16 October 2009
Internet addiction could develop into a major public health issue in the near future, experts say, and its definition as an obsessive compulsive disorder is under consideration.
A recent study has found adolescents with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) may be at increased risk of Internet addiction (Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med 2009; 163: 937-43). Other predictors included hostility in both boys and girls, and depression and social phobia in girls only.
In a prospective study of 2000 Taiwanese junior high school students aged 12 to 13 years, these psychiatric symptoms were predictive of addiction such as compulsively playing online games.
The results suggested some teen Internet addiction could be prevented if psychiatric disorders were detected early and treated, the authors said.
Australian psychologist Dr Lawrence Lam, a behavioural epidemiologist from the University of Sydney and Westmead Hospital, said evidence was emerging that Internet addiction could be on the spectrum of obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD).
It was currently being debated whether the behavior was an addiction, he said.
"The behavior manifested [with Internet addiction] is similar to other addictions, like gambling, and even substance abuse," he said, adding that the link with ADHD had been suggested by previous studies.
Studies suggested Internet addiction among youths to be as high as 15 per cent in China, and Dr Lam’s guess was that around 8 to 10 per cent of Australian young people were Internet addicts. An editorial said clinicians should be alert to Internet addiction, which may become "one of the major public health problems… in the 21st century".
The editorial said people who played virtual reality games were especially at risk of addiction.
Last Reviewed: 16 October 2009