Components of addiction (salience, tolerance, mood modification, relapse, withdrawal, and conflict) is the most cited theoretical framework for problematic social media use (PSMU). However, studies criticized its ability to distinguish problematic users from engaged users. We aimed to assess the association of the six criteria with depression, anxiety, and stress at a symptom level.
Ten thousand six hundred sixty-eight participants were recruited. Bergen Social Media Addiction Scale (BSMAS) was used to detect six addiction components in PSMU. We applied the depression-anxiety-stress scale to assess mental distress. Latent profile analysis (LPA) was conducted based on BSMAS items. Network analysis (NA) was performed to determine the symptom-symptom interaction of PSMU and mental distress.
(1) Social media users were divided into five subgroups including occasional users (10.6%, n = 1127), regular users (31.0%, n = 3309), high engagement low risk users (10.4%, n = 1115), at-risk users (38.1%, n = 4070), and problematic users (9.8%, n = 1047); (2) PSMU and mental distress varied markedly across subgroups. Problematic users had the most severe PSMU, depression, anxiety, and stress symptoms. High engagement users scored high on tolerance and salience criteria of PSMU but displayed little mental distress; (3) NA showed conflict and mood modification was the bridge symptoms across the network, while salience and tolerance exhibited weak association with mental distress.
Salience and tolerance might not distinguish engaged users from problematic users. New frameworks and assessment tools focusing on the negative consequences of social media usage are needed.