Miércoles 25 de Octubre de 2006, Ip nº 176

US internet addicts 'as ill as alcoholics'
The US could be rife with "internet addicts" who are as clinically ill as alcoholics, according to psychiatrists involved in a nationwide study.

The study, carried out by researchers at Stanford University School of Medicine in California, US, indicates that more than one in eight US residents show signs of "problematic internet use".

The Stanford researchers interviewed 2513 adults in a nationwide survey. Because internet addiction is not a clinically defined medical condition, the questions used were based on analysis of other addiction disorders.

Most disturbing, according to the study's lead author Elias Aboujaoude, is the discovery that some people hide their internet surfing, or go online to cure foul moods – behaviour that mirrors the way alcoholics behave.

"In a sense, they're using the internet to self-medicate," Aboujaoude says. "And, obviously, something is wrong when people go out of their way to hide their internet activity."

Non-essential use
Nearly 14% of respondents said they found it difficult to stay away from the internet for several days and 12% admitted that they often remain online longer than expected.

More than 8% of those surveyed said they hid internet use from family, friends and employers, and the same percentage confessed to going online to flee from real-world problems. Approximately 6% also said their personal relationships had suffered as a result of excessive internet usage.

"Potential markers of problematic internet use are present in a sizeable portion of the population," the researchers note.

Compulsive drive
Aboujaoude, a psychiatry professor at Stanford's Impulse Control Disorders Clinic, says an increasing number of people are seeking help from doctors because of unhealthy internet use.

He compares the compulsive drive to check email, make blog entries or visit websites to substance abuse – an irresistible urge to perform a temporarily pleasurable act.

"The issue is starting to be recognised as a legitimate object of clinical attention, as well as an economic problem, given that a great deal of non-essential internet use takes place at work," Aboujaoude says.

He adds that the problem is not confined to specific types of internet use. "Online pornography and, to some degree, online gambling, have received the most attention," he says, "but users are as likely to use other sites, including chat rooms, shopping venues and special-interest websites."

Previous research suggests that the majority of "internet addicts" are single, college-educated, white males in their 30s, who spend approximately 30 hours a week on non-essential computer use.


  18/10/2006. New Scientist Magazine.