Teenagers who have problems getting off the Internet are more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol, which could point to the possibility that they have “addictive personalities,” according to new research from Aristotle University in Greece.
Dr. Giorgios Floros and his colleagues surveyed 1,221 children ages 14 to 19 years old about their Internet use, substance use and personality traits. Fifteen percent were heavy users of the Internet and 5% showed signs of internet addiction. Thirteen percent were substance abusers. Those who used the internet excessively were also more likely to abuse drugs, alcohol and cigarettes. Males had higher rates of substance abuse than females. However, even when the research team controlled for age, sex, ethnicity and personality factors, the relationship between internet addiction and substance abuse remained significant.
The group that both used the Internet heavily and abused substances also had a distinct personality profile, with high scores on psychoticism, which includes traits such as nonconformity, aggressiveness, and impulsivity. Other studies done previously have showed a link between addictive disorders and high scores on psychoticism, indicating that some people may have “addictive personalities.” They may have common genetic factors involving the dysfunction of dopamine in the reward system in their brains, making them more susceptible to addictions.
Dr. Florios said the results of this study have implications for the early identification of teenagers at risk for substance abuse. Interventions and early detection programs could be facilitated online, including online gaming sites, social networking sites, and other websites teenagers frequent.
Internet addiction is not recognized in the United States as a formal mental disorder. However, it is diagnosed and treated in other countries; for example, in China, people enter residential treatment centers for internet addictions.
The new study appears in the Journal of Addictive Medicine, which is the official journal of the American Society of Addiction Medicine.