What Is A YouTube Addiction?

A YouTube addiction is when a person excessively uses the video-sharing app or website, despite negative effects occurring. Someone with a YouTube addiction may lose large chunks of time by endlessly watching videos, neglect their friends and family to spend more time online, and face issues with work or school due to their compulsion to watch YouTube videos.

The Uses and Gratifications theory (UG theory) is often used to describe the reasons people use media to meet specific life needs. There are four different gratification areas that are related to YouTube: content, social, process, and technology. All four of these gratifications can be fulfilled by YouTube, which contributes to it being an addictive platform.

Signs And Symptoms Of YouTube Addiction

Social media addiction is not an official diagnosis in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, Fifth Edition (DSM-5). However, several assessment tools have been created to help determine if you or a loved one is struggling with an addiction to YouTube. One of these assessments, developed by a study in the International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, is the YouTube Addiction Scale (YAS).

According to the YAS, there are six core components to look for:

  • Salience — Do you consider YouTube engagement the most important activity in your day?
  • Mood modification — Do you use YouTube to cope with difficult moods?
  • Tolerance — Has your time on YouTube gotten increasingly more frequent to get the same desired effect?
  • Withdrawal — Do you feel unpleasant when not using YouTube?
  • Conflict — Is your continued YouTube engagement causing interpersonal conflicts?
  • Relapse — Have you tried to reduce your use of YouTube only to revert to previous usage?

Answering ‘yes’ to one or more of the assessment items could indicate a YouTube addiction.

My weekend YouTube habit morphed into weeknights and then into the day. Work deadlines were affected. As I spent time alone in front of my computer, the slightest sniff of procrastination would send me spiraling into the depths, and I’d emerge an hour later, all the wiser, burdened under the weight of information I didn’t need to know.

- Domingo Cullen, The Guardian

When used in moderation, YouTube can be a great source of information and can help viewers learn new skills. However, when using the platform becomes a compulsion, it is likely time to reevaluate your relationship with YouTube.

Causes Of YouTube Addiction

There are a few different ideas of what contributes to someone developing an addiction to YouTube.

Creating Content

The Journal of Behavioral Addictions found content creation to have a slightly higher addictive nature than just content viewing. YouTube provides the opportunity for both activities. The desire to become successful and earn money through creating your own content on YouTube may contribute to addictive engagement.

Parasocial Relationships

Studies have also looked into the impact that parasocial relationships, like those found through YouTube, have on addiction. Parasocial relationships are one-sided relationships where one person invests time and energy into the relationship while the other does not actually know who they are. The more intense the parasocial relationship is with a YouTuber, the higher the likelihood of becoming addicted.

YouTube Algorithms

One of the main components leading to consumers spending more time on YouTube is how their recommendation algorithm works. YouTube wants you to spend more time on their site so they can make more money through advertisements. They do this by tracking your usage and preferences and feeding you more recommendations to keep you watching. YouTube estimated that approximately 70% of watch time on the site was driven by this recommendation algorithm.

There have even been lawsuits regarding the unethical nature of these algorithms. YouTube collected personal information from tracking child viewers and delivered targeted ads to them. The Federal Trade Commission ruled that YouTube violated the COPPA Rule, which seeks to protect young viewers.

The Impact Of YouTube Addiction

People who frequently use YouTube have higher levels of:

The viewers most affected by these negative impacts are those under the age of 29 and those who watch content about other people’s lives.

Many people who are addicted to YouTube are spending so much time online that they are not regularly interacting with people in person. This has a profound impact on mental health and relationships.

Watching content about other people’s lives can also lead a person to compare their own happiness to someone’s curated image they have put on YouTube. This can lead to a distorted reality that everyone else is happier than you are.

Dangers Of Toxic Content

Possible addiction is not the only concern when it comes to YouTube use. The problem of toxic content also exists in several different forms on the platform.

Illegal Content

YouTube does have rules against illegal content being allowed on its platform, but unfortunately, it is not always removed before people view it. This can include videos of people performing criminal acts and encouraging viewers to act similarly.

Misleading Or Fake Content

A recent survey in the British Medical Journal found that 72.5% of videos on YouTube contained only factual information, while 27.5% had misleading or inaccurate information. Many of these misleading videos came from entertainment news and internet news sources. People who use YouTube may consume false information under the guise of factual news coverage.

Extremist Content

The YouTube algorithm often leads people toward extremist views over time. One survey conducted by the Anti-Defamation League showed that 9% of people viewed at least one video from an extremist channel, and 22% viewed at least one video from an alternative channel. As already discussed, once you view such a video, more will be suggested by the algorithm, leading the viewer down a rabbit hole of extremist content.

How To Stop Binge-Watching YouTube

There are a few steps you can take to help yourself or a loved one with a YouTube addiction.

  • Clear search and viewing history so the algorithm cannot track your actions and suggest more content for you.
  • Set screen time limits on your devices that require a password to override and have someone else set the password.
  • Choose to turn on YouTube’s “take a break” reminders.
  • Turn off the autoplay function so that YouTube doesn’t continuously play one video after another.
  • Try taking a break from YouTube altogether for several days or a week to “reset” your system.
  • Find other activities you enjoy that can replace some of your usual YouTube time.

If you find yourself struggling to cut back on time spent on YouTube, it’s important to talk to a professional about any mental health or emotional issues that may have led you to use YouTube to cope.

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Get Help For A YouTube Addiction

Online therapy can provide a supportive space to examine and reveal the motivating factors and underlying causes behind a YouTube addiction. In therapy, a person can learn effective coping techniques and utilize therapeutic strategies to take back their time and life from this consuming form of internet use disorder.

If you feel overwhelmed with a YouTube addiction, know that help is available. Start by exploring your online therapy options and get the help you need today.