August 3, 2010

Teen Web Addicts Face Higher Risk Of Depression

Teenagers who use the Internet uncontrollably are more than twice as likely to become depressed as those who surf the Web normally, according to a new study by researchers in China and Australia.

The study involved 1,041 teens in southeastern China who completed a questionnaire to identify whether they were pathological Internet users.  The researchers then assessed the teens for anxiety and depression.

Among the participants, who were on average 15 years old, 940 (90.3 percent) used the Internet normally, while 62 (6.2 percent) were moderate pathological Internet users, and two (0.2 percent) were classified as "severely pathological" users. 

The researchers reassessed the participants' psychological condition nine months later, and found that teens who used the Internet in an unreasonable or uncontrollable fashion were about two-and-a-half times more likely than normal Internet users to develop depression.

The increased risks held true even after factoring in any stress the teens may have been under.  In those cases, the Web-addicted teens were still one and a half times more likely to feel depressed at the nine-month follow-up than teens who used the Internet normally.

"This result suggests that young people who are initially free of mental health problems but use the Internet pathologically could develop depression as a consequence," wrote the study authors Lawrence Lam of the School of Medicine in Sydney, Australia, and Zi Wen-Peng of the Chinese Education Ministry.

Pathological Internet use has been identified in recent years as a problematic behavior that can result in relationship problems, poor physical health, aggressive behaviors and other psychiatric symptoms similar to those seen with other types of addictions.

And while previous studies have found that it is typically teenage boys who pathologically surf the Web, the authors warn that girls are increasingly exhibiting addictive Internet behavior.

The study revealed that Web-addicted teens were more likely to use the Internet for entertainment than for studying.  However, entertainment was the most common use of the Internet among all the study's participants.

The researchers advised screening teenagers in their high schools to identify those most at risk for Internet addiction, and therefore possibly depressed due to the behavior.

The study was posted online Monday, and will appear in the October print issue of Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, one of the JAMA/Archives journals.  An abstract can be viewed at http://archpedi.ama-assn.org/cgi/content/short/2010.159.