Which Comes First, Internet Addiction or Depression?

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People who spend a lot of time on the internet tend to suffer more from depression, according to a recent study from the University of Leeds and published in the journal Psychopathology.

Researchers conducted an on-line questionnaire of 1,319 people between the ages of 16 to 51 recruited through links on social networking sites. They were asked about how much they used the internet and for what purpose. In addition, they were asked a series of questions from the Beck Depression Inventory to assess for signs and symptoms of depression.

About 1.2% of the people surveyed were classified as “internet addicts”, meaning that they had developed a compulsive habit and used the internet to replace real-life social interaction. Those people also spent proportionately more time on sex and gambling sites.

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Young people tended to be more likely to be addicted than middle-aged users, which is not surprising, as many younger people have grown up with the internet playing a big role in daily life. Men were also more likely to show addictive tendencies than women.

Those who used the internet most often were classified as significantly more depressed than those not considered addicted. The average depression score of the internet-addicted group was five times higher, placing them in the category of moderate-to-severe levels of depression.

Depression is defined as having symptoms of sadness, hopelessness, worthlessness or pessimism for at least 2 weeks. One of the primary symptoms is a withdrawal from usual activities that were once enjoyed. Complications of untreated depression include a tendency toward addictive behaviors.

Lead author Dr. Catriona Morrison said, “While many of us use the internet to pay bills, shop, and send e-mails, there is a small subset of the population who find it hard to control how much time they spend online, to the point where it interferes with their daily activities. The study reinforces the public speculation that over-engaging in websites that serve to replace normal social function might be linked to psychological disorders like depression and addiction.”

Dr. Morrison also says that the research was not able to determine which came first – the internet addiction or the depression. The team intends to investigate the cause-and-effect relationship further.

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