Addicted Internet users present with higher rates of comorbidities, e.g., attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), depressive, and anxiety disorders. In addition, deficits in self-concept-related characteristics were found in addicted Internet gamers and social network users. The aim of this study was to examine the links between healthy, problematic, and addicted Internet use regarding comorbidities and self-concept-related characteristics. The association between recently developed ADHD-like symptoms without an underlying diagnosis and addictive Internet use was also examined.
n = 79 healthy controls, n = 35 problematic, and n = 93 addicted Internet users were assessed for comorbidities, social and emotional competencies, body image, self-esteem, and perceived stress. Apart from an ADHD-diagnosis, recently developed ADHD-like symptoms were also assessed.
Addicted users showed more self-concept-related deficits and higher rates of comorbidities with ADHD, depressive, and anxiety disorders. Addicted and problematic users showed similarities in the prevalence of cluster B personality disorders and decreased levels of characteristics related to emotional intelligence. Participants with recently developed ADHD-like symptoms scored higher in lifetime and current severity of Internet use compared with those without ADHD symptoms. Addicted participants with recently developed ADHD symptoms showed higher lifetime Internet use severity compared with those without any symptoms.
Our findings indicate that cluster B personality disorders and premorbid problems in emotional intelligence might present a link between problematic and addictive Internet use. Furthermore, the findings provide a first indication that addictive Internet use is related to ADHD-like symptoms. Symptoms of ADHD should therefore be assessed against the background of possible addicted Internet use.
Internet gaming addiction appears to be related to self-concept deficits and increased angular gyrus (AG)-related identification with one’s avatar. For increased social network use, a few existing studies suggest striatal-related positive social feedback as an underlying factor. However, whether an impaired self-concept and its reward-based compensation through the online presentation of an idealized version of the self are related to pathological social network use has not been investigated yet. We aimed to compare different stages of pathological Internet game and social network use to explore the neural basis of avatar and self-identification in addictive use.
About 19 pathological Internet gamers, 19 pathological social network users, and 19 healthy controls underwent functional magnetic resonance imaging while completing a self-retrieval paradigm, asking participants to rate the degree to which various self-concept-related characteristics described their self, ideal, and avatar. Self-concept-related characteristics were also psychometrically assessed.
Psychometric testing indicated that pathological Internet gamers exhibited higher self-concept deficits generally, whereas pathological social network users exhibit deficits in emotion regulation only. We observed left AG hyperactivations in Internet gamers during avatar reflection and a correlation with symptom severity. Striatal hypoactivations during self-reflection (vs. ideal reflection) were observed in social network users and were correlated with symptom severity.
Discussion and conclusion
Internet gaming addiction appears to be linked to increased identification with one’s avatar, evidenced by high left AG activations in pathological Internet gamers. Addiction to social networks seems to be characterized by emotion regulation deficits, reflected by reduced striatal activation during self-reflection compared to during ideal reflection.
Gambling and gaming disorders have been included as “disorders due to addictive behaviors” in the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11). Other problematic behaviors may be considered as “other specified disorders due to addictive behaviors (6C5Y).”
Narrative review, experts' opinions.
We suggest the following meta-level criteria for considering potential addictive behaviors as fulfilling the category of “other specified disorders due to addictive behaviors”:
1. Clinical relevance: Empirical evidence from multiple scientific studies demonstrates that the specific potential addictive behavior is clinically relevant and individuals experience negative consequences and functional impairments in daily life due to the problematic and potentially addictive behavior.
2. Theoretical embedding: Current theories and theoretical models belonging to the field of research on addictive behaviors describe and explain most appropriately the candidate phenomenon of a potential addictive behavior.
3. Empirical evidence: Data based on self-reports, clinical interviews, surveys, behavioral experiments, and, if available, biological investigations (neural, physiological, genetic) suggest that psychological (and neurobiological) mechanisms involved in other addictive behaviors are also valid for the candidate phenomenon. Varying degrees of support for problematic forms of pornography use, buying and shopping, and use of social networks are available. These conditions may fit the category of “other specified disorders due to addictive behaviors”.
It is important not to over-pathologize everyday-life behavior while concurrently not trivializing conditions that are of clinical importance and that deserve public health considerations. The proposed meta-level-criteria may help guide both research efforts and clinical practice.
Online gaming has greatly increased in popularity in recent years, and with this has come a multiplicity of problems due to excessive involvement in gaming. Gaming disorder, both online and offline, has been defined for the first time in the draft of 11th revision of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11). National surveys have shown prevalence rates of gaming disorder/addiction of 10%–15% among young people in several Asian countries and of 1%–10% in their counterparts in some Western countries. Several diseases related to excessive gaming are now recognized, and clinics are being established to respond to individual, family, and community concerns, but many cases remain hidden. Gaming disorder shares many features with addictions due to psychoactive substances and with gambling disorder, and functional neuroimaging shows that similar areas of the brain are activated. Governments and health agencies worldwide are seeking for the effects of online gaming to be addressed, and for preventive approaches to be developed. Central to this effort is a need to delineate the nature of the problem, which is the purpose of the definitions in the draft of ICD-11.
The proposed introduction of gaming disorder (GD) in the 11th revision of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11) developed by the World Health Organization (WHO) has led to a lively debate over the past year. Besides the broad support for the decision in the academic press, a recent publication by van Rooij et al. (2018) repeated the criticism raised against the inclusion of GD in ICD-11 by Aarseth et al. (2017). We argue that this group of researchers fails to recognize the clinical and public health considerations, which support the WHO perspective. It is important to recognize a range of biases that may influence this debate; in particular, the gaming industry may wish to diminish its responsibility by claiming that GD is not a public health problem, a position which maybe supported by arguments from scholars based in media psychology, computer games research, communication science, and related disciplines. However, just as with any other disease or disorder in the ICD-11, the decision whether or not to include GD is based on clinical evidence and public health needs. Therefore, we reiterate our conclusion that including GD reflects the essence of the ICD and will facilitate treatment and prevention for those who need it.