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Internet Addiction May Cause Withdrawal Similar to Drug Addiction

Update Date: Feb 20, 2013 01:35 PM EST
woman using a computer
(Photo : Ed Yourdon/Flickr)

Researchers are pretty divided about whether Internet addiction is an actual condition, though the American Psychiatric Association has identified it as a potential problem that warrants further investigation. A new study seems to indicate that Internet addiction may, in fact, be a real condition. The study, conducted by researchers from Swansea University in the United Kingdom and the Università degli Studi in Italy, found that users with Internet addiction exhibited signs of withdrawal similar to that of people with drug addiction.

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The study was conducted with 60 volunteers between the ages of 18 and 25. It was the first time that a study examined the immediate negative psychological effects that the Internet can bring. They were tested for their level of Internet addiction, which was marked by how long they spent on the Internet and whether it negatively affected their personal relationships and work. They were also extensively tested for anxiety; depression; autism traits; schizotypy, a personality disorder characterized by social isolation, odd behavior and thoughts, unconventional thinking and anxiety about social situations; and certain facets of their mood.

After the battery of tests, the users were allowed to surf the Internet for 15 minutes. Then they were given a second round of tests to assess their moods and anxiety levels. The people who had previously been flagged for Internet addiction reported increased negative moods when they were not on the Internet. Researchers suggest that many people with this problem are triggered to return to the Internet in order to stave off these negative feelings.

"When these people come off-line, they suffer increased negative mood - just like people coming off illegal drugs like ecstasy," Professor Phil Reed explained in a statement.

Internet addicted users also exhibited higher levels of depression and autism traits than their counterparts.

According to TIME magazine, for some people, the Internet addiction may be secondary. For example, some people may be using the Internet in order to gamble or view porn online, meaning that the Internet is simply a pathway to their gambling or pornography addiction.

Regardless, researchers do believe that Internet addiction is an entirely new disorder.

The study was published in the journal PLoS One.

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