What Is TikTok Addiction?

Often categorized under the umbrella term of social media addiction, TikTok addiction is characterized by the inability to control or decrease the amount of time spent on the platform.

A 2022 study from the Frontiers in Psychology journal found that TikTok is the most highly addictive of all social media platforms.

What Makes TikTok Addictive?

TikTok’s addictive properties center around the steady flow of content that provides enjoyment, demands a user’s concentration, and distorts the perception of time. This creates what researchers refer to as being “caught in an entertainment spiral.” In addition, the social interaction provided by TikTok can engender a sense of community and acceptance that lends itself to addiction.

TikTok’s Algorithm

TikTok’s algorithm provides personalized video recommendations based on content the person has viewed and liked. It accurately determines what the person is interested in to show content they are most likely to enjoy. This can cause a person to become engrossed in a perpetual stream of content.

Following particular accounts, clicking on posts, and liking them prompts TikTok’s algorithm to populate a user’s feed (“For You” page) with an increasing amount of similar content. This advanced algorithm is more intelligent than those from prior social media platforms, recommending highly accurate personalized content that leads to higher concentration levels by people using the site.  

According to a 2020 study from the University of California – San Diego, TikTok users in the United States open the app an average of eight times per day and spend an average of 46 minutes on the app.

The entertainment provided by TikTok’s perpetual and individualized content is what makes it addictive for some people.

Signs Of TikTok Addiction

Social media addiction can cause adverse effects and is evidenced in numerous ways. People struggling with this addiction can exhibit the following signs:

  • An uncontrollable desire to log in and stay on the social media platform
  • Perpetual thoughts about using it
  • Spending increased time on TikTok to feel the same level of satisfaction felt during previous use
  • Mood swings
  • Anxiety and restlessness when unable to use it
  • Neglecting areas of everyday life due to excessive use
  • Inability to control the urge to use the platform or lessen time expended on it

These troubling elements have an array of effects on those who use the platform.

TikTok’s Effect On Mental And Emotional Health

TikTok addiction is shown to correlate with negative effects on mental health, including increased levels of depression, stress, and anxiety. The app can have damaging consequences on mental and emotional health due to some of its consumers using it to avoid feelings of loneliness and the need to interact with other people in real life, leading to excessive time spent on the platform.

It can also have the potentially dangerous results of causing a person to lose sense of where they are and what is happening around them, leading to a disconnection from real-life events. Some people use TikTok to help them forget about their problems, which can negatively affect mental health by causing damage in areas of life such as work and school.

People who use TikTok for over an hour a day were more likely to have an addiction to it, and were often unaware of how long they had been using it.

 Excessive TikTok use can also lead to:

  • Tolerance
  • Mood changes
  • Restlessness when not using the platform
  • Inability to decrease use
  • Difficult feelings when being prohibited from using it

The way TikTok promotes escapism and feelings of belonging create effects on mental and emotional health that are predictors for developing social media addiction.

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What Happens To The Brain On TikTok?

As with other potentially addictive behaviors, TikTok use specifically targets the area of the brain involved in the reward system, leading to a release of the neurotransmitter dopamine, which specifically encourages the development of addiction.

Elements of TikTok, such as escapism, connection, and external validation, are likely to trigger the neural reward system. In essence, the surge of dopamine causes a person to feel good, lending itself to addiction risk. TikTok content is comprised of short videos that may serve to shorten a person’s attention span. Ongoing reinforcement is a strategy the platform uses to encourage users to keep watching and scrolling through short videos to find further enjoyable content.

As described above, the brain responds to TikTok through neurochemical action consisting of a surge of dopamine being released in the brain, which enacts feelings of pleasure and reward and promotes addiction.

Using TikTok can cause a person to become deeply engrossed in online activity, which can lead to a decreased connection with reality as well as a warped sense of time. It can also lead people to believe that other TikTok users are close friends who care about them. These and other elements of TikTok affect the brain by creating a sense of urgency to use the platform, which also contributes to its potentially addictive properties. These other elements include TikTok’s ability to create an alternate world for people that disappears when they stop using the platform, as well as causing excessive time spent ruminating about TikTok and planning for future engagement with it.

About The US TikTok Ban

After years of attempts by the United States government, a piece of legislation that aims to outlaw the use of TikTok has finally won congressional approval; and is on its way to President Biden’s desk for his signature. However, even with the president’s approval, the bill will likely take years to be enacted.

This is due to the way in which the bill was written. The bill, which passed in the House of Representatives on a 352-65 vote, gives the Chinese-owned parent company of TikTok, ByteDance, nine months to sell the company. This deadline could be further extended by another three months should a sale be in progress.

So it would be at minimum roughly a year before a ban would go into effect; however, legal experts agree that TikTok will likely make legal challenges, which could lengthen court hearings for years.

What A Ban Could Mean For TikTok Users

For most of TikTok’s 180 million US-based users, a ban on the app would mean losing access to a popular social media platform. However, for others who may have developed an unhealthy relationship with the app, a ban on TikTok could bring about harmful withdrawal symptoms, similar to those seen in people who use substances.

Like substance abuse, apps like TikTok use specifically targets the brain’s reward system, triggering the release of the neurotransmitter dopamine, which in turn promotes the development of addiction. This means that a person can develop an addiction to TikTok similar to how someone can become addicted to alcohol.

When someone with an addiction, whether it be to alcohol, TikTok, or another substance, suddenly goes without the substance they abuse, their body can experience withdrawal symptoms.

TikTok Withdrawal Symptoms

Withdrawal from social media is often described as the feeling of discomfort or stress when social media is not being used. Withdrawal symptoms typically include:

  • Frustration when being prevented from using social media
  • A sense of being disconnected from the world
  • Anxiety when unable to keep up with new or recent posts
  • Feelings of irritability

It’s essential to remember that recovery from addiction is not something that happens overnight, but with the right tools, support, and encouragement, these withdrawal symptoms will subside over time.

Who Is Most At-Risk For TikTok Addiction?

There are elements of the developing brain that make adolescents more susceptible to TikTok addiction. They are undergoing a critical developmental period that involves creating and maintaining interpersonal relationships and seeking outside approval to build their identities.

It is estimated that children between the ages of eight and 12 spend four to six hours per day partaking in screen time, while the estimate for teenagers is nine hours a day. These statistics indicate that young people are considered especially at risk for potentially developing an addiction to social media platforms such as TikTok.

A 2021 study from the University of Tennessee found evidence of a significant correlation between TikTok addiction and consumer age, showing that younger study participants displayed signs of addiction at higher rates compared to older study participants.

Can TikTok Addiction Be Prevented?

Having an understanding of what causes TikTok addiction and knowing the signs of it can help people identify what elements trigger its excessive use. Awareness of TikTok’s motives and strategies regarding user engagement can increase consciousness of its potential risks and help to mitigate them. Knowing how and why TikTok can be problematic can help parents and others create strategies to lower addiction risk. In particular, helping a person find alternative ways to satisfy their need for entertainment, escapism, and social activity can help prevent TikTok addiction.

Treatment For TikTok Addiction

A 2019 research study published in the Cyberpsychology journal provided evidence that helping a person increase their sense of self-worth provided success in treating addiction to social media.

A key treatment method that has proven efficacious is psychotherapy, especially cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). This method has demonstrated effectiveness in decreasing social media use in people who are addicted by helping them build their self-esteem as well as identify destructive thought patterns. CBT helps people unlearn addictive behaviors related to TikTok use and rewire related neural pathways. This therapy method leads to creating healthier TikTok use by identifying individuals’ vulnerabilities by examining their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors and explaining the connections between them. Because it has proven effective, CBT is beneficial for adolescents due to where they are in the stages of development.

Therapy approaches that increase mindfulness, such as acceptance and commitment therapy, dialectical behavioral therapy, and mindfulness-based relapse prevention, can also help people increase their self-confidence and address the harmful thoughts that are the foundation of addiction patterns.

How To Curb Your TikTok Addiction

Finding alternative ways to feel belonging and a sense of community can be key factors in effectively treating TikTok addiction. In addition, spending less daily time online correlates with decreased addictive use of social media, so decreasing minutes and hours on the internet can help lessen the problem.

Find Help For A TikTok Addiction

If you, your child, or your loved one is facing TikTok addiction, help is available. Online therapy can provide the psychotherapy techniques found beneficial in treating social media addictions. Explore our online therapy directory to learn more about your options.