Emerging Mental Health Disease
The problem of Internet addiction is so acute, that it is being considered for the 2012 edition of the manual of mental disorders, published by the American Psychiatric Association.
Addiction to the Internet most often afflicts at-risk adolescents who are suffering from Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), social phobias, and depression, report researchers in Taiwan.
Researchers from Kaohsiung Medical University Hospital studied 2,162 junior high school students over a two-year period. About 11 percent of the participants already had an Internet addiction.
Over two years, the researchers found that Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), was the greatest predictor for internet addiction in girls as were social phobias, and depression.
For boys, hostility was the greatest predictor, reports WebMD, as was playing online games and using the Internet for more than 20 hours a week and being online every day.
Overall, males are at a higher risk of Internet addiction.
Online addiction can hurt school performance, family relationships, and the developing emotional state of adolescents and should be taken seriously, the researchers say in their study published in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine.
How do you know if someone is addicted to the internet? Time online is one factor, but also note the response to withdrawl - anxiety, irritability, and boredom.
Emerging research shows that up to 17.9 percent of adolescents are addicted to the Internet. Percentages are highest in Eastern nations where more than four million teens spend more than six hours daily online, according to a Chinese survey.
Speaking to CNN, Michael Gilbert at the Center for the Digital Future at University of Southern California, said that therapists don’t really understand Internet addiction.
"I don't get the feeling when I talk to therapists that they really understand the concept of addiction to the Internet," he says. "They think more in terms of pornography sites or gambling sites specifically, but Internet addiction itself is not fully understood yet by the therapeutic community."
Without monitoring, at-risk children suffering from ADHD, socially awkward and depressed can become addicted to the Internet creating one of the most chronic childhood diseases in America, says Dr. Dimitri Christakis of the Center for Child Health, Behavior and Development in Seattle to CNN.
What can parents do?
The Center for Digital Future says households are spending less face-to-face family time in Internet-connected homes, up to 35 percent less time. Gilbert of the Center for Digital future says, “The family is our social foundation, society’s basic building block. We need to guard its health in what otherwise seems to be a boundless digital future.”
Since avoiding the internet is almost impossible today, parents and educators must identify the high-risk adolescents and monitor their time online.
Putting the computer in a public place in the home can help parents monitor how much time their kids are spending online and keep it from becoming a secret activity.
Writing the editorial that accompanies the study, Dr. Christakis says teacher and health-care professionals need to take Internet addiction seriously.
"Our intention in raising this concern is not to be alarmist but rather to alert pediatricians to what might become a major public health problem for the United States in the 21st century," he writes.
ReSTART is the first residential treatment program for Internet addicts, reports IB Partner, David Mittleman. #