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Brief absence from social media leads to withdrawal symptoms

The study comes from the Karl Landsteiner University of Health Sciences in Austria and examines at what happens to people after they disconnect from online services. The headline from the research is that a short break, of just seven days, from commonly used social media platforms like Facebook or Twitter is sufficient to trigger withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms are described by the researchers as being similar to what happens when someone stops taking an addictive substance.

The symptoms are a mix of significantly increased urges; feelings of boredom; and whether a person is more often in a good or bad mood. In total 152 people were assessed, aged between 18 and 80. The end-of-research results showed that 90 out of the 152 participants were unable to go without social media for seven days without exhibiting the full set of symptoms.

Social media use is widespread worldwide. Statistics indicate that the number of Internet users worldwide in 2018 is 4.021 billion, which is up by 7 percent year-on-year. Within this figure, the number of social media users worldwide in 2018 is 3.196 billion, which is an increase of 13 percent year-on-year. The most popular social media remains Facebook, closely followed by YouTube.

While there have been studies on how people use social media and on the impact of social media on mental health (one recent study, reported on by Digital Journal, looked at patterns of loneliness), few studies have been conducted on addiction to social media.

According to lead researcher, Professor Stefan Stieger: “As it turned out, a seven-day abstinence from social media triggered mild withdrawal symptoms among the subjects, similar to those associated with addictive substances.”

He adds: “In particular, we saw a sharp increase in the desire – the craving – to use social media during the period of abstinence. This effect was even measurable when the subjects were allowed to use social media once again.”

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One of the drivers, when the subjects were questioned, was a feeling of peer pressure associated with the need to use social media. This partly accounted for the negative moods reported on by some subjects.

In some cases, albeit a smaller number, the withdrawal from social media had a positive effect in that the mood of some of the subjects improved.

The research has been published in the journal Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking. The research is titled: “A week without using social media: Results from an ecological momentary intervention study using smartphones.”

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