Although internet addiction has been recognized as a mental health problem since the 1990’s, little is known about its causes.
According to a study published in CyberPsychology & Behavior, self-reported dissatisfaction with one’s family and recent stressful events are both associated with addiction to the internet.
The study was conducted by Lawrence T. Lam, Zi-wen Peng, Jin-cheng Mai, and Jin Jing. It was published in 2009.
In their study, Lam and her colleagues surveyed 1,639 Chinese students between the ages of 12 to 18 years old.
“Students who were very dissatisfied with their family were nearly 2.5 times more likely than those who were satisfied with their family to be addicted to the internet.”
The association between stress and internet addiction was even stronger.
“The odds were 10 times greater for young people who had experienced a recent event and felt very stressed and 2.8 times greater for those who felt moderately stressed than for those who had no stressful experience.”
The results suggest that internet addiction may be caused by using the internet as a coping mechanism for stress or stress-related problems. Those who have a poor relationship with their family or who have recently been exposed to a stressful situation may use the internet as a way to distract themselves.
If family dissatisfaction or stressful events are persistent problems, then adolescents may come to rely on this distraction in order to manage their levels of stress.
As Lam and her colleagues explain, stress is associated with other forms of addiction too. “It has been established that stress is a known risk factor of addiction to substances and also a factor in addiction relapse tendency.”
Lam, L.T., Peng, Z., Mai, J. & Jing, J. (2009). Factors associated with internet addiction among adolescents. CyberPsychology & Behavior, Vol 12, No 5.