REAL LIFE: Are you Addicted to TikTok?

It seemed to come out of nowhere, didn’t it? One minute we are all furiously updating our Instagram stories and buying teeth whitening strips advertised in-between stories, and the next minute all of the youngsters are going on about TikTok. Initially, it didn’t seem either fun or accessible to people that didn’t like dancing. Dances to certain songs kept going “viral” on the platform, but in the initial years after it was rebranded, TIkTok didn’t seem to have much pull outside of that. And then it all changed. People were creating TikToks about all sorts of niches, books for example, or sharing recipes, or even making funny cat videos, which we know from other social media channels are ALWAYS a winner. All of a sudden, the world and his wife are on TikTok. 

But is that a good or a bad thing? 

What is TikTok?

TikTok is a video-sharing app where users can share or watch videos that are 15” or longer. Unlike YouTube, the videos on TikTok are short and sharp, and they are usually created quickly with mobile phones, which is a lot easier than the labor-intensive process of creating good long-form video content. You can easily make decent TikToks with basic equipment like a simple smartphone camera tripod, which adds to its appeal. The app was launched in 2016 by the Chinese technology company ByteDance and is now available in more than 150 different markets. In early 2022, it reached 1 billion daily users. Entertainment and comedy clips are popular as they work so well with the short format, but “infotainment” has also become popular, and many TikTok influencers have built media empires from their popularity on the app.

What makes TikTok addictive?

The nature of what makes social media in general so addictive is pretty basic. When you are scrolling through a social media site, and you see something that pleases you, it releases dopamine into your brain. Dopamine is a type of neurotransmitter and hormone that generates reward and motivation. As soon as we get a dopamine hit, we want another one, which keeps us scrolling. TikTok fits the bill so perfectly for a social media platform to get addicted to due to its nature of having short videos and an unlimited feed. It’s fairly easy to scroll past hundreds of videos that do not appeal to you, to get to the odd one that does. A psychologist in an article from Cosmopolitan, compared this to gambling in real life and online slots, where the “win some, lose some” mentality keeps users engaged.

The darker side of TikTok addiction

Hardly a day goes by without me seeing some form of meme like “when you have 5 minutes to go on TikTok and 6 hours pass”. While I am an advocate of being able to joke about almost any life situation, there are serious cases of TikTok addiction that are genuinely ruining lives. Last year The Independent newspaper posted an online article that listed the main symptoms of TikTok addiction as; salience, mood modification, tolerance, withdrawal, conflict, and relapse. It isn’t just Gen Z that is becoming addicted to the platform. This article tells the story of a successful adult Doctor falling into the TikTok trap.

What is it like to be addicted to TikTok?

I’m very new to TikTok. My TikTok account is still quite disjointed and doesn’t have a particular niche (although nor does this blog to be honest, I just write about what my little brain finds interesting). If I wanted to get a good idea of what a TikTok addiction is like first-hand, I was going to have to reach out on my Twitter to find someone who could talk me through it. 

One of the first things I wanted to find out from Charlotte was what initially attracted her to TikTok. I, myself have been recovering at home from a very long hospital stay and was pretty bored when I got started. Charlotte’s story is similar in a way, she told me that she signed up during lockdown which helped fill the time when there was nothing else to do. Currently, Charlotte spends between 1.15hr and 2.30hrs on TikTok per day, based on her phone’s daily averages (these are a great tool if you feel yourself sliding a bit too much towards social media each day). The most interesting answer Charlotte gave me was about what compelled her to keep coming back to the app. She was recently diagnosed with ADHD and often struggles with executive dysfunction. This is where she has so much that she wants to get done but feels like she cannot get up and do anything, which usually results in scrolling on TikTok. She also said she thinks it is partly also because Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter usually run out of new content – whereas TikTok will always have unlimited new stuff to watch! The short videos also resonate with her attention span.

I wouldn’t presume to understand what it is like to live with ADHD at all, but I do know a few people with the condition, and the majority of them spend a similar amount of time on TikTok. As much as I hate to be so cynical, I can’t help but wonder if the platform were fully aware of this when they started creating the app. All we can do is hope TikTok is not intentionally this predatory to people suffering from conditions like this, and TikTok does seem to be actively aware this is happening and taking steps to resolve it. 

A statement they made to The Independent said; “We are focused on supporting the well-being of our community so that they feel in control of their TikTok experience. We take steps such as proactively surfacing in-feed reminders to take breaks from our app, limiting evening push notifications for younger users, and enabling parents to manage screen time as part of our Family Pairing features.”

What should I do if I think someone I love is addicted to TikTok?

The good news is, there is no reason the person you love who you feel may be addicted to TikTok may be able to learn a balanced relationship. The first thing to do is to find a way to gauge whether they could live without the app or not, without putting too much pressure or stress on them. Once you have done this, you should be able to figure out the level of support needed. If you feel they may benefit from some time away from the platform, you could suggest a digital detox and support them by doing it too. If they manage to accomplish this, it may be that they feel inclined to use it less when they do finish the detox. If the problem is more serious, you may need to contact a social media addiction specialist. Over the last few years, many addiction specialists have now realized the importance of offering tailored help for social media addiction.

If you do require help for yourself or a loved one, please seek out help from a professional in this field. I am NOT a psychiatrist and this article was written purely from first-hand experiences and information available on the internet. Professional help is available.


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