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Teen Internet Addiction Tied to Depression and Drug Use

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A new study conducted by researchers at Yale University has uncovered that some high school students are spending 20 or more hours online – the equivalent of time invested in a part-time job. The study also showed that those with an irresistible urge to be online admitted feeling depressed and reported more fights and aggressive behavior than their peers.

Yale researchers led by Timothy Liu surveyed approximately 3,500 students from ten different high schools across Connecticut. They asked a plethora of questions regarding overall health, habits such as smoking and drug use, and internet usage. Researchers used three main questions to determine problematic internet use. Specifically, students were asked if they experienced an irresistible urge to be on the Internet, if they felt anxious when not online, and if they had tried to curb their Internet usage.

Although girls were more likely to answer yes to one of the questions regarding problematic Internet usage, boys reported spending more time online. Of those surveyed 17 percent of boys reported spending more than 20 hours online as compared to 13 percent of girls. Overall, 4 percent of participants showed signs of problematic Internet use. Interestingly enough, while most students surveyed were white, Hispanics and Asians were more apt to identify with problematic behaviors.

In addition to being more depressed and getting into fights, the boys reporting problematic Internet usage also had higher instances of smoking and drug use. However, it is unclear whether depression is causing teens to seek solace online or if spending so much time online is contributing to their feelings of depression. Whatever the case, researchers are quick to point out that the study does not show a definitive cause-and-effect link between excessive Internet use and depression and drug use – only that further research should be done.

Surprisingly, excessive Internet usage was not associated with poor performance at school. Regardless, Dr. Elias Aboujaoude, Stanford University expert on problematic Internet use, says that Internet abuse is not unlike other illnesses such as obsessive-compulsive disorder, drug and alcohol abuse, and impulse disorders such as compulsive gambling and shopping.

Oregon Health & Science University psychiatrist Dr. Jerald Block says that excessive Internet abuse shares common pathways in the brain as other addictions. And, he adds that numbers reported by the Yale study may be understated because students were self-reporting data and most people don’t want to admit they have an addiction problem. He suggests that personal relationships of those who spend excessive amounts of time online suffer because real relationships are smothered by cyber space.

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