Are you addicted to TikTok? These are the signs to look out for, according to a scientific study

·5-min read
Photo credit: Sergey Mironov - Getty Images
Photo credit: Sergey Mironov - Getty Images

Picture this: You've just got home from work and check the clock as you flop down onto the sofa. It's 6:05pm. 'Just a quick scroll through TikTok before dinner' you tell yourself, bargaining five minutes of free-time before putting your pasta on to boil. Scroll. Scroll. Double Tap. Like. Scroll. Scroll. You blink and notice it's dark outside. 7:45pm. 'Where the F did the time go!?'

If the above scenario sounds familiar, then you're not alone. In fact, of TikTok's (at least) 1 billion monthly worldwide users, 6.4% (or 64 million people – which is almost the same population size as the UK, per Nations Online, if you can believe it) are categorised as being "at-risk" of developing an addiction to the app, according to a new study, while 25.4% are at a lower risk, but a risk nonetheless.

But when does mildly (or perhaps mindlessly) enjoying an evening scroll turn into a full blown TikTok addiction? And, more importantly, what can you do if you think you've got one?

Am I addicted to TikTok quiz

While there isn't an actual 'quiz' to test if you're addicted to TikTok, a recent scientific study, published in the Addictive Behaviours Journal found that there are signs you can look out for if you think you've developed an unhealthy relationship with the social media platform.

"After jokingly telling my wife that she is obsessed with TikTok and WhatsApp, I spoke to two persons that described their interaction with adolescents who they deemed to be 'addicted' to social media or the internet," study author Troy Smith of the University of Trinidad and Tobago told PsyPost.

"One person highlighted that their son seemed nervous, refused to eat and even tried to lie to get access to Social Networking Sites (SNS) when he was restricted," the expert added. "I wanted to know how common these addiction-like behaviours associated with TikTok use were, and deepen my understanding of the underlying mechanisms."

Explaining what the study found in terms of signs to look out for if you're concerned about being addicted to TikTok, Smith said: "The most definitive signs of addiction are that the user becomes nervous, irritable, anxious, or exhibits strong feelings of sadness when deprived of access to the social networking site (withdrawal) and the user’s attempts to control participation in SNS are unsuccessful (relapse)."

Photo credit: Willie B. Thomas - Getty Images
Photo credit: Willie B. Thomas - Getty Images

Not only that, but the study (which analysed data from 354 college students) found a correlation between the risk of developing a TikTok addiction and gender, as well previous mental health issues. TikTok users identified as "at-risk" of addiction tended to score higher in terms of loneliness and extraversion, while female TikTok users were also more likely to be "at-risk" compared to male users.

The findings also showed that social media users can be addicted to one platform but not another.

Why is TikTok so addictive?

As for what makes TikTok so bloody addictive, there's a number of reasons why we find ourselves continually being sucked into endless evenings of scrolling. "When you’re scrolling sometimes you see a photo or something that’s delightful and it catches your attention," Dr. Julie Albright, a sociologist specialising in digital culture, explained to the host of YouTube series, Tech First. "And you get that little dopamine hit in the brain, in the pleasure centre of the brain. So you want to keep scrolling."

Likening the experience of using TikTok to a slot machine at a casino, the expert notes that as you scroll your eyes will catch some things it likes and some things it doesn't, which feeds your desire to keep going.

"In psychological terms [it’s] called random reinforcement," Albright adds. "It means sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. And that’s how these platforms are designed, they’re exactly like a slot machine. And, well, the one thing we know is slot machines are addictive. We know there’s a gambling addiction, right? But we don’t often talk about how our devices and these platforms and these apps do have these same addictive qualities baked into them."

What is TikTok doing about it?

When asked if they're aware of users developing an addiction to TikTok, and if there's anything they're doing about it, a spokesperson for the social media platform told Cosmopolitan UK: "We are focused on supporting the well-being of our community so that they feel in control of their TikTok experience."

The spokesperson went on, "We proactively surface in-feed reminders to take breaks from our app, limit evening push notifications for younger users, and our Screen Time Management setting helps anyone manage their ideal screen time by choosing a time cap."

Time off TikTok

If you are concerned about your TikTok (or any social media) use for that matter, there are a number of things you can do to reduce the time you spend scrolling like putting a time cap on the app through your phone's settings or deleting the app entirely if you want to have a longer break. Tanya Goodin, founder of digital wellbeing movement Time To Log Off, also recommends creating 'no-go' zones at home when it comes to your phone. "Everyone always thinks about bedrooms here, but actually bathrooms should be your priority," she tells us, putting an end to endless loo scrolling.

If you do decide to take a break from TikTok, you'll need to do something to keep you distracted so that you're not lured back. "Finding something really absorbing to do with both your hands is a brilliant way of stopping you picking up your phone reflexively and scrolling with no purpose," explains Goodin, suggesting puzzles, crafting or baking as a new outlet for your evenings.

And of course, if you're concerned about the impact that TikTok is having on your mental health, it's always worth speaking to a trusted friend or family member, or contacting a mental health charity like Mind.

For information, support and advice about mental health and where to get support, visit Mind’s website at www.mind.org.uk or call Mind’s Infoline on 0300 123 3393 (Monday to Friday, 9.00am to 6.00pm).

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