Disordered Social Media Use in Young Adults Fits the Pattern of Behavioral Addiction

Investigators sought to determine whether disordered social media use was associated with similar personality traits as risk alcohol use.

Differences and similarities in addiction-linked traits between disordered social media use and risky or problematic substance use were found, according to a study published in the Australian Journal of Psychology.

Social media, including online blogs, Internet forums, and social networking sites such as Facebook and Instagram, are important forces in the lives of many. Excessive or compulsive use of social media, however, can resemble addiction, with characteristics such as craving, impaired control, development of tolerance and withdrawal symptoms, attempts to hide use-related problems, adverse effects,and decreased satisfaction with life.

Michael Lyvers, PhD, from the School of Psychology, Bond University, Gold Coast, Australia, and colleagues administered well-known indices of disordered social media use, risky or problematic alcohol use, and the personality traits of alexithymia, reward sensitivity, narcissism, and impulsivity online to 143 men and women between the ages of 18 and 35 years who regularly used social media. These traits had been linked to substance misuse previously.

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The investigators used the Social Media Disorder Scale, the Narcissistic Personality Inventory Brief Version, the Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test, the Toronto Alexithymia Scale, the Sensitivity to Punishment and Sensitivity to Reward Questionnaire, the Barratt Impulsivity Scale brief version, and the Marlowe-Crowne Social Desirability Scale brief version to assess participants.

After controlling for confounding factors such as age, sex, and social desirability, the investigators found that disordered social media use was predicted by narcissism, reward sensitivity, and impulsivity, whereas risky alcohol use was predicted by narcissism, alexithymia, and impulsivity. Disordered social media use correlated negatively and significantly with age and social desirability and correlated positively with risky drinking, the Sensitivity to Reward index, the Barratt Impulsivity Scale brief index of rash impulsiveness, the Barratt Impulsivity Scale brief alexithymia, and the Narcissistic Personality Inventory Brief Version narcissism.

In the final model, the authors note that narcissism was no longer significant because of the mediating effects of reward sensitivity, and therefore high reward sensitivity appears to explain the link between narcissism and disordered social media use. Rash impulsiveness is a sign of executive dyscontrol in disordered social media use, suggesting that disordered social media use fits the model of a behavioral addiction.


Lyvers M, Narayanan SS, Thorberg FA. Disordered social media use and risky drinking in young adults: Differential associations with addiction-linked traits [published online December 18, 2018]Aust J Psychol. 2018. doi:10.1111/ajpy.12236