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The Royal College of Psychiatrists Improving the lives of people with mental illness

Does internet addiction exist?

Embargoed until 01 June 2010

Researchers from The University of Hong Kong are debating whether internet addiction should be formally recognised as a distinct mental health condition. Their study is published in the June issue of the British Journal of Psychiatry.

Internet addiction has been described as an emerging psychiatric disorder because of increasing concern over the potential adverse effects of excessive internet use – particularly in young people. However, many academics and clinicians have argued that internet addiction does not exist independently from other types of mental health problems.

Dr King-wa Fu and colleagues interviewed 208 adolescents between the ages of 15 and 19. The teenagers were asked questions about how often they used the internet, and filled in a checklist to find out if they showed symptoms of addiction.

Symptoms of possible internet addiction include feeling restless, moody, depressed or irritable when attempting to cut down internet use, staying online for longer than intended, and lying to family and others about internet use. The teenagers were also assessed to find out if they displayed other psychiatric symptoms, such as symptoms of depression and anxiety, and suicidal ideation (thoughts of suicide).

The researchers found that 6.7% of the Hong Kong teenagers had 5 or more symptoms of internet addiction – around 1 in 15. Those with 5 or more symptoms were also significantly more likely to report having symptoms of depression and suicidal ideation as well.

Generally speaking, those teenagers who used the internet casually – for less than an hour a day or less than two days a week – were less likely to show signs of being addicted to the internet.

Dr Fu said: “Our study demonstrated that internet addiction could be sufficiently differentiated from a few other mental conditions, including symptoms of depression, anxiety and suicidal thought.”

The American Psychiatric Association (APA) is in the process of revising its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM), with the fifth edition due to be published in May 2013.

Dr Fu said: “As the APA has recently suggested to classify internet addiction into a newly created category, namely ‘behavioral addiction’, and been considering including internet addiction in the manual’s appendix, our study’s attempt to highlight the issues of defining internet addiction and its boundary with respect to other mental health conditions is timely.”

According to a report by China Internet Network Information Center (CNNIC), the number of internet users in Mainland China in 2009 reached 340 million – the largest internet population at a global level and the largest internet broadband market in the world. The CNNIC report also claimed that 1 in every 6 Chinese internet users may have developed some level of internet addiction.

For further information, please contact:
Sarah Nevins
Press & Social Media Officer
Telephone: 020 3701 2543
Claire McLoughlin
Media & Communications Manager 
Telephone: 020 3701 2544
Out of hours contact number: 07860 755896



Fu K-W, Chan WSC, Wong PWC and Yip P (2010) Internet addiction: prevalence, discriminant validity and correlates among adolescents in Hong Kong, British Journal of Psychiatry, 196:486-492


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