Problematic internet use as an age-related multifaceted problem: Evidence from a two-site survey.02 May 2018
BACKGROUND AND AIMS: Problematic internet use (PIU; otherwise known as Internet Addiction) is a growing problem in modern societies. There is scarce knowledge of the demographic variables and specific internet activities associated with PIU and a limited understanding of how PIU should be conceptualized. Our aim was to identify specific internet activities associated with PIU and explore the moderating role of age and gender in those associations. METHODS: We recruited 1749 participants aged 18 and above via media advertisements in an Internet-based survey at two sites, one in the US, and one in South Africa; we utilized Lasso regression for the analysis. RESULTS: Specific internet activities were associated with higher problematic internet use scores, including general surfing (lasso β: 2.1), internet gaming (β: 0.6), online shopping (β: 1.4), use of online auction websites (β: 0.027), social networking (β: 0.46) and use of online pornography (β: 1.0). Age moderated the relationship between PIU and role-playing-games (β: 0.33), online gambling (β: 0.15), use of auction websites (β: 0.35) and streaming media (β: 0.35), with older age associated with higher levels of PIU. There was inconclusive evidence for gender and gender × internet activities being associated with problematic internet use scores. Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and social anxiety disorder were associated with high PIU scores in young participants (age ≤ 25, β: 0.35 and 0.65 respectively), whereas generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) were associated with high PIU scores in the older participants (age > 55, β: 6.4 and 4.3 respectively). CONCLUSIONS: Many types of online behavior (e.g. shopping, pornography, general surfing) bear a stronger relationship with maladaptive use of the internet than gaming supporting the diagnostic classification of problematic internet use as a multifaceted disorder. Furthermore, internet activities and psychiatric diagnoses associated with problematic internet use vary with age, with public health implications.