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Most of us access the internet on a daily basis. It is hard not to, when smartphones allow us to check emails on-the-go in a few taps of a button. But new research suggests that for young adults, heavy internet use may indicate signs of addictive behavior - similar to that found in drug addicts.
This is according to research presented at the IEEE International Conference on Advanced Networks and Telecommunications Systems in India.
Researchers from the Missouri University of Science and Technology, Duke University Medical Center and the Duke Institute of Brain Sciences conducted a study analyzing the internet usage of 69 college students over a 2-month period.
All students were required to complete a survey at the baseline of the study, called the Internet-Related Problem Scale (IRPS). This 20-question survey measures the level of problems a person experiences as a result of internet usage on a scale of 0 to 200.
According to the investigators, the scale identifies specific characteristics of addiction, such as withdrawal, introversion, tolerance, craving, negative life consequences, ratings of loss of control, escapism and reduced time on daily activities.
All participants were given a pseudonym. This was to stop researchers from associating the students' internet usage data with their real identities.
During the 2-month study period, the investigators found that students' IRPS scores ranged from 30 to 134, with the average score being 75. Their total internet usage varied from 140 megabytes to 51 gigabytes, with an average usage of 7 gigabytes.
The researchers then divided the students' internet usage into several categories. These included gaming, chatting, file downloading, email, browsing and use of Facebook and Twitter (social networking).
Gaming, chatting and browsing were linked to the highest total IRPS scores, while use of social networking and email was linked to the lowest scores.
Certain symptoms that were measured by the IRPS scale were also linked to specific internet usage categories. Gaming was significantly associated with introversion, craving and loss of control. Chatting was linked to introversion, as was file downloading.
Furthermore, the researchers found that high scores for introversion were linked to 25% more time spent on instant messaging, compared with those who received low introversion scores.
Students with high craving scores downloaded around 60% more content, compared with those who had low craving scores, while students who scored high on the IRPS scale overall spent 10% more time gaming, compared with students who had low overall IRPS scores.
Commenting on the findings, Dr. P. Murali Doraiswamy, of the Duke University Medical Center, says:
"About 5-10% 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.
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 quite underappreciated."
The investigators say their research, alongside other studies, provides new insights into how internet usage can affect a person's behavior and emotional health, and emphasizes the need to create criteria that determines what is normal and problematic internet usage.
The researchers, however, emphasize that their findings do not establish a direct "cause and effect" association between addictive behavior and internet usage.
They note that the majority of participants scored lower than the mid-point of the scale, and their research did not take into consideration whether students showing high internet usage were suffering from any mental problems.
Medical News Today recently reported on a study suggesting that video games may reduce teenagers' self-control.
Written by Honor Whiteman
Copyright: Medical News Today
Not to be reproduced without the permission of Medical News Today.
College students’ heavy Internet use shares symptoms of addiction, news release from Missouri University of Science and Technology, accessed 19 December 2013.
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Whiteman, Honor. "High internet use 'indicates addictive behavior' for young adults." Medical News Today. MediLexicon, Intl., 23 Dec. 2013. Web.
11 Mar. 2014. <http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/270454>
Whiteman, H. (2013, December 23). "High internet use 'indicates addictive behavior' for young adults." Medical News Today. Retrieved from
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