Depression, ADHD Increase Teens' Risk for Internet Addiction


MONDAY, Oct. 5 (Health.com) — Some children and teens are more likely than their peers to become addicted to the Internet, and a new study suggests it's more likely to happen if kids are depressed, hostile, or have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or social phobia.

Although an Internet addiction is not an official diagnosis, signs of a potential problem include using the Internet so much for game playing or other purposes that it interferes with everyday life and decision-making ability. (The diagnosis is being considered for the 2012 edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the "bible" of mental ailments published by the American Psychiatric Association).

Too much of a good thing
Past research suggests that 1.4% to 17.9% of adolescents are addicted to the Internet, with percentages higher in Eastern nations than in Western nations, according to the study published Monday in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine.

In the survey of 2,293 seventh-grade students in Taiwan, 10.8% developed an Internet addiction, which was determined by a high score on an Internet addiction scale. Definitions vary, but an Internet addiction usually includes symptoms such as spending a lot of time on the Internet (especially more time than intended), an inability to cut back on usage, a preoccupation with online activities, and symptoms of withdrawal such as anxiety, boredom, or irritability after a few days of not going online.

The researchers from Kaohsiung Medical University Hospital, in Taiwan, followed the youngsters for two years and found that ADHD and hostility were linked to Internet addiction in children in general. In girls—but not boys—depression and social phobia also predicted problems.

Boys were at a higher risk of Internet addiction than girls, and those who used the Internet for more than 20 hours a week, every day, or for online gaming, were at higher risk as well.

The Internet as therapy
Michael Gilbert, a senior fellow at the Center for the Digital Future at the University of Southern California's Annenberg School for Communication, says the findings were no surprise.

"The study's indication that children who are hyperactive or diagnosed ADHD are finding an outlet on the Web makes such perfect sense," he says, because those children crave the constant stimulation of fast-paced video games and interactive social networks.

Kids with depression, anger issues, or social problems also turn to the Internet as therapy, adds Gilbert, who was not involved in the study. "They can take on an avatar or a different identity, and can contact other kids with the same problems and social inadequacies; they don't have to function in conventional social ways."

And while Gilbert is not surprised by the research—he regularly studies the impact of the Internet and cell phone usage on family relationships—he says it's important that it is given the attention it deserves.

"I don't get the feeling when I talk to therapists that they really understand the concept of addiction to the Internet," he says. "They think more in terms of pornography sites or gambling sites specifically, but Internet addiction itself is not fully understood yet by the therapeutic community."


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Lead writer: Amanda MacMillan
Last Updated: October 05, 2009

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