Is addiction to social media a new epidemic?

Not following your social media, even for a short period of time, leads to classic withdrawal symptoms. Participants in a study showed the urge to go online at least three times a day and were bored. And members of mood swings.

A team of researchers from the Austrian Karl Landsteiner University of Health Sciences, led by psychologist Stefan Stieger, asked more than 150 participants aged 18 to 80 years, 70 percent of them women, not to use Twitter for seven days, Facebook, Instagram, or WhatsApp.


According to Stieger, nearly 60 percent of the subjects were cheating: they went online for about 3 minutes because otherwise, they feared something important to miss.

17 percent experienced a relapse once, 13 percent twice, and 29 percent more than twice. Users felt peer pressure to return to their social media. Because it is expected that they will deal with their friends there. “What we saw were effects that are comparable to traditional addictions,” says Stieger.

Withdrawal symptoms

He also emphasized that the withdrawal symptoms that his research has detected may be milder than the actual symptoms. More than a thousand people were invited to participate, but only 30 percent were interested. Ultimately, only 15 percent took up the challenge of staying away from social media for a while.

The offline period affected the mood of the participants. “For people who have problems with the use of their social media, staying offline is often a good thing,” says Stieger.


The results were published in the journal ‘Cyberpsychology, Behaviour and Social Network’. Open a new debate about whether or not there is an epidemic of addiction to social media.

“Although the findings indicate that the participants had problems when they retired from social media. I would still be careful to classify this as an addiction,” says Yalda Uhls, founder of the Centre for Scholars & Storytellers at the University of California/Los Angeles and author of the book ‘Media Moms & Digital Dads’.

“In addiction behavior, one usually causes damage to oneself or others, and I am not sure that boredom or fear counts as such. Interestingly, the authors have identified a decline in both positive and negative feelings, showing the complexity of the impact of these media on us.”


But Catherine Price, parenting and health advisor and author of the book “How to Break Up With Your Phone”, published in eighteen languages, is not surprised that the researchers have seen symptoms similar to those in abstinence.

“Just like slot machines, social media are deliberately designed to release dopamine in our brains. A substance that plays an important role in the formation of habits and addictions.”


“Personally, I agree with that research,” says Irving Washington, CEO of “Online News Association,” the leading organization of digital journalists in the US. He recently publicly promised not to follow his social media during a week’s vacation.

“Yes, I had to deal with withdrawal symptoms. I have achieved my goal, but I have traded one habit for another, I sent SMS messages about my holiday. Although technically I did not break the rule to not follow social media.

“I would say that I was quieter. But of course, I knew that I would return. I knew this was not a definite goodbye. My goal now is to focus more on my use of social media.”

Almost 4 hours a day

According to reports from social media services ‘Hootsuite’ and ‘We Are Social’. The number of users of social media is growing fastest in Central and South Asia (respectively 90 and 33 percent).

In Latin America, 57 percent of people use social networks. Of the ten countries with the highest consumption of social media, three are from Latin America: Brazil is in second place with 3 hours and 39 minutes a day, and Argentina is in fifth place with 3 hours and 9 minutes. And Mexico on seventh place with 3 hours and 7 minutes.

The Philippines introduce the ranking with an average use of almost 4 hours per day.

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