September 19, 2016
2 min read

Internet addiction linked to depression, anxiety, ADHD in college students

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College students who screened positively for internet addiction had higher levels of functional impairment, depression and anxiety, attentional problems and ADHD symptoms, according to data presented at the European College of Neuropsychopharmacology Congress.

“Excessive use of the internet is an understudied phenomenon that may disguise mild or severe psychopathology; excessive use of the internet may be strongly linked to compulsive behavior and addiction; as the authors say, further study is needed in larger populations,” Jan Buitelaar, MD, PhD, a member of the European College of Neuropsychopharmacology child and adolescent disorders treatment scientific advisory panel, said in a press release.

To assess internet addiction and its effects in college students, researchers surveyed 254 first-year undergraduate students at McMaster University on internet usage, depression, anxiety, impulsiveness and executive functioning. Study participants had a mean age of 18.5 years.

Overall, 12.5% met criteria for internet addiction according to the Internet Addiction Test and 42% met criteria according to the Dimensions of Problematic Internet Use.

Participants had the most difficulty controlling their use of video streaming services (55.8%), social networking (47.9%) and instant messaging tools (28.5%).

Participants who screened positively for internet addiction had significantly higher levels of functional impairment (P < .001), depression and anxiety symptoms (P < .001), greater executive functioning impairments (P < .001), greater levels of attentional problems (P < .001) and ADHD symptoms (P < .001).

Students with internet addiction spent more leisure time online, compared with those who did not meet internet addiction criteria.

Analysis of different dimensions of internet use indicated those with internet addiction were more likely to have difficulty controlling their use of instant messaging tools, compared with those without internet addiction (P = .01).

“We found that those screening positive on the [Internet Addiction Test] as well as on our scale, had significantly more trouble dealing with their day to day activities, including life at home, at work/school and in social settings. Individuals with internet addiction also had significantly higher amounts of depression and anxiety symptoms, problems with planning and time management, greater levels of attentional impulsivity as well as ADHD symptoms. This leads us to a couple of questions: firstly, are we grossly underestimating the prevalence of internet addiction and secondly, are these other mental health issues a cause or consequence of this excessive reliance on the internet?,” study researcher Michael Van Ameringen, MD, FRCPC, of McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario, said in a press release. “This may have practical medical implications. If you are trying to treat someone for an addiction when in fact they are anxious or depressed, then you may be going down the wrong route. We need to understand this more, so we need a bigger sample, drawn from a wider, more varied population.” – by Amanda Oldt


Van Ameringen M, et al. Internet addiction or psychopathology in disguise? Results from a survey of college-aged internet users. Presented at: European College of Neuropsychopharmacology Congress; September 17-20, 2016; Vienna.

Disclosure: The researchers report no relevant financial disclosures.