A new report in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine posits that adolescents with psychiatric symptoms may be more likely to develop an “Internet addiction.”
Experts identified attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), social phobia, hostility and depression as conditions that could increase the risk for online addiction.
As most parents would acknowledge, the Internet is a significant information resource for adolescents. However, according to background information in the article, addiction to the Internet can negatively impact school performance, family relationships and adolescents’ emotional state.
“This phenomenon has been described as Internet addiction or problematic Internet use and classified as a possible behavior addiction,” the authors write.
Previous studies report that 1.4 percent to 17.9 percent of adolescents are addicted to the Internet in both Western and Eastern societies; therefore, there have been suggestions to add Internet and gaming addictions to the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.
Critics have pointed out that the criteria for “Internet addiction” have changed over time and have not been standardized across studies. Much of the research to-date has suffered from methodological flaws and design problems, which call into question the reliability of the data.
Chih-Hung Ko, M.D., of Kaohsiung Medical University Hospital and Kaohsiung Medical University, Kaohsiung City, Taiwan, and colleagues examined the relationship between psychiatric symptoms such as ADHD, social phobia and hostility and Internet addiction in 2,293 seventh-graders (1,179 boys and 1,114 girls) from ten junior high schools in southern Taiwan.
Researchers also noted differences in the predictive value of these psychiatric symptoms between males and females. Psychiatric symptoms were determined through self-reported questionnaires.
Internet addiction was assessed by the Chen Internet Addiction Scale (CIAS) at baseline and at six, 12 and 24 months with scores ranging from 26 to 104. Participants scoring 64 or higher were classified as being addicted to the Internet.
Of all participants, 233 (10.8 percent) were classified as having Internet addiction and 1,929 (89.2 percent) were classified as not having an Internet addiction. The researchers report that although depression, ADHD, social phobia and hostility were found to predict the occurrence of Internet addiction in the two-year followup, depression and social phobia predicted Internet addiction among only female adolescents.
Additionally, the most significant predictors of Internet addiction in male and female adolescents were hostility and ADHD, respectively.
“These results suggest that ADHD, hostility, depression and social phobia should be detected early on and intervention carried out to prevent Internet addiction in adolescents,” the authors conclude.
“Also, sex differences in psychiatric comorbidity should be taken into consideration when developing prevention and intervention strategies for Internet addiction.”
“Our culture both mandates and facilitates time spent online,” write Dimitri A. Christakis, M.D., M.P.H., of the Center for Child Health, Behavior and Development, Seattle, and Megan A. Moreno, M.D., M.P.H., in an accompanying editorial.
“Part of the failure to recognize this potential 21st-century epidemic is the simple fact that many of us, Blackberry in hand, check e-mail more than we would like. The inherent difficulties in defining Internet addiction and our own need for rectification should not prevent us from recognizing an emerging epidemic,” Dr. Christakis and Dr. Moreno continue.
“As pediatricians and indeed as parents, we have all experienced the pull that the Internet can have on children.”
“If all at-risk children achieve sufficient exposure to become addicted, the prevalence of Internet addiction may easily approach the 2 percent to 12 percent of children reported in other countries, quickly ranking it among the most common chronic diseases of childhood,” they conclude.
“Our intention in raising this concern is not to be alarmist but rather to alert pediatricians to what might become a major public health problem for the United States in the 21st century.”
Source: JAMA and Archives Journals