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Can You be Addicted to the Internet?


The number of people in the U.S. spending more than 20 hours a week on the Internet nearly doubled between 2008 and 2015 to more than 43 million people.

And many of us may feel we (or people around us) spend too much time online. But how much is too much? Is Internet addiction real? Does it make a difference how a person spends time online – browsing, shopping, using social media or playing games?


Many parents are concerns about their children's Internet use. A study from Pew Research found that more than 50 percent of 13 to 17 year-olds go online several times a day and nearly a quarter are online "almost constantly." Nearly 60 percent of parents think their teens are addicted to mobile devices according to a recent survey by Common Sense, a parent advocacy group. About half of teenagers agree.

Video games are often a particular concern. Boys use video games much more than girls – on average teen boys spend almost an hour (56 minutes) playing video games every day compared to an average of 7 minutes for teen girls, according to the Common Sense survey. On any given day, more than 40 percent of teen boys play video games compared to 7 percent of teen girls.

A recent Washington Post article profiled a number of young adults whose lives had been significantly affected, including dropping out of school or destroying relationships, as a result of online gaming and who were seeking help for their addiction.

Internet addiction is not included in the latest Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) used by health professionals for diagnosis. The only behavioral addiction (as opposed to substance addiction) included in the latest DSM is gambling disorder. However, Internet gaming disorder was included in a section of the DSM-5 recommending further study.

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Internet gaming disorder involves persistent use of Internet games leading to distress or problems functioning. Among the specific symptoms are preoccupation with Internet games, unsuccessful attempts to limit participation, loss of interest in other activities, deceiving others about the amount of time spent on games and problems in relationships, school or work because of Internet games. Research has found Internet gaming disorder is particularly associated with online role-playing games.

While research is limited, a 2016 study looking at adults who participate in Internet gaming found that almost 14 percent were identified as at risk of Internet gaming disorder. Among those identified as at risk, most were men in their 20 and 30s, and most had full time jobs. About 60 percent played online games 2-4 hours a day and more than 15 percent played more than 4 hours a day.

Research has also found that people meeting the criteria for Internet gaming disorder can experience symptoms similar to those with substance use disorders, such as building up a tolerance (needing more) and experiencing withdrawal symptoms when pulled away from gaming.

To help raise awareness and encourage family and community discussion about Internet and screen use, physician and filmmaker Delaney Ruston, M.D., created a documentary exploring a wide range of issues surrounding everyday tech use and struggles over social media, video games, academics and internet addiction. The film "Screenagers" looks at how use of these technologies impacts kids' and how adults can empower kids to best manage their digital use.

There is still much uncertainty and disagreement among experts about overuse of the Internet, the symptoms, how to measure it and even the language used to describe it. Yet many people are experiencing problems and many parents are concerned about their children. As technology continues to evolve, further research may help clarify these questions and identify tools to help families.



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