Is It Possible to Have a YouTube Addiction?

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With the increased use of online video and social media use, some people have found themselves spending more and more time watching online video content; sometimes to the point that they feel that they have a YouTube addiction. The term is used informally to suggest that people watch more YouTube than they probably should. In other cases, however, this behavior can represent a more serious problem.

YouTube addiction is not a distinct mental health condition, although some experts suggest that internet addiction should be recognized as a disorder in the DSM-5, the manual that healthcare professionals use to diagnose mental disorders.

If you are concerned that you might have a YouTube addiction that is causing disruptions and distress in your life, it is important to recognize the potential signs and what you can do to get help. This article discusses this growing problem, what the research says, and strategies you might use to help curb your online video use.

Signs of YouTube Addiction

Because YouTube addiction is not a recognized condition, there are no specific diagnostic criteria. However, there are some signs that your online video viewing might be excessive. Some indicators of a problem include:

  • Spending most of your time watching YouTube videos, thinking about videos, or planning to watch videos
  • Feeling like you have to watch online videos in order to feel good
  • Continuing to watch YouTube videos even though the behavior leads to negative consequences
  • Feeling like you can't cut back on your viewing time even though you want to
  • Neglecting important duties related to work, family, school, or other life areas
  • Hiding your YouTube viewing habits from other people
  • Experiencing symptoms of withdrawal—such as feeling depressed, angry, or irritable—when you try to stop watching YouTube

Identifying YouTube Addiction

YouTube addiction isn't a disorder you'll find in the "Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders" (DSM-5). While it certainly isn't a distinct condition, many people report feeling like their compulsion to watch YouTube videos is very similar to that of an addiction. In fact, becoming dependent on viewing online videos may represent a form of behavioral addiction.

What Is a Behavioral Addiction?

Behavioral addictions are defined as non-substance addictions in which a person becomes dependent on certain behaviors or actions.

Although there is some argument about whether or not behavioral addictions represent "real" addictions, gambling disorder is one behavioral addiction that is officially recognized as a distinct disorder in the DSM-5.

While gambling disorder is the only behavioral addiction recognized in the DSM-5, internet gaming addiction is included as a condition for further study in the diagnostic manual's appendix.

Causes of YouTube Addiction

Like other types of behavioral addictions, viewing YouTube videos can produce short-term rewards. Over time, people may begin to feel that they have diminished control over their behavior and may continue watching excessive amounts of video content despite adverse consequences. 

For example, a person might feel a desire to watch videos during inappropriate times (in the middle of a date), in inappropriate places (at work), and in a way that interferes with their ability to function in their normal life (missing work in order to watch YouTube videos).  

The difficulty with this type of behavior is that it often starts slowly and gradually builds over time. Because these behavior changes tend to happen incrementally, it makes it more difficult to see how their actions are interfering with their life and well-being.

For example, you might start out watching videos for a specific purpose. Then you might start watching during moments when you are bored or alone. Over time, you start opening the app first thing in the morning and get sucked into watching one video after another. Before you know it, several hours have passed and you haven't even gotten out of bed. 

The wide variety of topics also means that you're unlikely to get bored. If your interest in one genre starts to wane, the recommendation algorithm will inevitably respond and start suggesting videos suited to whatever seems to hold your interest the most at any given moment.

Like other social platforms, YouTube's recommendation algorithm recommends new videos based on how you've interacted with past videos. This ensures that a whole host of fresh content is always available and uniquely aimed at your specific interests. This can make it that much harder to know when to stop.

Impact of Youtube Addiction

But does watching too much YouTube really qualify as an addiction? The American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) defines addiction as a chronic condition that involves complex interactions between genetics, brain circuits, the environment, and life experiences.

This definition encompasses the possibility of the pathological pursuit of rewarding behaviors, such as watching YouTube or other examples of internet addiction. Such behavior becomes compulsive and continues even when it has harmful consequences in a person's life.

Your behavior may or may not be a true addiction depending on the nature of your symptoms and how those symptoms impact your life. 

Even if your excessive YouTube use doesn't qualify as an addiction, it might still create problems in your life. For example, it might cause disruptions in your life and your relationships. It might affect your performance and work.

If you feel like your online video is causing distress, making it difficult for you to fulfill your life obligations, and interfering with your relationships, then it is important to take steps to address the problem. 

Recap

Whether or not excessive online video use is a "real" addiction, it can still cause a range of problems. It may impact work, school, friendships, and other relationships.

How to Get Help

If you feel that you have a YouTube addiction, you should consider talking to a mental health professional. They can help you with treatment options that can help you with your behavioral addiction.

Through therapy, you can also develop new coping skills that will help you break your YouTube habit. Therapy can also help treat any other underlying mental health concerns that might be contributing to your behavior.

Research suggests that people who have behavioral addictions–including gambling disorder, compulsive internet use, exercise addiction, and compulsive shopping behavior also tend to experience other psychiatric disorders such as anxiety disorders, substance use, and mood disorders—at a much higher rate.

In addition to getting professional treatment, there are also steps you can take on your own to help reduce problematic YouTube use.

For example, you might try:

  • Setting limits on when you can watch YouTube: Sometimes trying to completely eliminate something you enjoy can make you want it even more. To avoid this, give yourself a specific amount of time each day to watch YouTube videos.
  • Turning off autoplay: Access the settings on your YouTube account and toggle off the “Autoplay next video.” Eliminating the constant feed of automated videos may make it easier for you to stop viewing when you planned.
  • Setting a reminder to take a break: Again, access YouTube settings and toggle the “Remind me to take a break” option. You can set this to whatever time period you have decided to allow for video-watching.
  • Turning it into a reward: You might also consider allowing yourself to watch videos for a period of time as a reward for completing certain tasks. For example, you might tell yourself that you can watch videos for 15 minutes after you finish cleaning up the kitchen. Or you might give yourself permission to watch for 30 minutes after you finish working for the day.
  • Use distractions: Finding something else to fill your time can also help when you are tempted to spend hours immersed in online videos. Distractions that might help include watching tv, reading a book, pursuing a hobby you enjoy, exercising, or visiting with a friend.

Recap

Psychotherapy can be helpful if your YouTube viewing is causing problems in your life. There are also steps you can take to reduce your video-watching on your own. For example, you might try restricting your use to a certain time period or a specific time of day. When you are tempted to binge-watch videos, distract yourself with a different activity until the urge passes.

A Word From Verywell

Watching YouTube can be a fun way to be entertained or to learn about a topic you are interested in. In some cases, however, you might find yourself watching too much YouTube or even experiencing symptoms of behavioral addiction. 

Whether your viewing is a distracting habit that consumes too much of your time or a more serious problem, there are steps you can take to take control of this behavior. Consider setting limits to restrict your use or talk to a mental health professional for further advice.

6 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Kendra Cherry
Kendra Cherry, MS, is an author and educational consultant focused on helping students learn about psychology.