Internet Addiction and Psychiatric Symptoms among Korean Adolescents

Article excerpt

Internet use in Korea has increased rapidly and has become a major part of daily life. The rate of Internet use in 2005 in South Korea was reported to be 66% for men and 53% for women. Approximately 25% of Korean households were registered for broadband Internet service in 2004, which is a dramatic increase compared with 17% reported in 2001. In 2005, Koreans used the Internet on average 15.6 hours per week: 17 hours for men and 14 hours for women. This rate of Internet access was 2-4 times greater than that reported in the United States, Canada, and Japan. (1)

Recently, the number of adolescents using the Internet has increased sharply. (2) One of the reasons for this is that the use of the Internet with personal computers can satisfy personal needs by providing the opportunity to access many Web sites and communicate with a variety of peers. (3) Surveys showed that more than 85% of Korean adolescents aged 12-18 years spend approximately 1.5-2 hours per day on the Internet. (1,3) As Internet use has increased, many problems have emerged. Internet addiction is conceptualized by an individual's inability to control his or her use of the Internet, which eventually causes marked distress or functional impairment (4) and can be classified as an impulse control disorder. (4,5) Ko et al (6) proposed the following diagnostic criteria of Internet addiction for adolescents: (1) more than 6 of 9 symptoms including preoccupation with Internet activities, recurrent failure to resist the impulse to use the Internet, and tolerance and use of Internet for a period of time longer than intended; (2) functional impairment; and (3) the Internet addictive behavior not accounted for by psychotic disorders or bipolar I disorders. Internet addiction shows similarities with substance abuse, compulsive gambling, and pathological Internet use. (4,7) Therefore, it may be difficult to recognize the physical and psychosocial problems before they become severe. Adolescents in particular are immature both physically and psychologically and tend to show more negative Internet effects than any other age-group. (8,9) Internet addiction in adolescents is becoming a serious problem, possibly resulting in many physical and mental health problems. Previous studies have shown that Internet-addicted adolescents were more likely to suffer anxiety, depression, loneliness or social isolation, impulsivity, and feelings of self-effacement, (l0-13) In addition, previous studies have suggested that among adolescents, addicted users showed higher levels of depression and were more likely to consider suicide than nonaddicted users. (14-16) Hence, effective strategies are needed to identify adolescents at risk of becoming addicted in order to prevent more serious problems.

The most effective strategies for preventing Internet addiction in adolescents is through a risk-focused approach, which requires recognition of the factors related to addiction. (17) Reviewing the aspect of the causes of Internet overuse, different people are Internet dependent for different reasons, meaning there is no single pattern. However, previous studies on Internet addiction have not focused on the severity of Internet addiction. The risk-focused approach to Internet addiction needs to identify the factors contributing to the severity of Internet addiction and to develop appropriate preventive interventions for individuals at risk of Internet addiction. The aims of this study were to identify the factors associated with intermittent addiction and addiction to the Internet and to examine and compare the psychiatric symptoms of intermittent addiction and addiction to the Internet after controlling for the demographic and Internet-related factors.

More specifically, the following research questions were examined: What are the associating factors on intermediate addiction and addiction to the Internet among Korean adolescents? What are the psychiatric symptoms associated with intermediate addiction and addiction to Internet when the demographic and Internet-related factors were controlled? …