Instagram “more addictive than cigarettes and alcohol” according to UK study

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Journalism at Michigan State University

If you ask a millennial, what is the first thing they do when they wake up and the last thing they do before falling asleep, odds are they’ll say, “checking social media.”

Social media has increasingly become non-negotiable in the lives of countless youth who depend on sites like Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram for keeping them updated on news, social events, sports, trends and more.

In addition to being a one-stop-shop for all social needs, these sites can also have detrimental mental health effects on users.

Depression, low self-esteem, sleeplessness and narcissism have all been linked to various social media sites.

The worst of the bunch, however, is fan favorite, Instagram.

In a 2017 study conducted by the Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH), five social media platforms were ranked in order of most positive to most negative.

YouTube and Twitter led the group as most positive, Facebook sat in the middle and Snapchat and Instagram, arguably the most popular among young people today, ranked as the most negative.

After a quick Google Scholar search on Instagram, countless studies appear that identify the effects of the social media app on self-esteem, depression, body-image, and narcissism.

These negative outcomes disproportionately affect women, since they are more likely to use Instagram than men, according to a 2016 study.

Zaina Mahmoud, a recent graduate of Michigan State University, can attest to the negative effects of sites like Instagram.

“I get on Instagram every hour and it’s so sad to say because our time is consumed by just scrolling on our phone,” explained Mahmoud. “Just staring at other people’s photos when we could be doing more productive things for our own lives.”

Valerie Dallo, a 22-year-old business student said that using Instagram less frequently and following fewer celebrity profiles helps her remain detached from the platform.

“I think Instagram is a good way to keep in touch with people’s lives…but I try to stay clear from Instagram models because I think it’s all superficial,” she explained. “They’re posting for the likes, comments and free things they might advertise.”

Dallo also discussed feelings of inadequacy linked with social media.

“It makes people think their lives are less important or not fun enough and it’s sad,” said Dallo. “But people only post what they want you to see.”

According to Shirley Cramer, the chief executive of RSPH, “Social media has been described as more addictive than cigarettes and alcohol, and is now so entrenched in the lives of young people that it is no longer possible to ignore it when talking about young people’s mental health issues.”

However, if used in healthy doses, Instagram can be a tool for self-expression, creativity and helps foster a sense of belonging.

For many 20-somethings, a social media detox every once in a while could lead to more productive and happy lives.