Internet gaming disorder (IGD) and problematic internet use (PIU) are becoming increasingly detrimental to modern society, with serious consequences for daily functioning. IGD and PIU may be exacerbated by lifestyle changes imposed by the coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic. This study investigated changes in IGD and PIU during the pandemic and risk factors for them. This study is a part of a larger online study of problematic smartphone use in Japan, originally planned in 2019, and expanded in August 2020 to include the impact of COVID-19. 51,246 adults completed an online survey during the pandemic (August 2020), in Japan. Of these, 3,938 had also completed the survey before the onset of the pandemic (December 2019) and were used as the study population to determine how the pandemic has influenced IGD and PIU. IGD was assessed using the Internet Gaming Disorder Scale (IGDS). PIU was measured using the Compulsive Internet Use Scale (CIUS). The prevalence of probable IGD during COVID-19 was 4.1% overall [95%CI, 3.9%-4.2%] (N = 51,246), and 8.6% among younger people (age < 30), 1-2.5% higher than reported before the pandemic. Probable PIU was 7.8% overall [95%CI, 7.6%-8.1%], and 17.0% [95%CI, 15.9%-18.2%] among younger people, 3.2-3.7% higher than reported before the pandemic. Comparisons before and during the pandemic, revealed that probable IGD prevalence has increased 1.6 times, and probable PIU prevalence by 1.5 times (IGD: χ2= 619.9, p < .001, PIU: χ2= 594.2, p < .001). Youth (age < 30) and COVID-19 infection were strongly associated with IGD exacerbation (odds ratio, 2.10 [95%CI, 1.18 to 3.75] and 5.67 [95%CI, 1.33 to 24.16]). Internet gaming disorder and problematic internet use appear to be aggravated by the pandemic. In particular, younger persons and people infected with COVID-19 are at higher risk for Internet Gaming Disorder. Prevention and treatment of these problems are needed.
Keywords: COVID-19; Internet gaming disorder; Large online study; Prevention; Problematic internet use; Risk factor.
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