Problematic Internet Use and Associated High-Risk Behavior in an Adolescent Clinical Sample: Results from a Survey of Psychiatrically Hospitalized Youth (2019)

Cyberpsychol Behav Soc Netw. 2019 Mar 21. doi: 10.1089/cyber.2018.0329.

Gansner M1, Belfort E1,2, Cook B3, Leahy C1,4, Colon-Perez A1,5, Mirda D1,6, Carson N1,3.


Problematic Internet use (PIU) is a growing clinical concern to clinicians working in adolescent mental health, with significant potential comorbidities like depression and substance use. No prior study has examined associations between PIU, high-risk behavior, and psychiatric diagnoses specifically in psychiatrically hospitalized adolescents. Here, we analyzed how PIU severity correlated with preadmission Internet habits, psychiatric symptoms, and high-risk behavior in this unique population. We hypothesized that as the severity of PIU increased, so would endorsement of mood symptoms, engagement in risky behaviors, and chances of having comorbid mood and aggression-related diagnoses. We performed a cross-sectional survey on an adolescent psychiatric inpatient unit in an urban community hospital in Massachusetts. Participants were 12-20 years old (n = 205), 62.0 percent female, and of diverse racial/ethnic backgrounds. Relationships between PIU, high-risk symptoms, diagnoses, and behaviors were performed both using chi-square tests and determining Pearson correlation coefficients. Two hundred five adolescents participated in the study. PIU severity was associated with being female (p < 0.005), sexting (p < 0.05), cyberbullying (p < 0.005), and increased suicidality within the last year (p < 0.05). Adolescents with aggressive and developmental disorders, but not depressive disorders, also had significantly higher PIU scores (p ≤ 0.05). In our sample of psychiatrically hospitalized adolescents, PIU severity was significantly associated with both serious psychiatric symptoms and high-risk behaviors, including those related to suicide. Our findings may improve safety assessments in this vulnerable adolescent population by identifying comorbid risks associated with problematic digital media use.

KEYWORDS: Internet; addiction; adolescent; suicide

PMID: 30896977

DOI: 10.1089/cyber.2018.0329