Studying the signs of internet addiction

It's an easy joke to make in the I-age, being addicted to the internet.

It's on your phone and at work, at the bus shelter and in your home.

But spending a large amount of time using the internet doesn't mean you are addicted, just as spending time on the web when you need to do something else could mean that you have a mild issue.

The parameters of what an internet addiction is and if it even exists have yet to be set; what constitutes an addiction is what Queensland University of Technology professional doctoral candidate Tania McMahon is researching.

“What I want to find is what kind of symptoms people display, if they, from the outset, think they have a problem with their internet use,” Ms McMahon said.

“So instead of giving them a list of features and criteria and saying 'do you have these? I want you', I am looking for people who feel they have a problem, even if they aren't sure what that would involve.”

What represents a problem is also subjective.

“Whatever people feel is problematic, if they think of themselves and their internet use and feel there is a mild to severe impact to their life or mild to severe problems in their life, because of their internet use, I am looking for them for my survey,” she said.

Ms McMahon said there had been a number of other studies devoted to “trying to work out what exactly the features and symptoms of internet addiction are”, but while she said there were certain features and symptoms some researchers would agree on as being part of an internet addiction.

Identifying which ones were important and the most consistent was still a work in progress, Ms McMahon said.

“It's mainly things which are similar to what we see in two other disorders, pathological gambling and also alcohol and substance abuse,” she said.

“So things like, obviously spending lots of time online and staying up and things like that, but more importantly, it is the negative impacts which is the most important thing which is coming out and that can be a negative impact on your social life, or relationships, work, study, job prospects, finances even and physical health and sleep.”

Ms McMahon said as the internet became a more pervading influence in daily life, it was more important than ever to understand any downside effects.

“There are so many cases coming to the attention of therapists and mental health clinicians and at the moment they are struggling with ways to treat this and what to do about it,” she said.

“Because at the moment there aren't really established guidelines and little to no evidence based treatment for it, so at the moment, we are at a loss for how to treat it and deal with it.

“And as long as people are presenting for treatment for it, there is going to be a need to research it, so we can provide it for them.”

To take part in Ms McMahon's research or for more information, visit her survey website.

The story Studying the signs of internet addiction first appeared on Brisbane Times.

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