Teenagers who have psychiatric symptoms such as attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), social phobia, hostility and depression could be more prone to develop an Internet addiction, according to a report.

The study underlined that although the Internet has become one of the most significant information resources for adolescents, addiction to the Internet can negatively impact school performance, family relationships and adolescents’ emotional state.

“This phenomenon has been described as Internet addiction or problematic Internet use and classified as a possible behaviour addiction,” wrote the authors. “Identification of the risk factors for Internet addiction is therefore of clinical significance for the prevention of, and early intervention into, Internet addiction in adolescents,” they added.

Dr. Chih-Hung Ko, of Kaohsiung Medical University Hospital, Taiwan, and colleagues examined the relationship between psychiatric symptoms such as ADHD, social phobia and hostility and Internet addiction in 2,293 seventh-graders (1,179 boys and 1,114 girls) from ten junior high schools in southern Taiwan. They also noted differences in the predictive value of these psychiatric symptoms between males and females. Psychiatric symptoms were determined through self-reported questionnaires. They assessed Internet addiction by the Chen Internet Addiction Scale (CIAS) at baseline and at six, 12 and 24 months with scores ranging from 26 to 104. Participants scoring 64 or higher were classified as being addicted to the Internet.

Of all participants, 233 (10.8 percent) were classified as having Internet addiction and 1,929 (89.2 percent) were classified as not having an Internet addiction. The researchers reported that although depression, ADHD, social phobia and hostility were found to predict the occurrence of Internet addiction in the two-year follow-up, depression and social phobia predicted Internet addiction among only female adolescents. Besides, the most significant predictors of Internet addiction in male and female adolescents were hostility and ADHD, respectively.

“These results suggest that ADHD, hostility, depression and social phobia should be detected early on and intervention carried out to prevent Internet addiction in adolescents. Also, sex differences in psychiatric comorbidity should be taken into consideration when developing prevention and intervention strategies for Internet addiction,” concluded the authors. The study has been published in the latest issue of Archives of Paediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, one of the JAMA/Archives journals.