A recent Pew Research poll provides fuel for the argument that Internet addiction is a growing problem among Americans. The poll found that as many as 53% of adults reported that it would be “very hard” to give up the Internet in 2014, as compared to just 38% in 2006. The results of the poll also indicate that it may be the Internet that is replacing television as America’s go-to pastime, with only 35% of adults overall saying that it would be “very hard” to part with their TV, and among the youngest polled, those between the ages of 18 and 29, television would be “very hard” to give up for just 12% of viewers. Females and those of higher socioeconomic class and/or having higher levels of education would reportedly have the most difficulty parting with the Internet, says the Pew Research data.
This information will come as little surprise to the many scientists and mental health providers who have been increasingly researching the issue of Internet addiction in recent years. While not officially adopted into the latest update to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (the DSM-5), there was speculation that “Internet Use Disorder” might be included and in fact, “Internet Gaming Use Disorder” has been included in Section 3 of the manual which is home to those disorders deemed worthy of more research prior to consideration for inclusion in a future iteration of the volume.
Many clinicians do report seeing clients with problems arising in their lives due to excessive internet use and for some it may be a part of an underlying psychiatric diagnosis, such as depression (linked to heavy internet use among teens), it may also be a stand alone problem as well, say some.
A British study released early last year suggested that heavy internet users may even experience withdrawal symptoms similar to those suffering from drug addictions when forced to take time away from their screens. 60 participants with an average age of 25 were evaluated in the study, initially to see if they were heavy users to the detriment of their work or personal lives, deemed “addicted.” After participants were told to explore the Internet for a period of 15 minutes, it was the heaviest of Internet users that reported the greatest letdown after the time was up. Researchers say it was similar to what is experienced by users of the drug ecstasy as their high begins to fade away.
One professor involved in the Swansea University study said that nearly half of the young participants had experienced the negative effects of excessive Internet use on their lives. The study further indicated that the heaviest Internet users suffered increased rates of depression and a higher frequency of traits consistently associated with autism. Further research is needed to determine whether those difficulties have a causal relationship with Internet use and in which direction it may go. However, the British study does indicate that Internet addiction may be detrimental to one’s mental health at least in the initial period after use, and if the latest Pew Research is to be believed, it appears as though it could be a growing problem.
By Michele Wessel