Lost Your Connection? Internet Withdrawal Can Mirror Addiction Symptoms

MedicalResearch.com Interview with:

Dr. Phil Reed,  D.Phil. Professor Psychology Swansea University

Dr. Reed

Dr. Phil Reed,  D.Phil.
Professor Psychology
Swansea University

MedicalResearch.com: What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?

Response: Problematic internet use has been a growing concern for many people and bodies over the last decade, and more study has been requested into various aspects of this possible disorder.  One of the key questions is whether people overuse the internet, due to an addiction.  If it is an addiction, then there should be signs of withdrawal when people, who report having this problem, stop using the internet.  In this study, 144 participants, aged 18 to 33, had their heart rate and blood pressure measured before and after a brief internet session.  Their anxiety and self-reported internet addiction were also assessed.

The results showed increases in heart rate and systolic blood pressure on terminating the internet session for those with problematically-high internet usage.  These increases in physiological arousal were mirrored by increased feelings of anxiety.  However, there were no such changes for those participants who reported no internet-usage problems.

MedicalResearch.com: What should readers take away from your report?

Response: The physiological changes and accompanying increases in anxiety can be regarded as a state like that of the withdrawal seen for many ‘sedative’ drugs, such as alcohol, cannabis, and heroin, and this may be responsible for some people’s need to re-engage with their digital devices in an attempt to reduce these unpleasant feelings.  It has been known for some time that people who are over-dependent on digital devices report feelings of anxiety when they are stopped from using them, but these results show that these psychological effects are also accompanied by actual physiological changes.

MedicalResearch.com: What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?

Response: The individuals in this study used the internet in a fairly typical way, so confidence can be placed in the generalisation of these results.  However, there are groups who use the internet in other ways, like gamers, perhaps in order to generate arousal, and the effects of stopping use on their physiology could be different – this is yet to be established

MedicalResearch.com: Is there anything else you would like to add?

Response: The growth of digital communication media is fueling the rise of ‘internet’ use, especially for women.  There is now a large amount of evidence documenting the negative effects of overuse on people’s psychology, neurology, and now, in this study, on their physiology.  Given this, it seems imperative to see a more responsible attitude to the marketing of these products by firms – like we have seen for legal drugs and gambling.

There are no disclosures.

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Differential physiological changes following internet exposure in higher and lower problematic internet users

Phil Reed ,Michela Romano,Federica Re,Alessandra Roaro,Lisa A. Osborne,Caterina Viganò,Roberto Truzoli
PLOS Published: May 25, 2017

Note: Content is Not intended as medical advice. Please consult your health care provider regarding your specific medical condition and questions.




Last Updated on June 24, 2017 by Marie Benz MD FAAD