Background: Problematic Internet addiction or excessive Internet use is characterized by excessive or poorly controlled preoccupations, urges, or behaviors regarding computer use and Internet access that lead to impairment or distress. Currently, there is no recognition of internet addiction within the spectrum of addictive disorders and, therefore, no corresponding diagnosis. It has, however, been proposed for inclusion in the next version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorder (DSM).
Objective: To review the literature on Internet addiction over the topics of diagnosis, phenomenology, epidemiology, and treatment.
Methods: Review of published literature between 2000-2009 in Medline and PubMed using the term "internet addiction.
Results: Surveys in the United States and Europe have indicated prevalence rate between 1.5% and 8.2%, although the diagnostic criteria and assessment questionnaires used for diagnosis vary between countries. Cross-sectional studies on samples of patients report high comorbidity of Internet addiction with psychiatric disorders, especially affective disorders (including depression), anxiety disorders (generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder), and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Several factors are predictive of problematic Internet use, including personality traits, parenting and familial factors, alcohol use, and social anxiety.
Conclusions and scientific significance: Although Internet-addicted individuals have difficulty suppressing their excessive online behaviors in real life, little is known about the patho-physiological and cognitive mechanisms responsible for Internet addiction. Due to the lack of methodologically adequate research, it is currently impossible to recommend any evidence-based treatment of Internet addiction.