Brenner's subjects reported an average of 19 hours per week of
Internet use. Many reported up to 10 signs of interference in role
functioning (primarily failure to manage time, missing sleep,
missing meals, etc.) . A surprising result is that 80% of the sample
reported at least five of these signs. These numbers suggest that
the presence of some level of these problems is normal, and
therefore should not be considered as pathological. The Internet
seems to be a compelling medium, and some disruption in our lives is
normal if we spend much time online.
studies have come up with different numbers. Kathleen Scherer
studied 531 students at the University of Texas at Austin. 381
students who used the Internet at least once per week were studied
further. 49 of these students (13%) were classified as "Internet
dependent" because they had at least 3 out of 10 problems which
parallel chemical dependencies. 71% of the "dependent" users were
men and 29% were women. "Dependent" users averaged only 11 hours per
week online while the average for the whole sample was 8 hours.
Defining people as "dependent" based on their self-report of three
problems seems a bit excessive in light of Brenner's study.
Scherer's numbers are probably lower than Brenner's for several
reasons. She used a college sample and recruited from a cross-section
of students. Brenner recruited online and his technique would have
attracted heavy Net users. The more time you spend online the more
likely you are to stumble across the survey.
Morahan-Martin and Phyllis Schumaker presented the results of a
study which support Scherer's lower numbers. They surveyed 283
college students in courses which required Internet use. They
measured pathological use by administering a 13 item survey which
assessed evidence that the Internet was causing personal problems,
withdrawal symptoms and mood altering use.
classified users into three groups. Pathological users averaged 8.5
hours of Internet use per week, persons with limited symptoms
averaged 3.2 hours per week, and those with no symptoms averaged 2.4
hours per week.
Pathological users also differed from other users in other ways.
They reported significantly more loneliness (as measured by the UCLA
Loneliness Scale). They used online games more than other users, and
they also used more technologically sophisticated aspects of the net
(such as FTP, virtual reality, and remote support communication
software) more than other students. They did not use Internet Relay
Chat more than other students.
What is normal Internet use? We still don't know. For the majority
of the population normal Internet use remains zero hours per week.
Studies suggest that some college students average 8 hours or so per
week, and web surfers can average 20 hours online without having
major problems. What you do online may be as important as how long
you spend online. Some online activities seem to be more compelling
and potentially "addictive" than others. Games and chat have been
mentioned in this context, although these studies found limited
support for the addictiveness of chat.
is Internet use pathological? The simple answer: when it gets in the
way of the rest of your life. Addictions involve "compulsive use
despite harm." The longer definition of addiction in the previous
article illustrates some ways that substances and activities can get
in the way. Look for more research in the next few years as we
wrestle with these issues.
Internet use patterns may have changed since 1997, some people still
develop problems. If you are having a problem with excessive
Internet use you may want to see a therapist in person. Online help
is probably not ideal for pathological Internet use since it
contributes to even more time online.
Brenner, Victor. Parameters of Internet Use, abuse, and
addiction. Psychological Reports, 1997, 80, 879-882.
Morahan-Martin, Janet and Schumaker, Phyllis. Incidence and
Correlates of Pathological Internet Use. Paper presented at the
Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association.
Scherer, Kathleen. College life online: Healthy and unhealthy
Internet use. Paper presented at the Annual Convention of the
American Psychological Association. August 1997.