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Problematic Internet Use and Health in Adolescents: Data From a High School Survey in Connecticut

J Clin Psychiatry 2011;72(6):836-845
10.4088/JCP.10m06057

Objective: This study aims to explore the prevalence and health correlates of problematic Internet use among high school students in the United States.

Method: A cross-sectional survey with a sample size of 3,560 students was conducted among high schools in Connecticut. Demographic data, characteristics of Internet use, health measures, and risk behaviors were assessed. Chi-square and logistic regression analyses were used to study the relationship between problematic Internet use and risk behaviors as well as related gender differences.

Results: When problematic Internet use was diagnosed with criteria modeled after the Minnesota Impulsive Disorder Inventory that address core features of impulse-control disorder (strong urge, growing tension, and attempts to cut back), the overall prevalence was about 4%, with no significant difference between genders. Problematic Internet use was more common among Asian (7.86%) and Hispanic (6.07%) students. Even though boys spent significantly more time on the Internet (16.52% of boys spent over 20 hours per week vs 12.62% of girls; P = .0001) and more frequently missed important school or social activities as a result (8.97% of boys vs 5.85% of girls; P = .0004), girls more frequently self-reported measures of excessive use of the Internet (11.81% of girls thought that they had a problem vs 8.90% of boys; P = .0048). After adjustment of sociodemographic factors, problematic Internet use was found to associate significantly with substance use (P = .0014), depression (P < .0001), and aggression (P < .0001), with largely similar patterns of associations between genders.

Conclusions: Problematic Internet use may be present in about 4% of high school students in the United States. It may be associated with depression, substance use, and aggressive behaviors. High school boys, though, may have heavier Internet use and may be less self-aware of the related problems.

J Clin Psychiatry

Submitted: February 16, 2010; accepted June 23, 2010.

Online ahead of print: April 19, 2011 (doi:10.4088/JCP.10m06057).

Corresponding author: Timothy C. Liu, MD, Yale Child Study Center, Yale University School of Medicine, 230 South Frontage Rd, New Haven, CT 06520 (timothy.liu@yale.edu).