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by Mike Zazaian October 18, 2006 - 12:39pm, No Comments

The Internet, America's Newest Narcotic

While the internet has been an enormous boon for our civilization, a recent Stanford Study shows that a fraction of Internet users display similar tendencies as users of hard drugs.

Led by Elias Aboujaoude, clinical assistant professor in psychiatry and behavioral sciences and director of Stanford’s Impulse Control Disorders Clinic, researchers interviewed 2,513 adults nationwide. Of those, it was found that as many as an eighth display what would be considered problematic internet usage. Said Aboujaoude:

Our telephone survey suggests that potential markers of problematic Internet use are present in a sizeable portion of the population. We often focus on how wonderful the Internet is—how simple and efficient it can make things. But we need to consider the fact that it creates real problems for a subset of people.

The problem is growing so much, in fact, that some are seeking medical attention for their Internet addictions. The compulsive tendencies of some Internet users to check e-mail, make blog entries or visit Web sites is not unlike those expressed by substance abusers or those with compulsive disorders. And while internet usage may seem harmless enough, when it becomes a repetitive, intrusive and irresistible urge it may damage one’s personal or professional life much in the same way that a drug addiction would.

In some instances Abojaoude found that addicted internet users would hide their non-essential internet use from others, or even use the internet as a form of self-escape from a bad mood, much as an alcoholic or other substance abuser might. Said Abojaoude of the findings:

In a sense, they’re using the Internet to ‘self-medicate.’ Obviously something is wrong when people go out of their way to hide their Internet activity.

Of those polled for the study, researchers found that 68.9 percent were regular internet users, a figure that is consistent with larger-scale studies that have been done on the matter. In addition, the researchers ascertained the following statistics:

  • 13.7 percent (more than one out of eight respondents) found it hard to stay away from the Internet for several days at a time
  • 12.4 percent stayed online longer than intended very often or often
  • 12.3 percent had seen a need to cut back on Internet use at some point
  • 8.7 percent attempted to conceal non-essential Internet use from family, friends and employers
  • 8.2 percent used the Internet as a way to escape problems or relieve negative mood
  • 5.9 percent felt their relationships suffered as a result of excessive Internet use

Despite the success of this particular study, researchers will have to conduct similar experiments on a much larger scale before more useful conclusions can be drawn. Abojaoude concluded:

We’re not saying this is a diagnosis—we still need to learn a lot more. But this study was a necessary first step toward possibly identifying something clinically significant.

Findings from the study have been published in the October 2006 issue of CNS Spectrums: The International Journal of Neuropsychiatric Medicine

[via DailyTech]