Do Internet Users Need Drug Classes?

by Mike Miller March 13, 2012

Most psychologists will tell you that kids should not spend too much time in front of a screen. When we were kids this was not a problem. With no video games or cable TV we didn’t have to worry about too much screen time.

Parents already panicky about the amount of time their teenage children spend online may now have something new to worry about: All those hours spent Web surfing, chatting, gaming, texting and posting to Facebook could be a warning sign of substance abuse, according to a new study in the March issue of the Journal of Addiction Medicine.

Internet use Could Lead to Substance Abuse

According to ABC News, Greek researchers found that teenagers with “pathologic” Internet use were more likely to admit to drug abuse. As excessive Internet use increased, so did the likelihood of substance abuse. The study also linked substance abuse and excessive Internet use to such personality traits as nonconformity, aggressiveness, recklessness and impulsiveness.

The study surveyed 1,271 students between the ages of 14 and 19 on the Aegean island of Kos about their Internet use, substance use and personality. To determine who was “Internet addicted,” the researchers administered a 20-question “Internet addiction test” that asked how often the students stayed online longer than they’d intended, how often their grades or studies slipped because of the amount of line spent online, how often they’d “yell, snap or act annoyed” if someone bothered them while they were online.

When they compared the mean values of “illicit substance abuse” among the teenage participants, the researchers found that those who reported substance abuse had “significantly” higher mean scores on the Internet addiction test, and that those scores were important predictors for substance use, either past or present.

When is your kid an Internet Addict?

Parents might wonder when they should start to worry about their “Internet addict” kids. At what point does mere gadget fixation morph into something more “pathologic” or “addictive”? And what is “pathologic” Internet use?

There’s no agreed-upon answer. Internet addiction is not a recognized formal diagnosis, and holds no place in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders — the psychiatrists’ “bible” — although Internet addiction could make it into the appendix of the manual’s new edition as a special disorder that requires more research, according to the American Psychiatric Association.

For now, medical practitioners turn to the symptoms of other addictive disorders, such as gambling and substance abuse — compulsiveness, lack of control, failed attempts to cut back, disregard for obvious negative consequences — to diagnose Internet addiction.

And before parents freak too much over this latest heady headline notching up the danger in the Internet zone, they should keep in mind that while this latest study found links between drug use, Internet use and personality type — that’s all they are.

Nevertheless, it is good to monitor your kids’ screen time. A little extra time off the screen now could keep them from having to take a drug class later on.

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