Teen Internet Addiction May Be a Precursor to Teen Drug Abuse

Research indicates that 1.4% to 17.9% of adolescents around the world are addicted to the Internet. Addictions to Internet use are not as prevalent in the United States as they are in other countries, however, evidence suggests that boys are at higher risk for an addiction than girls, especially boys who spend more than 20 hours per week online.

The idea of being addicted to the Internet might sound odd, yet, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), the fifth edition, published in May of 2013, outlines a new definition of addiction. It includes a diagnosis for non-substance addictions, such as Internet use, and any other behavior that a teen has lost power over. Because in fact, there are problems that have been associated with Internet use among teens, particularly when it affects an adolescent’s functioning at home or in school. If grades are dropping and if a teen is using the Internet to the exclusion of other life-activities, then there could be an addiction. For instance, typical signs that an adolescent has an Internet addiction include

  • Difficulty Completing Daily Tasks
  • Academic Performance Decreases
  • Losing Track of Time
  • Isolation from Friends and Family
  • Experiencing Euphoria with Internet Use

At times, Internet use can also serve as a coping mechanism for teens who are feeling depressed or anxious, or who are experiencing sexual excitement. In fact, research indicates that teens are more likely to become addicted to Internet use if they are depressed, have social phobias, or have been diagnosed with ADHD.

Recent research has pointed out that for those adolescents who have an bona fide Internet addiction, as described above, they are more likely to admit to drug abuse. A study surveyed 1,271 students ages 14 to 19 about their Internet use, substance use and personality. The study included an “Internet addiction test,” which asked how often they stayed online longer than they had intended, how often their grades suffered because of the amount of time they were online, and how often they were bothered if someone disturbed them when they were online.

The results of the study pointed to the fact that those teens who reported substance abuse also had significantly higher than average scores on their Internet Addiction test. In fact, according to the Journal of Addiction Medicine, these test scores were important predictors for past or present substance use. One benefit to the study, as the lead researcher pointed out is “Targeting the adolescent population that engages in increased Internet use may be of benefit for drug abuse prevention programs.”

On the other hand, David Greenfield, founder of the Center for Internet and Technology Addiction, pointed out that despite the results of the study, “You can’t assume because the person has one marker that they’re going to have the final issue.”

If you’re a teen whose Internet behavior may qualify as addictive and compulsive, you might want to seek mental health services. There are clinicians who provide support for this sort of behavioral addiction. In the meantime, you can remove the desktop from your bedroom, if you have one, into a room the whole family uses. You can also have your parents hold your smart phone for periods of time while go see a movie or spend time at the beach instead of Internet use. And, as already mentioned, seeking professional assistance, such as therapy or support groups, can also facilitate a change in behavior and help break the cycle of addiction. If the results of the study are accurate, getting help for an Internet addiction might also provide support for a potential drug or alcohol addiction as well.