Internet addiction is characterized by excessive or poorly controlled preoccupations, urges or behaviours regarding computer use and internet access that lead to impairment or distress. The condition has attracted increasing attention in the popular media and among researchers, and this attention has paralleled the growth in computer (and Internet) access.
Prevalence estimates vary widely, although a recent random telephone survey of the general US population reported an estimate of 0.3–0.7%.
The disorder occurs worldwide, but mainly in countries where computer access and technology are widespread. Clinical samples and a majority of relevant surveys report a male preponderance. Onset is reported to occur in the late 20s or early 30s age group, and there is often a lag of a decade or more from initial to problematic computer usage.
Internet addiction has been associated with dimensionally measured depression and indicators of social isolation. Psychiatric co-morbidity is common, particularly mood, anxiety, impulse control and substance use disorders. Aetiology is unknown, but probably involves psychological, neurobiological and cultural factors.
There are no evidence-based treatments for internet addiction. Cognitive behavioural approaches may be helpful. There is no proven role for psychotropic medication. Marital and family therapy may help in selected cases, and online self-help books and tapes are available. Lastly, a self-imposed ban on computer use and Internet access may be necessary in some cases.
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