1 In 8 Show 'Problematic' Internet Use

Students in lectures aren't paying attention, but instead surfing the Internet.
As many as one in eight American adults may have at least one sign of "problematic" Internet use, according to a new study.

The study was based on a phone survey of 2,500 adults; two-thirds of whom said they use the Internet regularly. It appears in CNS Spectrums: The International Journal of Neuropsychiatric Medicine. Researchers included Elias Aboujaoude, MD, who directs the Impulse Control Disorders Clinic at Stanford University's medical school.

The survey covered a wide range of topics, with eight questions on Internet use.

Here are the questions and responses:

  • Do you feel your personal relationships have suffered as a result of excessive Internet use? (6 percent said "yes")
  • Do you conceal nonessential Internet use? (9 percent "yes")
  • Do you feel preoccupied by the Internet when you're offline? (4 percent "yes")
  • Do you find it difficult to stay away from the Internet for several days at a time? (14 percent "yes")
  • Do you go online to escape problems or relieve a negative mood? (8 percent "yes")
  • Have you tried to cut back on your Internet use? (12 percent "yes")
  • If so, did you succeed? (94 percent "yes")
  • How often do you stay online longer than you intended? (12 percent said "very often" or "often")

    Each problematic behavior elicited a "yes" response from between 4 percent and 14 percent of respondents (percentages are rounded). That doesn't mean all of those people were Internet addicts. If there is such a thing as Internet addiction, its diagnosis may require more than one symptom.

    Internet addiction isn't recognized as a condition in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition (DSM-IV), the handbook used by psychiatrists to diagnose mental illness, the researchers note.

    The questions on Internet use in the survey were based on other disorders.

    Survey participants did not mirror the U.S. population; for instance, men and Hispanics were underrepresented. But the researchers adjusted for those gaps.

    The study was funded in part by the drug company Forest Laboratories. In the journal, Aboujaoude notes ties to Forest Laboratories, as well as to other drug companies.

    SOURCES: Aboujaoude, E. CNS Spectrums: The International Journal of Neuropsychiatric Medicine, October 2006; Vol. 11: pp. 750-755. News release, Stanford University.

    By Miranda Hitti
    Reviewed by Louise Chang, M.D