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Search of the poisoned mind? A brief look at ‘internet search dependence’

Despite being a controversial topic, research into a wide variety of online addictions has grown substantially over the last decade. My own research into online addictions has been wide ranging and has included online social networking, online sex addiction, online gaming addiction, online shopping addiction, and online gambling addiction. As early as the late 1990s/early 2000s, I constantly argued that when it came to online addictions, most of those displaying problematic behaviour had addictions on the internet rather than addictions to the internet (i.e., they were not addicted to the medium of the internet but addicted to applications and activities that could be engaged in via the internet).

A recent 2016 paper by Dr. Yifan Wang and colleagues in the journal Frontiers in Public Health described the development of the Questionnaire of Internet Search Dependence (QISD), a tool developed to assess individuals who may be displaying a dependence on using online search engines (such as Google and Baidu). The notion of individuals being addicted to using search engines is not new and was one of five types of internet addiction outlined in a 1999 typology in a paper in the Student British Medical Journal by Dr. Kimberley Young (and what she termed ‘information overload’ and referred to compulsive database searching). Although I criticized the typology on the grounds that most of the types of online addict were not actually internet addicts but were individuals using the medium of the internet to fuel other addictive behaviours (e.g., gambling, gaming, day trading, etc.), I did implicitly acknowledge that activities such as internet database searching could theoretically exist, even if I did not think it was a type of internet addiction.

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As far as I am aware, the new scale developed by Wang et al. (2016) is the first to create and psychometrically evaluate an instrument to assess ‘internet search dependence’. As noted by the authors:

Subsequently, we compiled 16 items to represent psychological characteristics associated with Internet search dependence, based on the literature review and a follow-up interview with 50 randomly selected university students…We adopted the six criteria for behavioral addiction formulated by Griffiths (i.e., salience, mood modification, tolerance, withdrawal, conflict, and relapse) [Griffiths, 1999b]”.

Given the authors claimed they used an early version of my addiction components model (i.e., one from 1999 rather than my most recent 2005 formulation) to help inform item construction, I was obviously interested to see the scale’s formulated items. I have to admit that I had a lot of misgivings about the paper so I wrote a commentary on it that has just been published in the same journal (Frontiers in Public Health). More specifically, I noted in my paper that if an individual was genuinely addicted to searching online databases I would have expected to see all of my six criteria applied as follows:

  • Salience – This occurs when searching internet databases becomes the single most important activity in the person’s life and dominates their thinking (preoccupations and cognitive distortions), feelings (cravings) and behaviour (deterioration of socialized behaviour). For instance, even if the person is not actually searching the internet they will be constantly thinking about the next time that they will be (i.e., a total preoccupation with internet database searching).
  • Mood modification – This refers to the subjective experiences that people report as a consequence of internet database searching and can be seen as a coping strategy (i.e., they experience an arousing ‘buzz’ or a ‘high’ or paradoxically a tranquilizing feel of ‘escape’ or ‘numbing’ when searching internet databases).
  • Tolerance – This is the process whereby increasing amounts of time searching internet databases are required to achieve the former mood modifying effects. This basically means that for someone engaged in internet database searching, they gradually build up the amount of the time they spend searching internet databases every day.
  • Withdrawal symptoms – These are the unpleasant feeling states and/or physical effects (e.g., the shakes, moodiness, irritability, etc.), that occur when an individual is unable to search internet databases because they are ill, the internet is unavailable, or there is no Wi-Fi on holiday, etc.
  • Conflict – This refers to the conflicts between the person and those around them (interpersonal conflict), conflicts with other activities (social life, hobbies and interests) or from within the individual themselves (intra-psychic conflict and/or subjective feelings of loss of control) that are concerned with spending too much time searching internet databases.
  • Relapse – This is the tendency for repeated reversions to earlier patterns of excessive internet database searching to recur and for even the most extreme patterns typical of the height of excessive internet database searching to be quickly restored after periods of control.

Of the 12 QISD items constructed in the new scale, very few appeared to have anything to do with addiction and/or dependence but this is most likely due to the fact that the authors also used data collected from 50 participants to inform their items and not just the criteria in the addiction components model. However, relying heavily on input from their participants resulted in a number of key features in addiction/dependence not even being assessed (i.e., no assessment of salience, mood modification, conflict, relapse or tolerance). A couple of items may peripherally assess withdrawal symptoms (e.g., ‘I will be upset if I cannot find an answer to a complex question through Internet search’) but not in any way that is directly associated with addiction or dependence. This may be because the authors’ conceptualization of ‘dependence’ was more akin to ‘over-reliance’ rather than traditional definitions of dependence.

While the QISD may be psychometrically robust I argued that it appears to have little face validity and does not appear to assess problematic engagement in internet database searching (irrespective of how addiction or dependence is defined). Based on the addiction components model, I concluded my paper by creating my own scale to assess internet search dependence based directly on the addiction components model and which I argued would have much greater face validity than any item currently found in the QISD:

  • Internet database searching is the most important thing in my life.
  • Conflicts have arisen between me and my family and/or my partner about the amount of time I spend searching internet databases.
  • I engage in internet database searching as a way of changing my mood.
  • Over time I have increased the amount of internet database searching I do in a day.
  • If I am unable to engage in internet database searching I feel moody and irritable.
  • If I cut down the amount of internet database searching I do, and then start again, I always end up searching internet databases as often as I did before.

Dr. Mark Griffiths, Professor of Behavioural Addiction, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Andreassen, C.S., Griffiths, M.D., Pallesen, S., Bilder, R.M., Torsheim, T. Aboujaoude, E.N. (2015). The Bergen Shopping Addiction Scale: Reliability and validity of a brief screening test. Frontiers in Psychology, 6:1374. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2015.01374.

Andreassen, C.S., Pallesen, S., Griffiths, M.D. (2017). The relationship between excessive online social networking, narcissism, and self-esteem: Findings from a large national survey. Addictive Behaviors, 64, 287-293.

Canale, N., Griffiths, M.D., Vieno, A., Siciliano, V. & Molinaro, S. (2016). Impact of internet gambling on problem gambling among adolescents in Italy: Findings from a large-scale nationally representative survey. Computers in Human Behavior, 57, 99-106.

Griffiths, M.D. (1998). Internet addiction: Does it really exist? In J. Gackenbach (Ed.), Psychology and the Internet: Intrapersonal, Interpersonal and Transpersonal Applications (pp. 61-75). New York: Academic Press.

Griffiths, M.D. (1999a). Internet addiction: Internet fuels other addictions. Student British Medical Journal, 7, 428-429.

Griffiths, M.D. (1999b). Internet addiction: Fact or fiction? The Psychologist: Bulletin of the British Psychological Society, 12, 246-250.

Griffiths, M.D. (2000). Internet addiction – Time to be taken seriously? Addiction Research, 8, 413-418.

Griffiths, M.D.  (2005). A ‘components’ model of addiction within a biopsychosocial framework. Journal of Substance Use, 10, 191-197.

Griffiths, M.D. (2012). Internet sex addiction: A review of empirical research. Addiction Research and Theory, 20, 111-124.

Griffiths, M.D. (2017). Commentary: Development and validation of a self-reported Questionnaire for Measuring Internet Search Dependence. Frontiers in Public Health, in press.

Griffiths, M.D., Kuss, D.J., Billieux J. & Pontes, H.M. (2016). The evolution of internet addiction: A global perspective. Addictive Behaviors, 53, 193–195.

Kuss, D. J., Griffiths, M. D., Karila, L. & Billieux, J. (2014). Internet addiction: A systematic review of epidemiological research for the last decade. Current Pharmaceutical Design, 20, 4026-4052.

Pontes, H. & Griffiths, M.D. (2015). Measuring DSM-5 Internet Gaming Disorder: Development and validation of a short psychometric scale. Computers in Human Behavior, 45, 137-143.

Wang, Y., Wu, L., Zhou, H., Xu, J. & Dong, G. (2016). Development and validation of a self-reported Questionnaire for Measuring Internet Search Dependence. Frontiers in Public Health, 4, 274. doi: 10.3389/fpubh.2016.00274

Young, K. S. (1999). Internet addiction: evaluation and treatment. Student British Medical Journal, 7, 351-352.

Tech’s appeal: Another look at Internet addiction

Generally speaking, Internet addiction (IA) has been characterized by excessive or poorly controlled preoccupation, urges, and/or behaviours regarding Internet use that lead to impairment or distress in several life domains. However, according to Dr. Kimberly Young, IA is a problematic behaviour akin to pathological gambling that can be operationally defined as an impulse-control disorder not involving the ingestion of psychoactive intoxicants.

Following the conceptual framework developed by Young and her colleagues to understand IA, five specific types of distinct online addictive behaviours were identified: (i) ‘cyber-sexual addiction’, (ii) ‘cyber-relationship addiction’, (iii) ‘net compulsions (i.e., obsessive online gambling, shopping, or trading), (iv) ‘information overload’, and (v) ‘computer addiction’ (i.e., obsessive computer game playing).

However, I have argued in many of my papers over the last 15 years that the Internet may simply be the means or ‘place’ where the most commonly reported addictive behaviours occur. In short, the Internet may be just a medium to fuel other addictions. Interestingly, new evidence pointing towards the need to make this distinction has been provided from the online gaming field where new studies (including some I have carried out with my Hungarian colleagues) have demonstrated that IA is not the same as other more specific addictive behaviours carried out online (i.e., gaming addiction), further magnifying the meaningfulness to differentiate between what may be called ‘generalized’ and ‘specific’ forms of online addictive behaviours, and also between IA and gaming addiction as these behaviours are conceptually different.

Additionally, the lack of formal diagnostic criteria to assess IA holds another methodological problem since researchers are systematically adopting modified criteria from other addictions to investigate IA. Although IA may share some commonalities with other substance-based addictions, it is unclear to what extent such criteria are useful and suitable to evaluate IA. Notwithstanding the existing difficulties in understanding and comparing IA with behaviours such as pathological gambling, recent research provided useful insights on this topic.

A recent study by Dr. Federico Tonioni (published in a 2014 issue of the journal Addictive Behaviors) involving two clinical (i.e., 31 IA patients and 11 pathological gamblers) and a control group (i.e., 38 healthy individuals) investigated whether IA patients presented different psychological symptoms, temperamental traits, coping strategies, and relational patterns in comparison to pathological gamblers, concluded that Internet-addicts presented higher mental and behavioural disengagement associated with significant more interpersonal impairment. Moreover, temperamental patterns, coping strategies, and social impairments appeared to be different across both disorders. Nonetheless, the similarities between IA and pathological gambling were essentially in terms of psychopathological symptoms such as depression, anxiety, and global functioning. Although, individuals with IA and pathological gambling appear to share similar psychological profiles, previous research has found little overlap between these two populations, therefore, both phenomena are separate disorders.

Despite the fact that initial conceptualizations of IA helped advance the current knowledge and understanding of IA in different aspects and contexts, it has become evident that the field has greatly evolved since then in several ways. As a result of these ongoing changes, behavioural addictions (more specifically Gambling Disorder and Internet Gaming Disorder) have now recently received official recognition in the latest (fifth) edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). Moreover, IA can also be characterized as a form of technological addiction, which I have operationally defined as a non-chemical (behavioural) addiction involving excessive human-machine interaction. In this theoretical framework, technological addictions such as IA represent a subset of behavioural addictions featuring six core components: (i) salience, (ii) mood modification, (iii) tolerance, (iv) withdrawal, (v) conflict, and (vi) relapse. The components model of addiction appears to be a more updated framework for understanding IA as a behavioural addiction not only conceptually but also empirically. Moreover, this theoretical framework has recently received empirical support from several studies, further evidencing its suitability and applicability to the understanding of IA.

For many in the IA field, problematic Internet use is considered to be a serious issue – albeit not yet officially recognised as a disorder – and has been described across the literature as being associated with a wide range of co-occurring psychiatric comorbidities alongside an array of dysfunctional behavioural patterns. For instance, IA has been recently associated with low life satisfaction, low academic performance, less motivation to study, poorer physical health, social anxiety, attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder and depression, poorer emotional wellbeing and substance use, higher impulsivity, cognitive distortion, deficient self-regulation, poorer family environment, higher mental distress, loneliness, among other negative psychological, biological, and neuronal aspects.

In a recent systematic literature review conducted by Dr. Wen Li and colleagues (and published in the journal Computers and Human Behavior), the authors reviewed a total of 42 empirical studies that assessed the family correlates of IA in adolescents and young adults. According to the authors, virtually all studies reported greater family dysfunction amongst IA families in comparison to non-IA families. More specifically, individuals with IA exhibited more often (i) greater global dissatisfaction with their families, (ii) less organized, cohesive, and adaptable families, (iii) greater inter-parental and parent-child conflict, and (iv) perceptions of their parents as more punitive, less supportive, warm, and involved. Furthermore, families were significantly more likely to have divorced parents or to be a single parent family.

Another recent systematic literature review conducted by Dr. Lawrence Lam published in the journal Current Psychiatry Reports examined the possible links between IA and sleep problems. After reviewing seven studies (that met strict inclusion criteria), it was concluded that on the whole, IA was associated with sleep problems that encompassed subjective insomnia, short sleep duration, and poor sleep quality. The findings also suggested that participants with insomnia were 1.5 times more likely to be addicted to the Internet in comparison to those without sleep problems. Despite the strong evidence found supporting the links between IA and sleep problems, the author noted that due to the cross-sectional nature of most studies reviewed, the generalizability of the findings was somewhat limited.

IA is a relatively recent phenomenon that clearly warrants further investigation, and empirical studies suggest it needs to be taken seriously by psychologists, psychiatrists, and neuroscientists. Although uncertainties still remain regarding its diagnostic and clinical characterization, it is likely that these extant difficulties will eventually be tackled and the field will evolve to a point where IA may merit full recognition as a behavioural addiction from official medical bodies (ie, American Psychiatric Association) similar to other more established behavioural addictions such as ‘Gambling Disorder’ and ‘Internet Gaming Disorder’. However, in order to achieve official status, researchers will have to adopt a more commonly agreed upon definition as to what IA is, and how it can be conceptualized and operationalized both qualitatively and quantitatively (as well as in clinically diagnostic terms).

Dr. Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Please note: This article was co-written with Halley Pontes and Daria Kuss.

Further reading

Griffiths, M.D. (2000). Internet addiction – Time to be taken seriously? Addiction Research, 8, 413-418.

Griffiths, M.D. (2010). Internet abuse and internet addiction in the workplace. Journal of Workplace Learning, 7, 463-472.

Griffiths, M.D., Kuss, D.J., Billieux J. & Pontes, H.M. (2016). The evolution of internet addiction: A global perspective. Addictive Behaviors, 53, 193–195.

Griffiths, M.D. & Pontes, H.M. (2014). Internet addiction disorder and internet gaming disorder are not the same. Journal of Addiction Research and Therapy, 5: e124. doi:10.4172/2155-6105.1000e124.

Király, O., Griffiths, M.D., Urbán, R., Farkas, J., Kökönyei, G. Elekes, Z., Domokos Tamás, D. & Demetrovics, Z. (2014). Problematic internet use and problematic online gaming are not the same: Findings from a large nationally representative adolescent sample. Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking, 17, 749-754.

Kuss, D.J. & Griffiths, M.D. (2015). Internet Addiction in Psychotherapy. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Kuss, D.J., Griffiths, M.D. & Binder, J. (2013). Internet addiction in students: Prevalence and risk factors. Computers in Human Behavior, 29, 959-966.

Kuss, D.J., Griffiths, M.D., Karila, L. & Billieux, J. (2014). Internet addiction: A systematic review of epidemiological research for the last decade. Current Pharmaceutical Design, 20, 4026-4052.

Kuss, D.J., Shorter, G.W., van Rooij, A.J., Griffiths, M.D., & Schoenmakers, T.M. (2014). Assessing Internet addiction using the parsimonious Internet addiction components model – A preliminary study. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 12, 351-366.

Kuss, D.J., van Rooij, A.J., Shorter, G.W., Griffiths, M.D. & van de Mheen, D. (2013). Internet addiction in adolescents: Prevalence and risk factors. Computers in Human Behavior, 29, 1987-1996.

Lam, L.T. (2014). Internet Gaming Addiction, Problematic use of the Internet, and sleep problems: A systematic review. Current Psychiatry Reports, 16(4), 1-9.

Li, W., Garland, E.L., & Howard, M.O. (2014). Family factors in Internet addiction among Chinese youth: A review of English-and Chinese-language studies. Computers in Human. Behavior, 31, 393-411.

Pontes, H. & Griffiths, M.D. (2015). Measuring DSM-5 Internet Gaming Disorder: Development and validation of a short psychometric scale. Computers in Human Behavior, 45, 137-143.

Pontes, H.M., Kuss, D.J. & Griffiths, M.D. (2015). The clinical psychology of Internet addiction: A review of its conceptualization, prevalence, neuronal processes, and implications for treatment. Neuroscience and Neuroeconomics, 4, 11-23.

Pontes, H.M., Szabo, A. & Griffiths, M.D. (2015). The impact of Internet-based specific activities on the perceptions of Internet Addiction, Quality of Life, and excessive usage: A cross-sectional study. Addictive Behaviors Reports, 1, 19-25.

Tonioni, F., Mazza, M., Autullo, G., Cappelluti, R., Catalano, V., Marano, G., … & Lai, C. (2014). Is Internet addiction a psychopathological condition distinct from pathological gambling?. Addictive Behaviors, 39(6), 1052-1056.

Widyanto, L. & Griffiths, M.D. (2006). Internet addiction: A critical review. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 4, 31-51.

Young, K. (1998). Caught in the net. New York: John Wiley

Young K. (1999). Internet addiction: Evaluation and treatment. Student British Medical Journal, 7, 351-352.

Term warfare: Internet Gaming Disorder and Internet Addiction Disorder are not the same

Over the last 15 years, research into various online addictions has greatly increased. Alongside this, there have been scholarly debates about whether internet addiction really exists. Some may argue that because internet use does not involve the ingestion of a psychoactive substance, then it should not be considered a genuine addictive behaviour. However, the latest (fifth) edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) re-classified ‘Gambling Disorder’ as a behavioural addiction rather than as a disorder of impulse control. The implications of this reclassification are potentially far-reaching. The most significant implication is that if an activity that does not involve the consumption of drugs (i.e., gambling) can be a genuine addiction accepted by the psychiatric and medical community, there is no theoretical reason why other problematic and habitual behaviours (e.g., shopping, work, exercise, sex, video gaming, etc.) cannot be classed as a bone fide addiction.

There have also been debates among scholars that consider excessive problematic internet use to be a genuine addiction as to whether the those in the field should study generalized internet addiction (the totality of all online activities) and/or specific addictions on the internet such as internet gambling, internet gaming and internet sex. Since the late 1990s, I have constantly argued that there is a fundamental difference between addictions on the internet, and addictions to the internet. I argued that the overwhelming majority of individuals that were allegedly addicted to the internet were not internet addicts but were individuals that used the medium of the internet as a vehicle for other addictions. More specifically, I argued that internet gambling addicts and internet gaming addicts were not internet addicts but were gambling and gaming addicts using the convenience and ubiquity of the internet to gamble or play video games.

Prior to the publication of the latest DSM-5, there had also been debates as to whether ‘internet addiction’ should be introduced into the text as a separate disorder. Following these debates, the Substance Use Disorder Work Group (SUDWG) recommended that the DSM-5 include a sub-type of problematic internet use (i.e., internet gaming disorder [IGD]) in Section 3 (‘Emerging Measures and Models’) as an area that needed future research before being included in future editions of the DSM. However, far from clarifying the debates surrounding generalized versus specific internet use disorders, the section of the DSM-5 discussing IGD noted that:

“There are no well-researched subtypes for Internet gaming disorder to date. Internet gaming disorder most often involves specific Internet games, but it could involve non-Internet computerized games as well, although these have been less researched. It is likely that preferred games will vary over time as new games are developed and popularized, and it is unclear if behaviors and consequence associated with Internet gaming disorder vary by game type…Internet gaming disorder has significant public health importance, and additional research may eventually lead to evidence that Internet gaming disorder (also commonly referred to as Internet use disorder, Internet addiction, or gaming addiction) has merit as an independent disorder” (p.796).

In light of what has been already highlighted in previous research, two immediate problematic issues arise from these assertions. Firstly, IGD is clearly seen as synonymous with internet addiction as the text claims that internet addiction and internet use disorder are simply other names for IGD. Secondly – and somewhat confusingly – it is asserted that IGD (which is by definition internet-based) can also include offline gaming disorders.

With regards to the first assertion, internet addiction and online gaming addiction are not the same. A number of recent studies (including ones I’ve co-authored) clearly shows that to be the case. The second assertion that IGD can include offline video gaming is both baffling and confusing. Some researchers consider video games as the starting point for examining the characteristics of gaming disorder, while others consider the internet as the main platform that unites different addictive internet activities, including online games. For instance, I have argued that although all addictions have particular and idiosyncratic characteristics, they share more commonalities than differences (i.e., salience, mood modification, tolerance, withdrawal symptoms, conflict, and relapse), and likely reflects a common etiology of addictive behaviour. For me, IGD is clearly a sub-type of video game addiction. For people like Dr. Kimberley Young, ‘cyber-relationship addictions’, ‘cyber-sexual addictions’, ‘net compulsions’ (gambling, day trading) and ‘information overload’ are all internet addictions. However, many would argue that these – if they are addictions – are addictions on the internet, not to it. The internet is a medium and it is a situational characteristic. The fact that the medium might enhance addictiveness or problematic behaviour does not necessarily make it a sub-type of internet addiction.

However, recent studies have made an effort to integrate both approaches. For instance, some researchers claim that neither the first nor the second approach adequately captures the unique features of Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games (MMORPGs), and argue an integrated approach is a necessity. A common observation is that “Internet users are no more addicted to the Internet than alcoholics are addicted to bottles”. The internet is just a channel through which individuals may access whatever content they want (e.g., gambling, shopping, chatting, sex). On the other hand, online games differ from traditional standalone games, such as offline video games, in important aspects such as the social dimension or the role-playing dimension that allow interaction with other real players. Consequently, it could be argued that IGD can either be viewed as a specific type of video game addiction, or as a variant of internet addiction, or as an independent diagnosis. However, the idea that IGD can include offline gaming disorders does little for clarity or conceptualization.

Finally, it is also worth mentioning that there are some problematic online behaviours that could be called internet addictions as they can only take place online. The most obvious activity that fulfills this criterion is social networking as it is a ‘pure’ online activity and does not and cannot take place offline. Other activities such as gambling, gaming, and shopping can still be engaged in offline (as gamblers can go to a gambling venue, gamers can play a standalone console game, shoppers can go to a retail outlet). However, those engaged in social networking would not (if unable to access the internet) walk into a big room of people and start chatting to them all. However, even if social networking addiction is a genuine internet addiction, social networking itself is still a specific online application and could still be considered an addiction on the internet, rather than to it.

Based on recent empirical evidence, IGD (or any of the alternate names used to describe problematic gaming) is not the same as Internet Addiction Disorder. The gaming studies field needs conceptual clarity but as demonstrated, the DSM-5 itself is both misleading and misguided when it comes to the issue of IGD.

Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Demetrovics, Z., Urbán, R., Nagygyörgy, K., Farkas, J., Griffiths, M. D., Pápay, O., . . . Oláh, A. (2012). The development of the Problematic Online Gaming Questionnaire (POGQ). PLoS ONE, 7(5), e36417.

Griffiths, M.D. (2000). Internet addiction – Time to be taken seriously? Addiction Research, 8, 413-418.

Griffiths, M. D. (2005). A ‘components’ model of addiction within a biopsychosocial framework. Journal of Substance Use, 10(4), 191-197.

Griffiths, M.D., King, D.L. & Demetrovics, Z. (2014). DSM-5 Internet Gaming Disorder needs a unified approach to assessment. Neuropsychiatry, under review.

Griffiths, M.D., Kuss, D.J. & King, D.L. (2012). Video game addiction: Past, present and future. Current Psychiatry Reviews, 8, 308-318.

Griffiths, M.D. & Pontes, H.M. (2014). Internet addiction disorder and internet gaming disorder are not the same. Journal of Addiction Research and Therapy, 5: e124. doi:10.4172/2155-6105.1000e124.

Kim, M. G., & Kim, J. (2010). Cross-validation of reliability, convergent and discriminant validity for the problematic online game use scale. Computers in Human Behavior, 26(3), 389-398.

King, D. L., Delfabbro, P. H., Griffiths, M. D., & Gradisar, M. (2011). Assessing clinical trials of Internet addiction treatment: A systematic review and CONSORT evaluation. Clinical Psychology Review, 31, 1110-1116.

King, D. L., Delfabbro, P. H., & Griffiths, M. D. (2012). Cognitive-behavioral approaches to outpatient treatment of Internet addiction in children and adolescents. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 68, 1185-1195.

King, D.L., Haagsma, M.C., Delfabbro, P.H., Gradisar, M.S., Griffiths, M.D. (2013). Toward a consensus definition of pathological video-gaming: A systematic review of psychometric assessment tools. Clinical Psychology Review, 33, 331-342.

Koronczai, B., Urban, R., Kokonyei, G., Paksi, B., Papp, K., Kun, B., . . . Demetrovics, Z. (2011). Confirmation of the three-factor model of problematic internet use on off-line adolescent and adult samples. Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking, 14, 657–664.

Kuss, D.J. & Griffiths, M.D. (2012). Internet and gaming addiction: A systematic literature review of neuroimaging studies. Brain Sciences, 2, 347-374.

Kuss, D.J., Griffiths, M.D., Karila, L. & Billieux, J. (2014).  Internet addiction: A systematic review of epidemiological research for the last decade. Current Pharmaceutical Design, 20, 4026-4052.

Pápay, O., Nagygyörgy, K., Griffiths, M.D. & Demetrovics, Z. (2014). Problematic online gaming. In K. Rosenberg & L. Feder (Eds.), Behavioral Addictions: Criteria, Evidence and Treatment. New York: Elsevier.

Petry, N.M., & O’Brien, C.P. (2013). Internet gaming disorder and the DSM-5. Addiction, 108, 1186–1187.

Pontes, H. & Griffiths, M.D. (2014). The assessment of internet gaming disorder in clinical research. Clinical Research and Regulatory Affairs, 31(2-4), 35-48.

Pontes, H. & Griffiths, M.D. (2015). Measuring DSM-5 Internet Gaming Disorder: Development and validation of a short psychometric scale. Computers in Human Behavior, 45, 137-143.

Pontes, H., Király, O. Demetrovics, Z. & Griffiths, M.D. (2014). The conceptualisation and measurement of DSM-5 Internet Gaming Disorder: The development of the IGD-20 Test. PLoS ONE, 9(10): e110137. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0110137.

Pontes, H., Kuss, D. & Griffiths, M.D. (2015). The clinical psychology of Internet addiction: A review of its conceptualization, prevalence, neuronal processes, and implications for treatment. Neuroscience and Neuroeconomics, 4, 11-23.

Porter, G., Starcevic, V., Berle, D., & Fenech, P. (2010). Recognizing problem video game use. The Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, 44, 120-128.

Young, K. S. (1998). Internet addiction: The emergence of a new clinical disorder. Cyberpsychology and Behavior, 1, 237-244.

Totally wired: Techno-stress and how to beat it

Technology is essential to most people’s working lives. The potential for constant availability via smartphones, laptops and tablets has facilitated the speed of business life and has become a mixed blessing. For some, wireless links offer the luxury of slipping out of the office for a round of golf or across the globe for an extended holiday. Others feel overwhelmed and less creative when pressured by constant ‘connectedness’. The potential for technological overload has created a new type of anxiety that has been referred to as ‘techno-stress’. Techno-stress can arise from many different routes. These include:

  • Technophobia: Fear of change and working with new technology can be a stressor in itself.
  • Technological failure: As work becomes less centralized and more flexible, people have to become their own IT managers. Coping with the after-effects of technology going wrong (hardware or software) can be incredibly stressful (for instance, most of us know how stressful life suddenly becomes when we lose wi-fi access – even if it is for short periods). This can result in behaviour such as ‘tele-rage’.
  • Management surveillance: Management in some organizations install software that tracks employees’ movements both in and out of the office. It is possible to read staff e-mails and monitor time spent at the computer to ensure maximum productivity. The feeling of being constantly monitored can also be a potential stressor.
  • Information overload: Constant ringing telephones, mobile phone texts, and “You have mail” messages on the internet demand instant action. Coupled with junk e-mail and Internet searches that produce thousands of ‘hits’, people can get caught up in the culture of immediacy. As a result, people become overwhelmed with information and will tend to do and say things that do not produce desired results, and that increases their stress levels.
  • Social isolation: Although technology allows flexibility in working practices, it has the potential to make working more socially isolating. This, again, can be stressful.
  • Fear of redundancy: Some people work harder and longer hours because they fear losing their jobs. Coupled with this, there are companies who are making people redundant all as a result of new technologies being installed. This fear can be stress-inducing.

There are now many studies showing the negative impact that technological advance can have on psychological and physical wellbeing. Some psychologists claim that round-the-clock technology upsets the natural rhythms of both body and brain. Muscles in our bodies are there to be used yet we sit for hours and hours at our terminals using only arm and hand muscles. In addition, rising levels of obesity have been levelled at children (so-called ‘screenagers’) and the computer game culture (topics that I have covered in previous blogs)..

Technology enables people to work from anywhere. No one knows if you’re at the beach or in your office. While on vacation people can spend time on their laptops and chat with clients via their mobile phone. For some – if they were unable to keep in touch with work – they wouldn’t go away for so long in the first place. However, not everyone can handle the extreme accessibility, and constant interruptions from work can irritate those that they are with. The work-family line can become blurred in an undesirable way. Lives become even more work-centred than it already is and can become a workday that never ends.

I can certainly think of times when I would take calls around the clock, seven days a week. Such commitment can build successful businesses but can cost heavily at a personal level. It can compromise both social relationships and health. Partners may complain that there isn’t any time that is just theirs. They may feel that their workaholic partner is never entirely there with them. Man may happily trade the income they have to spend more time with their partner. Technology has the potential to create problems in people’s lives and with their health.

The number of people and amount of time spent working during vacations and after office hours keeps growing as technology encroaches into leisure time. Some time ago, psychologist, Professor Larry Rosen of California State University did a four-year study of business attitudes and technology use. The research indicated 75% of managers and executives worked at home, toiling at their computer for an hour or two each day during traditional ‘down time’. They communicated less with family. Furthermore, they became dysfunctional, made life difficult for the family, and became more detached from their friends. Such findings are not isolated. For instance, another survey reported 62% of Hong Kong business managers said that dealing with too much information had caused personal relationships to suffer, and 51% said it adversely affected their health. Results from a comparison of 11 different countries indicated 40% felt that information overload was taking a toll on relationships and 33% reported technology was causing a health decline.

Technology has changed family dynamics, because technology tends to be a solo (rather than group) activity. Instead of sitting around talking together, different members may be spending their time accessing different technologies (e-mails, videogames, etc.). Even in the same room, people can be in a ‘techno-cocoon’. The technology world is so inviting and fascinating, and it has holding power. In addition to everyone staying in their own little techno-world, youngsters, who have grown up surrounded by beeping, colorful gadgets, tend to be more techno-savvy than their parents. Parents must set boundaries and remain in control of the gadgets.

Technology encourages us take advantage of every moment. For instance, during air-travel, laptops, smartphones and tablets, allow people to transform traditional ‘dead time’ into work. Rather than spending a few minutes unwinding or pulling thoughts together, people convert time in a taxi or airport into productive minutes. But such capabilities foster what some might refer to as ‘multi-tasking madness’. No longer content to complete one thing at a time, people conduct business while driving, check stock quotes while waiting in line at the shopping checkout, and read e-mail as they talk on the phone. The brain allows us to keep many balls in the air, but trying to process so much at once becomes taxing for a mind attempting to resolve unfinished business. However, multi-taskers may have difficulty concentrating and soundly sleeping. They may become irritable, because biochemical and physiological systems remain in a state of hyper-arousal. At 2am in the morning, the brain may come up with a solution to something left hanging earlier in the day. Multi-tasking eventually catches up with everyone.

Unless we set clear limits, we are going to be continuously multitasking. Even the less connected feel the stress. Research shows an increase in the number of people who have embraced electronic gadgetry. But those wavering can’t escape the technological revolution. Stress tends to take on a variety of forms. They can be angry things are changing so rapidly. They can be frustrated by how much time it takes to learn new things. They can be irritated, annoyed or feel inferior.

Just because technology makes a task possible, doesn’t mean you have to always take advantage. Companies must introduce initiatives to manage new technology rather than the technology managing the individuals. Stress management strategies include:

  • Involving workers in decisions regarding the introduction and implementation of new technology
  • Creating social networks for people working remotely or hot-desking
  • Letting the new technology liberate the workers by creating more flexible working arrangements for a better balance between work and home
  • Training people in how to get the most out of technology and making it user-friendly

Finally, here are a few hints and tips on how to beat techno-stress:

  • When surfing for information, decide ahead of time how long you will commit to the endeavor. Accept the fact more data exists than you can possibly find and use.
  • Learn the most effective places to look for what you need. If an Internet search top 20 hits fail to yield useful information, refine the original criteria. People can go from one page to another on the Internet, for two to three hours, and not have much to show for it.
  • Limit e-mail retrieval to a few times per day (say when you first get in if you have a lot of international contacts and before you leave work). Furthermore, turn off instant messaging system or the volume on your computer. This is only helpful when you are expecting a message.
  • When you do check your e-mails, reply immediately to e-mails to acknowledge receipt but don’t necessarily give a detailed reply. Give a considered response later.
  • Indulge in a break from e-mail during short business trips. This will make travelling less stressful. In this connected time, it’s very important to disconnect oneself from time to time so as to get some distance and be able to rise above just reacting to immediate things. In those peaceful moments one can think bigger, slower and more inner questions. A break from technology frees up time for friends, family and appreciating the things that make the world unique.
  • If you need to concentrate – to write a proposal, discuss an important issue with a client or think through a solution to a vexing problem – turn off ringers on phones and wireless devices and close the email inbox window.
  • Develop a plan to handle a technology crisis, with tactics aimed at dealing with everything from hard-drive meltdowns and empty ink cartridges to a low-battery beep. Create back-up files and know how you’re going to get back online.
  • One should always ask, ‘Am I using technology or is technology using me?’ and ‘What’s really important in life, and what’s not?’ Our job is to take back control from technology and then enjoy the benefits that it can give us without feeling the stresses.
  • Finally, take a daily break from gadgets to exercise, read or garden. You will get a refreshed point of view and perspective. You have to have a balance in your life. It will make you a more contented person. By consciously restricting time with technology the stress will begin to subside.

Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Griffiths, M.D.  (2002).  Occupational health issues concerning Internet use in the workplace. Work and Stress, 16, 283-287.

Griffiths, M.D. (2004).  Tips on…Managing your e-mails. British Medical Journal Careers, 329, 240.

Griffiths, M.D. (2009). Internet abuse and addiction in the workplace. In M. Khosrow-Pour (Ed.), Encyclopedia of Information Science and Technology, Vol. I-V (Second Edition). pp. 2170-2175. Hershey, Pennsylvania: Idea Publishing.

Griffiths, M.D. & Wood, R.T.A. (2004). Youth and technology: The case of gambling, video-game playing and the Internet. In J. Derevensky & R. Gupta (Eds.), Gambling Problems in Youth: Theoretical and Applied Perspectives (pp. 101-120). New York: Kluwer.

Griffiths, M.D. & Dennis, F. (2000). How to beat techno-stress. Independent on Sunday (Reality section), May 7, p.22.

King, D.L., Delfabbro, P.H. & Griffiths, M.D. (2012). Clinical interventions for technology-based problems: Excessive Internet and video game use. Journal of Cognitive Psychotherapy: An International Quarterly, 26, 43-56.

Sutton, M. & Griffiths, M.D. (2004). Emails with unintended consequences: New lessons for policy and practice in work, public office and private life. In P. Hills (Ed.). As Others See Us: Selected Essays In Human Communication. pp. 160-182. Dereham: Peter Francis Publishers.