the use of electrical, gaming devices and phones as a way of behaviour modification. Whatever the reasons, they need to be addressed.
You may not be your child's favourite person by removing their access to TikTok, however, this is necessary if they are severely impacted. In the long run, their health and well-being will improve as a result.
It is also important to explain to your child why you are removing their access to social media so that they do not view it as a punishment. Try and help your child through any uncomfortable withdrawal from TikTok by engaging them in activities and keeping them occupied with healthier past times.
Reach out for Help with TikTok Addiction
If, as an adult, you have an addiction to TikTok, support from like-minded others is invaluable. It will help you to feel connected and not feel alone.
Smart Recovery and 12 Step can work for any addiction, reach out to them if you need to. Counselling and therapy to unearth and heal the underlying causes of your addiction are equally as important.
If you are struggling to find a recovery community for TikTok addiction, rest assured our Community Hub has you covered. We understand that the behaviour or drug is just a symptom of something far more complex and deeper. At Recoverlution you can connect in real-time with other members, attend online meetings and events and use our recovery tools for free.