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  • 18 CAAP, University Hospital of Geneva, 70C rue Grand-Pré, 1202, Genève, Switzerland
  • 28 Laboratory for Experimental Psychopathology, Psychological Science Research Institute, Catholic University of Louvain, Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium
  • 38 Lausanne University Hospital, Lausanne, Switzerland
  • 48 Department of Psychiatry, NYU School of Medicine, New York, USA
Open access

Abstract

Aims

Controversies remain about the validity of the diagnosis of problematic Internet use. This might be due in part to the lack of longitudinal naturalistic studies that have followed a cohort of patients who self-identify as having Internet-related problems.

Methods

This retrospective study included 57 patients who consulted the Geneva Addiction Outpatient Clinic from January 1, 2007, to January 1, 2010. Patients underwent an initial clinical psychiatric evaluation that included collection of data on socio-demographics, method of referral, specific Internet usage, psychiatric diagnosis, and Internet Addiction Test (IAT) and Clinical Global Impression Scale (CGI) scores. Treatment consisted of individual psychotherapeutic sessions.

Results

Of these patients, 98% were male and 37% were 18 years or younger. Most patients were online gamers (46% playing massively multiplayer online role-playing games). The mean IAT score was 52.9 (range 20–90). Sixty-eight percent of patients had a co-morbid psychiatric diagnosis, with social phobia being the most prevalent (17.8%). Patients who remained in treatment (dropout rate 24%) showed an overall improvement of symptoms: 38.6% showed significant or average improvement on their CGI score, 26.3% showed minimal improvement, and 14% showed no change.

Conclusions

Our results support the hypothesis that there are specific types of Internet use, with online gaming mainly affecting young male patients. As Internet addiction is not yet an official diagnosis, better instruments are needed to screen patients and to avoid false-negative and false-positive diagnoses. Successful care should integrate the treatment of co-morbid symptoms and involve families and relatives in the therapeutic process.

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