Excessive Internet usage can lead to anxiety, depression

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With just a few mouse clicks, it can tell you the temperature outside, the score of the game last night and who is dating who. You can carry it in your pocket for constant access to almost anything, at any time. However, having the Internet at your fingertips at all times might not always be a positive thing.

According to a study published in this month’s issue of General Hospital Psychiatry, excessive use of the Internet can cause Internet Addiction Disorder, or IAD, which can lead to anxiety and depression.

“Something becomes an addiction when it becomes problematic, when you choose to continue to do something in spite of consistently negative consequences,” said Bill Arck, director of K-State’s Alcohol and Other Drug Education Service.

The concept of IAD was introduced in 1995 by researcher Ivan Goldberg, according to the study. Since then, there have been a variety of definitions of excessive Internet usage, including compulsive computer use, pathological Internet use or Internet addiction.

The study, authored by Frederico Tonioni, et al, and entitled “Internet addiction: hours spent online, behaviors and psychological symptoms,” defines the important criteria to diagnose IAD as “a misuse of Internet, characterized by many hours spent online avoiding interpersonal relationships with real and known people.”

In the study, 86 participants were given various tests, surveys and interviews about their Internet usage. Only time spent on non-studying and non-working purposes was counted in the research. All participants exhibiting current drug or alcohol addiction, psychotic disorders or other deficits were eliminated from the participant pool.

There are key questions that can help determine if an addiction is occurring, Arck said.

“I ask questions such as ‘Is it affecting your interpersonal relationships?,’ ‘Do you ever feel guilty about the time you spend on the computer?’ or ‘Have you even been annoyed by other’s criticism about time you spend on the Internet?'” Arck said, adding that he asks very similar questions when asking about substance abuse problems.

The survey consisted of a total of 20 similar questions gauging participants’ Internet usage. At the end of the study, 21 participants were found to exhibit symptoms of IAD. Of those participants, non-working and non-studying Internet use ranged from 20.3 to 75.3 hours per week.

The remaining 65 participants were used as the control group.

Participants who were labeled as exhibiting IAD scored higher on each question except “How often do you check your email before something else you need to do?” Their response suggests that people with IAD are not interested in communicating with people in the real world.

According to the study, levels of depression and anxiety were positively correlated with the number of hours per week spent online.

Arck agreed that a correlation often exists between addiction, depression and anxiety.

“A fairly high percentage of students that I see have co-occurring mild to moderate depression and a lot of social anxiety disorder. There is a connection there,” Arck said. “There tends to be a connection because the addiction is a way of muting those feelings. If people are addicted to the Internet, they are going to turn to it because they get enjoyment out of it.”

Other symptoms of Internet addiction include difficulty cutting down on online time, lack of sleep, fatigue, declining grades or poor job performance, apathy and racing thoughts, decreased investment in social relationships and activities, and irritability.

While K-State doesn’t offer a specific program to assist those suffering from IAD, there are resources available on campus, said Dorinda Lambert, director at K-State’s Counseling Services.

“We would certainly meet with them, and find out what was happening and what can be done to help,” Lambert said. “We don’t have a specific program (for IAD), but we would be a good resource to start with. We can look at what’s fueling the feeling of needing to connect with people online instead of connecting with other people, making them too connected to the Internet.”

According to a study conducted by Arck on K-State students’ Internet usage in 2010, K-State students are using the Internet for recreation, but a majority of students limit their recreational Internet use to a few hours a day.

“The question was ‘Approximately how many hours per day do you typically spend recreationally on your computer/Internet?’ This included being on Facebook, Myspace, playing games and other recreational activities,” Arck said.

The survey polled 950 students. A majority of students, 56 percent, reported spending an average of two hours per day on the Internet for recreational purposes. On the highest end of the spectrum, 7 percent of students responded that they spend five or more hours per day on the Internet for recreation.

“Out of those surveyed, we’re looking at 7 percent that say they spend five plus hours per day on the Internet. That’s 35 hours per week,” Arck said. “That’s incredible, especially when they also reported they spend about 10 hours per week studying.”

Marylynn Griebel, freshman in industrial engineering, spends approximately 60 to 90 minutes a day using her computer for recreational activities.

“I use it mostly for watching TV shows on Hulu and getting on Facebook,” Griebel said.

While Griebel said she has never made the conscious decision to spend time on her computer instead of spending time with people, she does have the ability to take the Internet with her at all times on her cellphone.

“I’m on Facebook all the time on my phone when I’m bored,” Griebel said. “I check it quite a bit. I probably spend about 15 minutes a day, just hopping on and checking it periodically.”

While each person handles Internet usage differently, if it begins to decrease life quality, it is not something to take lightly, Arck said.

“This is not an addiction to ignore,” Arck said. “No matter if it’s an alcoholic, drug, sexual, Internet or some other type of addiction, addiction is addiction. It’s usually an indicator of something much greater that’s wrong.”

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