Collaboration in Civic Spheres

UW study urges stronger response to student Net addiction

by July 21st, 2011

SUMMARY: A new study by University of Washington researchers of students at UW and the University of Wisconsin finds that Internet addiction among college students may be as common as asthma among children. The study found that 4 in every 100 college students may have an Internet addiction, resulting in sleep loss, poor grades, and decreased home involvement. Moreover, the study found that students with depression were about 24 times more likely than their peers to exhibit problematic Internet usage. This makes Internet addiction a cause for alarm that could require intervention and treatment in some cases. As a result, the authors recommend that pediatricians begin to assess children for signs of Internet addiction more frequently and beginning at a younger age.

KEY LINK: Problematic Internet Usage in US College Students: A Pilot Study, Bio Med Central, June 22, 2011. Authors include: Dimitri Christakis, University of Washington Department of Pediatrics, and Seattle Children’s Research Institute; Chuan Zhou, University of Washington Department of Pediatrics, and Seattle Children’s Research Institute; and Mon Myaing, Seattle Children’s Research Institute.


  • The study found that internet addiction could affect as many as 4 in every 100 U.S. college students. This is roughly as common as asthma among children, the research reported.
  • 70 percent of all student participants said they often stay online longer than they intend.
  • Participants reported sleep loss, negative impact on grades and schoolwork and decreased involvement in household chores as direct effects of prolonged Internet usage.
  • Students with moderate to severe depression were about 24 times more likely than their peers to exhibit problematic Internet usage, the study found. The findings support previous studies’ associations between depressive symptoms and problematic Internet usage.
  • The researchers recommend that pediatricians and colleges alike make use of preventive campaigns to raise awareness of Internet addiction as a disorder. They also suggest that pediatricians begin to more frequently assess children for signs of Internet addiction, because Internet usage begins in early to middle childhood.
  • The researchers recommend further research into the validity of the Internet Addiction Test for adolescent populations, as well as a distinct definition of “problematic Internet usage” among young adults.


  • Between September 2009 and August 2010, researchers randomly selected 224 University of Washington and University of Wisconsin students to participate in the study. Samples were randomly selected via Facebook profiles in the two university networks; according to the study, researchers estimated that 98 percent of all students enrolled in these universities were included in the Facebook population.
  • Researchers administered the Internet Addiction Test, which served as the primary variable, to the 224 student subjects. The IAT is a globally validated, 20-question measurement test developed by Dr. Kimberly Young. The study’s subjects also completed the participants complete the Patient Health Questionnaire 9 (PHQ-9), which measures depression in young adults on a scale from “no depression” to “severe depression.”
  • In spite of the study’s moderate sample size, the study constituted the largest sample of U.S. college students using the IAT; however, one potential limitation of the study is that IAT has only been previously validated as a measurement tool for “problematic Internet usage” in adults, not adolescents.


In the U.S., Internet users of all ages have begun exhibit symptoms similar to those of other pathological addictions, such as gambling.  One study funded in part by California State University found that as many as 13 percent of U.S. adults exhibited behavior indicating problematic Internet usage. According to previous reports, however, Internet addiction for college students in the U.S. has been pegged to be as high as 26 percent.

Funding for the UW study came from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver Child Health, Behavior and Development Institute award, as well as an award from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. The study was published in Bio Med Central, an online, peer-reviewed, open-access medical journal.

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