We all joke about being ‘addicted’ to checking Twitter or updating Instagram, but according to a new survey, 16% of 18- to 25-year-olds really are addicted to the internet.
Marketing agency Digital Clarity questioned 1300 people in that age group and found that 16% of them spent more than 15 hours a day online, which, they conclude, is not psychologically healthy. The symptoms they identified as forming internet addiction were: spending hours online, becoming irritable when they couldn’t log on, guilt, losing touch with family and friends, and feeling panicked when forced to be offline.
As the BBC points out, psychiatrists can’t agree on whether internet addiction is a real disorder. Some think it’s a mental health condition in its own right, while others think it’s a side-effect of other issues, like depression or alcoholism. It’s yet to be added to that bible of mental illness, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (although they have considered it) but previous studies have shown that any compulsive behaviour releases dopamine in the brain, improving mood, and even prompting a sense of euphoria. (And of course, cat videos give life meaning.)
Earlier this week, Dr Andrew Doan published a paper in the journal Addictive Behaviours stating that internet addiction is real (he quotes the case of a man who went into treatment for alcohol addiction and then found he couldn’t bear to be away from his Google Glass, either). And another study in Behavioral Addictions found that the students they spoke to spent between eight and 10 hours a day on their phones, with 60% considering themselves addicted.
Whether internet addiction ever becomes an official diagnosis or not, the main thing is that psychologists and psychiatrists take it seriously when people say that spending huge amounts of time in front of the computer (or with their phone fused to your hand) is the only thing that makes them happy. After all, there’s a whole world out there beyond the internet. At least, that’s what I hear.
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