Healthy Living

Are Frequent Internet Users Addicted? Their Symptoms Could Resemble Those Of Drug Addiction

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Frequent Internet use could have its negative health effects, such as losing sleep, but should it be considered an addiction? According to a new study, heavy Internet users exhibit signs of a drug addiction. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

It should come as no surprise that many people use computers a bit too much. From posting new statuses on Facebook to discovering the deepest, darkest realms of the World Wide Web through sites like Reddit, frequent Internet users would be called addicts by some — including the researchers responsible for a new study, which found that young adults who exhibit frequent Internet use also show signs of addiction.

The study, which was presented at the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers International Conference on Advanced Networks and Telecommunications Systems in Chennai, India, looked at the Internet usage of 69 college students over the course of two months. At the beginning of the study, the students were also given the Internet-Related Problem Scale (IRPS), a 20-question survey that looks for behaviors and characteristics associated with addiction, and measures them on a scale of 0 to 200. These include introversion, withdrawal, craving, tolerance, negative life consequences, escapism, ratings of loss of control, and time taken away from daily activities.

Overall, IRPS scores ranged from 30 to 134, with the average score being 75. When it came to Internet usage, the students used between 140 megabytes and 51 gigabytes, with the average being seven gigabytes. The students’ Internet usage was divided into categories such as browsing, gaming, messaging, social media, and file downloading, which the researchers found, at the end of the two months, correlated with certain behaviors from the IRPS. Those who scored higher on introversion, for example, spent 25 percent more time instant messaging, while those with high scores for craving downloaded 60 percent more files.

Gaming, messaging, and browsing were linked to the highest overall ISRP scores, the researchers found, while email and social networking were linked to the lowest. Students who scored highest on the ISRP also spent about 10 percent of their Internet time playing videogames, compared to about five percent for the group that scored low.

“About five to 10 percent of all Internet users appear to show web dependency, and brain imaging studies show that compulsive Internet use may induce changes in some brain reward pathways that are similar to that seen in drug addiction,” Dr. Sriram Chellappan, assistant professor of computer science at Missouri University of Science and Technology, said in a press release. “We tend to take drug-related addictions more seriously than if someone were using the Internet as a drug. The negative consequences of the Internet may be underappreciated.”

Heavy Internet use has been a growing concern for a long time now. In September, a Pennsylvania psychiatric hospital became the first in the U.S. to have an inpatient treatment program for Internet addiction. The voluntary program offers 10 days of treatment from psychiatrists and cognitive specialists in addiction. Meanwhile, other studies have also looked into the effect heavy Internet use has on the user. One such study, from August, found that Internet users were losing significant amounts of sleep because of their frequent use, which often included using their phones while in bed. On the other hand, frequent social networking has been linked to other negative effects, including a negative body image and short-lived relationships.

The researchers cautioned that their findings were preliminary, saying that they weren’t able to establish cause and effect, and that many of the students who showed problem use could have also suffered from mental disorders that they didn’t account for.  

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