Internet Addiction Affects 6% of Global Population

A new study published in Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking reports that 6% of the world's population is addicted to the Internet.

A new study published in Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking reports that 6% of the world’s population is addicted to the Internet.

The study authors defined Internet addiction (IA) as an inability to stop using the Internet that is so powerful that the individual’s relationships or physical health are adversely affected.

Although IA is not listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manuel of Mental Disorders, 5th edition, it can disrupt neural functioning, such as atrophies in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, and cause cognitive dysfunctions, such as an impaired working memory. IA is also comorbid with disorders such as depression and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder.

Researchers examined 89,281 individuals from 31 nations for their study. The Middle East had the highest prevalence of IA at 10.9%, and those who lived in polluted areas with a long traffic commute and a lower quality of life were most likely to be addicted to the Internet, according to the study.

The lowest prevalence of IA was found in Northern and Western Europe at 2.6%. North America showed the second-highest prevalence at 8%, according to the study.

The researchers gathered data about their subjects’ lives, including their ratings on life satisfaction, pollution, safety, commute, nation’s Gross Domestic Product, and Internet penetration rate, referring to the proportion of Internet users within the population.

They discovered that individuals with lower quality of life ratings—which considered environmental, economic, and health factors—were more likely to be addicted to the Internet, perhaps because the Web provides an escape from real life.

The study authors suggested that policymakers could focus on decreasing pollution and creating better transportation networks in order to decrease the risk of IA. Improving the environment may push more individuals to spend time outdoors instead of staying inside their homes and using the Internet.

The researchers had hypothesized that greater Internet availability would translate to more IA within a population, but their results did not support this theory. For example, Northern and Western Europe have wide accessibility to the Internet, but their populations did not show a high IA prevalence.

At 6%, IA prevalence is higher than pathological gambling, another impulse control disorder, which has a worldwide prevalence of about 2%.