Is your social media use harmless or an addiction?

Find out if you’re more than just a fan, and if so, how to curb your cravings.

For most people, social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter are harmless platforms that allow for social interaction and personal expression. For others, social media has become more than an entertaining form of engagement—it’s an increasing compulsion. The question is, can a person really become addicted to social media?

Psychologists and researchers are beginning to address this notion, and recent studies suggest that yes, social media may be a serious opportunity for addiction.

The science of social

The University of Chicago recently conducted a study and found social media to be more addictive than cigarettes and alcohol. Addictions are, after all, about feeding a compelling urge, and one of the greatest human urges is to feel connected and part of something larger. Nothing satisfies this urge like logging on and being social at any hour of the day.

It’s difficult to control desires for social media because social sites are easy to access, and giving in to social urges seems far less harmful than giving in to drugs or nicotine.

The study also found a correlation between low self esteem and social network addiction. It’s easier for people who suffer from low self esteem to be social online, and therefore easy for them to form an addiction to sites like Facebook and Twitter.

Address your addiction

Do you check your Facebook account before you get out of bed in the morning? Do you tweet while on a romantic first date? You may think your social media habits are harmless, but how do you know if you cross the line into an addiction?

One way to check yourself is to evaluate your feelings about social media. For instance, when you don’t have access to it, say while on vacation or at a wedding, do you feel anxious and can only think of what you’re missing online? Would it be accurate to say social media brings you the most pleasure in life?

If you answer yes to these questions, it might be time to address your relationship with social media.

Don’t be a victim

One of the best things you can do to reign in your addiction is to keep track of how much time you spend on sites like Facebook and Twitter. Schedule your social media time and stick to that schedule no matter what. Close down your Web browsers and remove desktop/smartphone applications like TweetDeck that could tempt you.

Use a good, old-fashioned alarm clock so your cell phone doesn’t linger by your bed and keep you from precious hours of sleep. You must be your own gatekeeper and make sure you accomplish the important tasks every day that actually grow your business.

The flip side to a social media addiction is it can have a positive effect on your marketing strategies. Study your market and familiarize yourself with what kind of content your audience favors and how it shares that content.

Most importantly, always acknowledge and abide by social media’s golden rule: never sell to your market. Instead, engage with your fans and serve them value. Make sure to always be upfront and transparent.

It’s OK to be “anti-social”

There is no doubt social media will continue to shape the way we live and conduct our businesses online. It’s wise to remember that a little goes a long way, and sometimes you can have too much of a good thing.

If it weren’t for my socially pumped iPhone complete with Pinterest, Facebook and Twitter apps, I don’t know how I would survive doctors’ waiting rooms and long lines at the grocery store. However, as a die-hard Patriots fan, I willingly stayed clear of all forms of social media for an entire week after the Super Bowl.

To my dismay, I did not suffer from withdrawals, so it’s safe to say I am not addicted to social media. But, I sure do like it a lot!

What is the longest you’ve gone without tweeting or checking Facebook?

Kaity Nakagoshi works for the University of San Francisco. A version of this article originally appeared on {grow}.

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