Internet addiction could be a sign of other mental health issues among college students, reports a new study. Canadian research found that people who spend a significant amount of time online are at risk for developing mental health problems.
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The researchers evaluated 254 freshmen at McMaster Universiy in Ontario. They used a tool called the Internet Addiction Test (IAT), which was developed in 1998, as their own scale based on recent research.
"Internet use has changed radically over the last 18 years, through more people working online, media streaming, social media, etc. We were concerned that the IAT questionnaire may not have been picking up on problematic modern internet use, or showing up false positives for people who were simply using the internet rather than being over-reliant on it," said chief researcher Dr. Michael Van Ameringen, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral neuroscience at McMaster.
Using this new tool, 33 students met the base criteria for internet addiction and 107 for problematic internet usage.
Van Ameringen's team looked at the students' mental health scores as well, zeroing in on signs of impulsiveness, depression, anxiety, and stress. Those students who lived with those symptoms also had problems controlling their use of video streaming and social networking.
This also led to more problems with time management, according to US News & World Report.
Dr. Jan Buitelaar,a professor of psychiatry at Radboud University Nijmegen Medical Center in the Netherlands, said: "Excessive use of the internet is an understudied phenomenon that may disguise mild or severe psychopathology; excessive use of the internet may be strongly linked to compulsive behavior and addiction."
The study will be presented this week at the European College of Neuropsychopharmacology's (ECNP) annual meeting in Vienna, Austria. Research presented at this meeting shouldn't be taken too seriously until if has been published in a peer-review journal.
The study is scheduled to be presented Sunday at the European College of Neuropsychopharmacology's (ECNP) annual meeting in Vienna, Austria. Research presented at medical meetings should be considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.
The new research only found an association between internet use and mental health. Van Ameringen said a larger study is needed to learn if these mental health issues are a cause or a result of excessive internet use.
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"This may have practical medical implications. If you are trying to treat someone for an addiction when in fact they are anxious or depressed, then you may be going down the wrong route. We need to understand this more, so we need a bigger sample, drawn from a wider, more varied population," Van Ameringen said.