Insights Into Aspects Behind Internet-Related Disorders in Adolescents: The Interplay of Personality and Symptoms of Adjustment Disorders (2017)

J Adolesc Health. 2017 Nov 22. pii: S1054-139X(17)30476-7. doi: 10.1016/j.jadohealth.2017.09.011.

Müller KW1, Wölfling K2, Beutel ME2, Stark B3, Quiring O3, Aufenanger S4, Schemer C3, Weber M3, Reinecke L3.



Problematic Internet use (PIU) that has recently been referred to as Internet-related disorder is a growing health concern. Yet, it is unclear why some adolescents are developing problematic use, whereas others sustain control. Based on previous research, we hypothesize that personality traits (low conscientiousness and high neuroticism) act as predispositions for PIU. We further hypothesize that PIU can be understood as a maladaptive reaction toward critical life events and that these maladaptive reactions are exacerbated by dysfunctional personality traits.


The study investigates the prevalence of distinct subtypes of PIU among a sample of adolescents (n = 1,489; 10-17 years). Personality traits (Big Five Inventory-10 [BFI-10]), perceived stress (Perceived Stress Scale 4 [PSS-4]), and their relations to PIU (Scale for the Assessment of Internet and Computer Game Addiction [AICA-S]) were examined. As novel research questions, associations between PIU and adjustment disorders (Adjustment Disorder-New Module [ADNM]-6) and the mediating role of personality were investigated.


The prevalence of PIU was 2.5%; girls (3.0%) were more often affected than boys (1.9%). Social networking sites in girls and online games in boys were most often associated with PIU. Low conscientiousness and high neuroticism generally predicted PIU. Significantly more adolescents with PIU (70%) reported critical life events compared with those without PIU (42%). PIU was related to heightened stress and higher adjustment disorder symptoms. These associations were exacerbated by conscientiousness and neuroticism.


Although the overall prevalence for PIU is in line with previous studies, it appeared unexpectedly that girls were affected more often than boys. Adjustment disorders and stress showed strong associations with PIU. This bears implications for adapting etiopathological assumptions and early intervention strategies.

KEYWORDS:  Adjustment disorder; Big five; Diathesis-stress; Internet-related disorders; Personality; Prevalence; Problematic Internet use; Risk factors

PMID: 29174875

DOI: 10.1016/j.jadohealth.2017.09.011