Background and objectives: COVID-19-related quarantine and stress have likely escalated the crisis of Internet addiction. This study aimed to determine the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Internet use and related risk factors among the general public in China.
Methods: A large-sample cross-sectional online survey was conducted from March 24 to April 30, 2020, in China, and 20,472 participants completed the survey. We investigated the prevalence and severity of Internet addiction based on the Internet Addiction Test (IAT), and explored the risk factors related to increases in time spent on Internet use and severity of Internet addiction, as well as severe Internet addiction.
Results: The overall prevalence of Internet addiction was 36.7% among the general population during the pandemic, and that of severe Internet addiction was 2.8%, according to IAT scores. Time spent on recreational Internet use had significantly increased during the pandemic, and almost half of participants reported increases in the severity of Internet addiction. Risk factors for increases in time spent on Internet use and severity of Internet addiction and severe Internet addiction included having fewer social supporters, perceiving pressure and impact on mental health status due to COVID-19, and being over-engaged in playing videogames.
Discussion and conclusions: The COVID-19 pandemic adversely impacted Internet use and increased the prevalence and severity of Internet addiction among the general population in China, especially in vulnerable populations.
Scientific significance: This study provides evidence for policymakers to refine public health policies to control the pandemic and make efforts to provide population-specific prevention and interventions for people at risk of developing Internet addiction. (Am J Addict 2021;00:00-00).
© 2021 American Academy of Addiction Psychiatry.