A recent study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry from the Yale Child Study Center at Yale University suggests that one out of every 25 teenage children has “problematic internet use”. The study was conducted using 3,560 students who attended high school in the state of Connecticut. In the study, problematic internet use was diagnosed by using criteria from the Minnesota Impulsive Disorder Inventory. Several core features of impulse-control disorder were evaluated in the study participants and they included a strong urge, growing tension, and attempts to cut back on internet usage. The researchers, who were led by Dr. Timothy Liu, gave surveys to the study participants and collected information on demographic data, characteristics of internet use, health measures, and several types of risky behaviors. The study authors used statistical analysis to determine if there was a relationship between problematic internet use and other risky behaviors. The overall prevalence of problematic internet use was found to be 4% among all participants of the study and there was no significant difference between males and females. Problematic internet use was more common among Asians and Hispanic students. It occurred in Asians at rate of 7.86%, while Hispanics had the problem at a rate of 6.07%. Boys spent significantly more time on the internet compared to girls. 16.52% of boys spent more than 20 hours per week on the internet compared to only 12.62% of girls. Boys were also more likely to miss important school or social events compared to girls because of their internet use (8.97% of boys versus 5.85% of girls). The researchers found that students who were diagnosed with problematic internet use were more likely to also have substance abuse, depression, and aggression problems. The association between problematic internet use and other behavioral problems was seen equally among both boys and girls. The study authors wrote that despite the fact that there was an association, a cause and effect relationship has not been established. They also pointed out that more studies are needed to determine whether problematic internet use shares similar brain biochemical pathways as found in other addictive behaviors such as gambling, smoking, and drug abuse. Some psychiatrists believe that there is sufficient evidence to classify internet addiction as a psychiatric diagnosis, and over time it will eventually be recognized as a distinct disorder.
Timothy C. Liu et. al. “Problematic Internet Use and Health in Adolescents: Data From a High School Survey in Connecticut” J Clin Psychiatry April 19, 2011 [Epub ahead of print] 10.4088/JCP.10m06057