NEWS

Pandemic Caused Increase in Internet Addiction, Study Finds

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Key Takeaways

  • Individuals with definite and severe internet addiction were 8 times more likely to have depression, 9 times more likely to have anxiety, and 14 more times more likely to have both.
  • Participants with probable addiction were twice as likely to have depression and anxiety.
  • These research findings highlight the far-reaching impacts of the pandemic on how individuals navigate their daily lives.

The use of technology in daily life has increased for almost everyone throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. A study published in Psychiatry International found that more than half the adults in the US are either at risk of addiction or severely addicted to the internet, which has been linked to depression and anxiety.

This national research study was conducted with 1305 participants to explore the relationship between internet addiction and mental health a year into the pandemic and found that those with internet addiction were ten times more likely to have depression, nine times more likely to have anxiety, and 14 times more likely to have both depression and anxiety.

While internet usage may be necessary for some tasks, including work and school during the pandemic, these research findings may provide an opportunity to assess how much time may be better spent elsewhere.

Neuroscience coach and clinical social worker, Renetta Weaver, LCSW-C, says, “The key takeaway that readers should have is that the COVID-19 pandemic has caused disruption to our social lives. Many of us turned to internet usage for personal and professional reasons."

Breaking Down the Data

This national study found that increasingly severe internet addiction was linked to greater mental health challenges among participants, who were 64% men, 78% white, 70% non-Hispanic, 72% married, 57% aged 18–35, 86% employed full-time, and 83% with a Bachelor’s degree or higher.

These researchers found that 45% possessed no internet addiction, while 41% had probable addiction or risk of addiction, and 14% had definite or severe addiction, while 28% had depression and 25% had anxiety.

Definite or severe internet addiction was found to be strongly predictive of depression, anxiety, and mental health distress while those who were probably addicted or at risk of addiction to the internet were more likely to have reported depression or anxiety concerns.

Heightened Survival Mechanisms

Neuroscience coach and clinical social worker, Renetta Weaver, LCSW-C explains that for many, the pandemic prompted increased use of the internet at home in ways that may have been unfamiliar before. "The lines between starting and stopping work, scheduling school, consuming news, and being social have become blurry for many of us," she says.

As the internet's place in the lives of many rose, Weaver notes that it may have felt as if it become the source of all things. "This pseudo form of being socially connected has distanced many of us from being in a harmonious emotional state, many are more anxious and depressed," she says.

Renetta Weaver, LCSW-C

I wish the public knew that the rise in internet addiction is really a survival mechanism that our brain uses to try to maintain certainty and normalcy in abnormal times.

— Renetta Weaver, LCSW-C

Weaver highlights, "I wish the public knew that the rise in internet addiction is really a survival mechanism that our brain uses to try to maintain certainty and normalcy in abnormal times."

While internet use increased, Weaver notes, "Our world, in the way we used to navigate it, has been turned upside down since March 2020 and we are all just trying to find a roadmap back to emotional safety."

Weaver explains, "In my work, I have noticed that many of my clients are presenting with feelings of anxiety and stress in response to the pandemic. Many people feel disconnected and hopeless that their lives will never go back to some sense of normalcy."

In response, Weaver supports clients by normalizing their feelings. "It also helps for me to do a lot of grief work to help them navigate their feelings, establish a routine that is congruent with their new normal and provide alternative outlets in order to reduce their internet usage," she says.

How the Internet Is Used Matters

Psychiatrist with Mindpath HealthJulian Lagoy, MD, says, "Basically living during a pandemic increases the risk of Internet usage and Internet addiction. Internet addiction increases the risk of depression and anxiety." 

Lagoy notes, "Readers can start making changes immediately to prevent Internet addiction and make their lives better. Internet addiction has increased during the pandemic and those with internet addiction are at more risk of mental illness, however, it fails to answer why." 

Since human beings are social creatures, Lagoy explains that they need to have friendships and feel like they belong in a community. "If we are addicted to the Internet, this causes us to be alone all the time, which is detrimental to the overall wellbeing," he says. 

Julian Lagoy, MD

Readers need to be aware that using the Internet is not bad in and of itself, but the way we use it is what matters.

— Julian Lagoy, MD

Lagoy highlights, "This publication further proves that what we do with our time highly influences our mood and overall mental health. For example, if we spend all our time alone and are addicted to the Internet, we are more likely to be depressed and anxious. Readers need to be aware that using the Internet is not bad in and of itself, but the way we use it is what matters."

Since the Internet is a very useful tool for many individuals, Lagoy notes that using the Internet in moderation is recommended.  "This rule can apply to a lot of things that are good; For example, it is nice to enjoy food but if one gets addicted to it, there will be negative consequences," he says.

Lagoy explains, "I tell patients all the time that it is good to enjoy certain things in life such as food, drink, video games, etc.  What we need to do is use these things in moderation.  Regarding the Internet per see, it is a good tool to keep in touch with family and friends and also read up on the news."

Despite its benefits, if the internet is used excessively, Lagoy notes how it may come at the expense of other healthy activities like being with friends and getting enough exercise. "While water is necessary and good for our health, too much water will kill you," he says.

What This Means For You

As this research demonstrates, the COVID-19 pandemic may have increased internet addiction for adults in the US, which may be detrimental to mental health. It may be worthwhile to consider how much time is being spent online and what is coming at the expense of that. Especially if internet use may be contributing to depressive and anxiety symptoms, online activity may be worth reassessing.

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  1. Khubchandani J, Sharma S, Price J. COVID-19 Pandemic and the Burden of Internet Addiction in the United StatesPsychiatry International. 2021;2(4):402-409. doi:10.3390/psychiatryint2040031