Internet addiction. The term almost seems like an oxymoron. As integral as the internet has become to our modern lives, any one of us might be termed an internet addict. But there are those that go above and beyond when it comes to their excessive use of the internet, and there are those that may be at, or approaching, a point where they can’t cope without it. Now, a new study says that those same internet addicted individuals may have more mental health issues.
The study on internet addiction was conducted using two separate scales to determine the level of internet use. Not surprisingly, it was determined that college students are the ones that use the internet the most, and they are also the ones that have the most problematic use of the internet. Those that conducted the study utilized something called the Internet Addiction Test, or IAT, which was devised in 1998.
Researchers also used a more modernized determination scale to rate just how addicted a person was to the internet. The authors developed the new determination because of how much the internet has changed over the last 18 years. The overwhelming majority of us, not just those who are addicted, are using the internet considerably more than we did in 1998. The researchers were concerned that they’d end up with an inordinate amount of false positives if they only utilized the original IAT. The new assessment system was created by Professor Van Ameringen, who was the lead author of the study.
This latest internet addiction study was performed at McMaster University in Canada. To perform the study, they surveyed 254 students. Once the surveys were completed, the researchers cross-referenced those internet usage results with general mental health and well-being data compiled by the researchers. That general mental health and well-being survey was designed to detect symptoms of depression and anxiety, impulsiveness, ADHD, inattention, and executive functioning.
When all the information was compiled, these were the results. Thirty-three of the 254 students met the requirements for internet addiction, according to the original IAT. Moreover, 107 of the students met a benchmark categorized as “problematic internet use,” according to Van Ameringen’s new internet addiction scale.
After all was said and done, and the comparisons were made between those that were addicted to the internet, or having their internet use labeled as “problematic,” Professor Van Ameringen commented on the results.
“We found that those screening positive on the IAT as well as on our scale, had significantly more trouble dealing with their day to day activities, including life at home, at work/school and in social settings. Individuals with internet addiction also had significantly higher amounts of depression and anxiety symptoms, problems with planning and time management, greater levels of attentional impulsivity as well as ADHD symptoms. This leads us to a couple of questions: firstly, are we grossly underestimating the prevalence of internet addiction and secondly are these other mental health issues a cause or consequence of this excessive reliance on the internet?”
And therein lies the rub. The chicken and the egg problem. Do internet addicts have mental health issues because they use the internet so much, or do those individuals with mental health issues have a tendency to be internet addicts?
The professor went on to say that this simple and albeit small-scale internet addiction study does have larger implications for the treatments of addicts on all levels. It brings up the question of whether or not you should be treating someone for an addiction when they are anxious and depressed. The anxiety and depression might be the very same thing that is instigating the addiction, and that might be what treatment should be focused on. Professor Van Ameringen also reiterated that this was a very small study on the links between internet addiction and general mental health and that much larger studies must be performed on a varied population to get more concrete data.
Professor Van Ameringen will present his findings on Sunday to the ECNP Conference in Vienna.
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