Internet Addiction: Stanford Study Seeks to Define Whether It’s a Problem
Although studies show that more than 160 million Americans are regular Internet users, little research has been conducted on problematic Internet use. A 1999 Center for Internet Studies’ survey of 18,000 Internet users, however, did find that 5.7 percent of the sample met suggested criteria for “compulsive” Internet use. And a 2002 study in the journal CyberPsychology & Behavior found that 60 percent of companies surveyed had disciplined, and more than 30 percent had terminated, employees for inappropriate Internet use.
“The issue is starting to be recognized as a legitimate object of clinical attention, as well as an economic problem, given that a great deal of non-essential Internet use takes place at work,” said Aboujaoude. But he added that there is little consensus among clinicians on whether problematic Internet use is a distinct disorder or merely an expression of other psychopathologies, such as depression or obsessive-compulsive disorder.
In the Stanford study—which Aboujaoude said is the first large-scale, random-sample epidemiological one ever done—the researchers conducted a nationwide household survey and interviewed 2,513 adults. Aboujaoude said the next step is to conduct comprehensive clinical interviews on a large sample of people to better identify clinically relevant markers for problematic Internet use, and to better understand whether this phenomenon constitutes an independent psychological disorder.