As people spend more time at home and on the web during the COVID-19 pandemic, let us revisit the concept of Internet addiction and the warning signs that come with it.
Questionnaire assessment of Internet addiction
In clinical practices, Internet addiction is usually assessed using questionnaires that have clear cut-off scores. A person being assessed will need to answer yes or no to a series of questions such as:
Do you feel preoccupied with the internet (think about previous online activity or anticipate next online session)?
Do you feel the need to use the internet with increasing amounts of time in order to achieve satisfaction?
Have you repeatedly made unsuccessful efforts to control, cut back, or stop internet use?
If a person answers “yes” to five or more of the questions over a 6-month period, then it would be considered “dependent” or, in other words, addictive.
Though the questionnaire assessment has been widely adopted, some researchers have argued that such questionnaires may be overly rigorous, that they result in conservative estimates and preclude demonstration of variation in the severity of symptoms.
Standardized diagnostic criteria of Internet addiction
To help with clinical diagnosis, some researchers developed a 7-item diagnostic criteria to supplement the questionnaire assessment. To diagnose the presence, or severity, of Internet addiction, a service provider needs to look at which, and how many, of these symptoms are present:
Preoccupation: a strong desire for the internet. Thinking about previous online activity or anticipation of the next online session. Internet use is the dominant activity in daily life
Withdrawal: manifested by a dysphoric mood, anxiety, irritability and boredom after several days without internet activity
Tolerance: marked increase in internet use required to achieve satisfaction
Difficult to control: persistent desire and/or unsuccessful attempts to control, cut back or discontinue internet use
Disregard of harmful consequences: continued excessive use of internet despite knowledge of having a persistent or recurrent physical or psychological problems likely to have been caused or exacerbated by internet use
Social communications and interests are lost: loss of interests, previous hobbies, entertainment as a direct result of, and with the exception of, internet use
Alleviation of negative emotions: uses the internet to escape or relieve a dysphoric mood (e.g. feelings of helplessness, guilt, anxiety
Kimberly S. Young, 2004. “Internet Addiction: A New Clinical Phenomenon and Its Consequences.” The American Behavioral Scientist, 48(4, Dec): 402-415.
Ran Tao, et al. 2010. “Proposed diagnostic criteria for internet addiction.” Addiction, 105: 556–564.