Study shows internet addiction may indicate other mental health problems problem in college-aged students

Media Release: European College of Neuropsychopharmacology (ECNP)
“For the science and treatment of disorders of the brain”

Study shows internet addiction may indicate other mental health problems problem in college-aged students
Embargo until: Sunday 18th September, 2016, 00.01 CET (Vienna)

A new survey of internet users suggests that people who use the internet excessively may have more mental health problems. Using two scales to evaluate internet use, researchers have found high rates of problematic internet use in a group of primarily college-aged students. The researchers evaluated internet addiction using the Internet Addiction Test, as well as newer scale of their own design, based on updated addiction criteria. This work, which is presented at the ECNP conference in Vienna, may have implications for how psychiatrists approach excessive internet use.
The unstoppable rise of the internet has given rise to fears that increasing numbers people are becoming unable to cope without regularly going online. The Internet Addiction Test (IAT) is the standard test used to measure excessive reliance on the internet, but as Chief Researcher Michael Van Ameringen pointed out:
“The IAT was developed in 1998, prior to the widespread use of smartphone technology. In addition, internet use has changed radically over the last 18 years, through more people working online, media streaming, social media, etc. We were concerned that the IAT questionnaire may not have been picking up on problematic modern internet use, or showing up false positives for people who were simply using the internet rather than being over-reliant on it”
Professor Van Ameringen’s group, from McMaster University in Canada, surveyed 254 students and correlated internet use with general mental health and wellbeing. Thirty-three of the students met screening criteria for internet addition according to the Internet Addiction Test. However, 107 students met criteria for problematic internet use using Professor Van Ameringen and colleagues’ new screening tool. The research team also administered a further series of self-reported tests to see how the internet addicts compared to the others in the survey on areas such as symptoms of depression and anxiety, impulsiveness, inattention and executive functioning, as well as tests for ADHD.
Professor Van Ameringen said
“We found that those screening positive on the IAT as well as on our scale, had significantly more trouble dealing with their day to day activities, including life at home, at work/school and in social settings. Individuals with internet addiction also had significantly higher amounts of depression and anxiety symptoms, problems with planning and time management, greater levels of attentional impulsivity as well as ADHD symptoms. This leads us to a couple of questions: firstly, are we grossly underestimating the prevalence of internet addiction and secondly are these other mental health issues a cause or consequence of this excessive reliance on the internet?

This may have practical medical implications. If you are trying to treat someone for an addiction when in fact they are anxious or depressed, then you may be going down the wrong route. We need to understand this more, so we need a bigger sample, drawn from a wider, more varied population”

Commenting Professor Jan Buitelaar (Radboud University Nijmegen Medical Centre) of the ECNP Child and adolescent disorders treatment Scientific Advisory Panel said:
"Excessive use of the internet is an understudied phenomenon that may disguise mild or severe psychopathology; excessive use of the internet may be strongly linked to compulsive behaviour and addiction; as the authors say, further study is needed in larger populations”.

Notes for editors
Please mention the European College of Neuropsychopharmacology Congress in any stories which result from this press release.

Van Ameringen, Michael [email protected]
Jan Buitelaar [email protected]
ECNP Press Officer, Tom Parkhill [email protected] tel +39 349 238 8191 (Italy)

The European College of Neuropsychopharmacology (ECNP)
The ECNP is an independent scientific association dedicated to the science and treatment of disorders of the brain. It is the largest non-institutional supporter of applied and translational neuroscience research and education in Europe. Website:
The 29th annual ECNP Congress takes place from 17th to 20th September in Vienna. It is Europe’s premier scientific meeting for disease-oriented brain research, annually attracting between 4,000 and 6,000 neuroscientists, psychiatrists, neurologists and psychologists from around the world. Congress website:

Abstract: Internet addiction or psychopathology in disguise? Results from a survey of college-aged internet users
M. Van Ameringen, W. Simpson, B. Patterson, J. Turna, Z. Khalesi (McMaster University, Hamilton, Canada)
Purpose: Internet addiction, is a term describing pathological, compulsive internet use and has an estimated prevalence of 6% among the general population and higher in students [1]. Extreme internet use may have significant public health importance as it has been attributed to several cardio-pulmonary deaths and at least one murder. While the pathological use of alcohol or drugs has been historically accepted as an addiction, questions remain concerning whether extreme internet use should be conceptualized as an addiction. The Internet Addiction Test (IAT) was developed in 1998, prior to the wide-spread use of Smartphone and other mobile devices, to detect internet addiction [2]. It is unclear whether this instrument is capable of capturing problematic modern internet use. The purpose of this study was to examine the construct of “internet addiction” in a sample of college aged internet users
Method: A survey was administered to first year undergraduate students at McMaster University and posted to our centre website Following acknowledgment of a disclosure statement, participants completed several self-report scales detailing internet usage, symptoms of depression and anxiety, impulsiveness and executive functioning. Measures included: a short demographics questionnaire as well as a survey containing the IAT, sections from the Mini International Neuropsychiatric Interview for OCD, GAD, SAD, the Barkley Adult ADHD Rating Scale, the Barratt Impulsiveness Scale, the Depression, Anxiety and Stress Scale (DASS-21), the Barkley Deficits in Executive Functioning Scale (BDEFS) and the Sheehan Disability Scale (SDS). Individuals were also asked to complete the Dimensions of Problematic Internet Use (DPIU); a scale based on DSM-5 addiction criteria. Once the survey was complete, respondents were informed of their score and interpretation on the IAT.
Results: Two hundred and fifty-four participants completed all assessments. They had a mean age of 18.5±1.6 years and 74.5% were female. In total 12.5% (n = 33) met screening criteria for internet addition according to the IAT, while 107 (42%) met addiction criteria according to the DPIU. The most frequently reported dimensions of internet use where respondents had difficulty controlling their use were: video streaming services (55.8%), social networking (47.9%) and instant messaging tools (28.5%). Those screening positive on the IAT and on the DPIU had significantly higher levels of functional impairment (p < 0.001), depression and anxiety symptoms (p < 0.001), greater executive functioning impairments (p < 0.001) and greater levels of attentional problems (p < 0.001) as well as ADHD symptoms (p < 0.001). Those with IAT and DPIU internet addiction spent more of their non-essential (leisure) time online compared to those who did not meet internet addiction criteria. When examining the different dimensions of internet use, positive screeners were more likely to have difficulty controlling their use of instant messaging tools compared to negative screeners (p = 0.01). No other differences in use were observed.
Conclusion: A high proportion of the sample met criteria for internet addiction. Participants meeting criteria for internet addiction had greater levels of psychopathology and functional impairment. With the exception of instant messaging tools, none of the dimensions of internet use differed between individuals who did and did not meet internet addiction criteria on the IAT. This study highlights that problematic internet use may be more widespread than once thought. Further studies are needed to understand the relationship between problematic internet use and psychopathology.
[1] Scherer, K., 1997. College life online: Healthy and unhealthy Internet use. J Coll Dev. 38, 655–65.
[2] Young, K., 1998. Internet addiction: The emergence of a new clinical disorder. CyberPsychology & Behavior 1, 237–244.
Funding: No external funding was received for this work.