Massive global increases in internet usage have come with an upsurge in Internet addiction. Review the facts and statistics behind this serious social problem and its treatment.

Since 2001, the number of internet users has shot up by 1000%. The internet certainly offers a lot of potentially addictive activities: shopping, gambling, chat discussions, online relationships, gaming, information-seeking, and pornography viewing. Most people know what it’s like to get drawn into spending more time online than they had planned, but for some people, it becomes a consuming addiction.

Internet addiction intersects with many other process addictions, including internet gaming disorder, online gambling addiction, and online pornography addiction. Overall, the concept is that someone cannot control their use of the internet despite negative consequences. Some people even experience serious withdrawal symptoms when they are away from the internet.

Related Topic: Pornography and Depression

Internet addiction has not been included in the DSM-5 – the standard manual of psychological and psychiatric disorders; therefore, it is not officially a mental health disorder and mental health professionals don’t have a standard way to assess and diagnose it. However, statistics show that internet addiction is a growing problem that needs to be addressed with comprehensive psychological care.

Statistics on Internet Usage

Worldwide, the average person spends about 6 hours a day using the internet.

Pew Research study showed that internet usage is a daily activity for most American adults:

  • 77% of American adults go online every day
  • 43% go online several times a day
  • 26% are online almost constantly
  • 8% go online once a day
  • 11% go online a few times a week
  • 11% don’t use the Internet at all

Children between the ages of 8 and 10 spend an average of 8 hours a day using various kinds of electronic media, with the internet increasingly dominating that time. Children ages 10–18 spend an average of more than 11 hours per day using electronic media. The effect of all this screen time on the developing brain is currently a topic of intense research.

How People Spend Time On the Internet

Social media is the dominant internet activity, and it’s growing fast. Worldwide, there are more than 11 new social media users per second, with the annual growth of the number of users as high as 90%. A recent Canadian survey showed that 86% of school-aged kids in Ontario use social media daily, with about 16% of them spending more than 5 hours a day on social media sites.

Where Do People Access the Internet?

Worldwide statistics from 2018 show that people access the internet from a variety of devices, including:

  • Mobile phones: 52%
  • Laptops and desktops:43%
  • Tablets: 4%
  • Other devices (such as gaming consoles): 0.14%

A Nielsen’s Consumer report found that 56% of young adults use social media at work, 44% use it while eating at a restaurant and 40% use it while using the bathroom.

Internet Addiction Demographics

Currently, internet addiction prevalence is only estimated to be between 1.5–8%, which may reflect that internet addiction is underdiagnosed. Examining internet use demographic trends can reveal which groups may be more at risk of unhealthy internet use:

  • Rates of internet use are about the same for both genders, with 27% of women and 25% of men reporting being near-constant internet users
  • Education increases the risk, with 34% of college grads reporting being online almost constantly, compared to only 20% of those with a high school education or less
  • Income increases the risk, with 35% of those who earn $75K or more annually using the internet almost constantly, compared to 24% of those who make less than $30K
  • Race appears to be a factor, with 37% of blacks using the internet almost constantly, compared to 23% of whites and 30% of Hispanics

Worldwide, the prevalence of internet addiction has been estimated at 6%. That’s alarming, considering that only about 39% of the world population has internet access. There seems to be a significant variation in rates of internet addiction between countries. For example — among adolescents — the rate of internet addiction in Italy is estimated to be 0.8%, compared to 8.8% in China. However, it’s important to keep in mind that these statistics may be skewed by limitations in how internet addiction is diagnosed and studied.

Effects of Internet Addiction on Relationships

Internet addiction can have a significant impact on people’s social relationships. People who spend excessive time online often develop virtual relationships through chat rooms, social networking, and blogging. They may even develop relationships with avatars and characters in video games. Many people with problematic internet usage begin substituting these “virtual” relationships for real ones as they spend more and more time online and withdraw from real-life interpersonal relationships.

Conversely, people with social phobia or who are socially awkward may be drawn into excessive internet usage as they find “virtual” relationships more rewarding and comfortable. Internet relationships are characterized by anonymity, disinhibition and instant gratification, which may foster dysfunctional social habits.

Internet Addiction and Co-Occurring Disorders

Studies have given us an idea of the prevalence of other mental health disorders that co-occur with internet addiction. Some of the most common are:

People with internet video game addiction are especially likely to have underlying mental health disorders, such as

Statistics on Internet Addiction Treatment

Unfortunately, research on internet addiction treatment is particularly sparse. Even a large study that pooled data from all existing research was only able to reference a few small studies.

However, these studies show that antidepressant medications may play a role in treating internet addiction. Results also show that psychological therapy, especially cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and a specific type of CBT known as multi-family group therapy (MFGT), may be particularly beneficial.

Recovery from internet addiction is possible. Professional treatment can help. If you or a loved one lives with co-occurring internet addiction and substance disorder, consider reaching out to The Recovery Village. Call today to speak to a representative about treatment options.  

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Editor – Megan Hull
Megan Hull is a content specialist who edits, writes and ideates content to help people find recovery. Read more
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Medically Reviewed By – Dr. Andrew Proulx, MD
Andrew Proulx holds a Bachelor of Science in Chemistry, an MD from Queen's University, and has completed post-graduate studies in medicine. He practiced as a primary care physician from 2001 to 2016 in general practice and in the ER. Read more

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Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.