A new pilot study investigates the risk of “Internet addiction” among adolescents and young adults — a population segment that has been shown to be at high risk for behavioral addictions. “Internet addiction” is not a recognized diagnosis or mental disorder, but has been studied extensively because so many people spend so much time online.
Lead researcher Dimitri A. Christakis, M.D., had 224 eligible college students at two U.S. universities complete a survey that included the Internet Addiction Test (IAT) as well as the Patient Health Questionnaire. The Internet Addiction Test is not considered a well-validated psychological instrument.
Four percent of the students surveyed scored in the occasional problem or addicted range on the IAT. This is lower than previous studies reported — which have suggested “Internet addiction” affects between 6 and 10 percent of the population — suggesting that “Internet addiction” may be on the decline.
Researchers also discovered a link between problematic Internet usage and its association with moderate to severe depression.
According to Christakis, this is a cause for concern that potentially requires intervention and treatment amongst the most vulnerable groups.
While the percentage is lower than what has been reported in similar studies, the researchers said that their study demonstrates that problematic Internet usage is more common than asthma on U.S. college campuses, and suggests that colleges should consider preventative approaches.
“Pediatricians and parents continue to report overuse of the Internet in their patients and children, respectively,” said Christakis.
“Given the Internet is woven into the fabric of the lives of this generation of children, concerns about the potential for addiction are warranted and today’s college students are clearly at risk, given the considerable exposure that they have to the Internet.”
The study, titled “Problematic Internet Usage in U.S. College Students: A Pilot Study,” was recently published online in BMC Medicine.