What Is Internet Addiction?
Currently, about 71% of the US population has access to the Internet, and this new medium has revolutionized such life aspects as shopping, entertainment, and political campaigns, but for some individuals, Internet use can become a problem.
Researchers define Internet addiction, based on criteria for pathological gambling, as having 5 or more of the following symptoms:
- preoccupation with the Internet,
- a need to spend more time online to get the same satisfaction,
- unsuccessful attempts to decrease use,
- feeling restless or irritable when attempting to cut back,
- often staying online much longer than intended,
- secretive behavior/lying about online pursuits,
- distress or dysfunction as a result of this behavior, or
- use of the Internet to self-medicate (eg, to overcome depression).
Internet addiction shares features in common with impulse control, substance abuse, and obsessive-compulsive disorders.
It is similar to impulse control disorder, in that people experience a surge in anxiety and an urge to perform an act that is pleasurable in the moment but leads to long-term distress.
Like substance abuse, problematic Internet use results in a a hormone surge in the brain. More and more Internet use is needed to achieve a high, and when going without the Internet, the person might suffer from withdrawal symptoms.
Like obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), Internet addiction can include ritualized, repetitive behavior. However, unlike OCD, it offers a pleasurable high, and people can lose track of time.
How Common Is It?
Two recent community studies of adolescents reported a much lower prevalence.
A Korean study of over 1500 15- and 16-year-old students who replied to a questionnaire reported an Internet addiction prevalence of 1.6%, with the same rates among boys and girls (Kim K et al. Int J Nurs Stud. 2006;43:185-192).
Similarly, a Norwegian study of over 3200 adolescents found that 1.98% of this population was addicted to the Internet.
To investigate problematic Internet use in the adult general population in the United States, Dr. Aboujaoude and colleagues performed a random-digit-dial telephone survey of 2513 adults in 50 states (Aboujaoude E et al. CNS Spectr. 2006;11:750-755).
Of the people who were contacted, 56.3% replied to the survey. The respondents had an average age of 48 years.
From 4% to 14% of the survey respondents showed evidence of some aspects of problematic Internet use:
- 4% said they were preoccupied with the Internet when they were offline.
- 6% had personal relationships that suffered as a direct consequence of inappropriate Internet use.
- 6% regularly went online to escape from depression or negative moods.
- 9% were secretive and felt they had to hide their Internet activities.
- 11% stayed online regularly for longer than they intended.
- 14% had a very hard time staying offline 4 days in a row.
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