(THESSALONIKI, Greece) — Parents already panicky about the amount of time their teenage children spend online may now have something new to worry about: all those hours spent Web surfing, chatting, gaming, texting and posting to Facebook could be a warning sign of substance abuse, according to a new study in the March issue of the Journal of Addiction Medicine.
Greek researchers found that teenagers with “pathologic” Internet use were more likely to admit to drug abuse, and as excessive Internet use increased, so did the likelihood of substance abuse. The study also linked substance abuse and excessive Internet use to such personality traits as nonconformity, aggressiveness, recklessness and impulsiveness.
“Not only did we find that specific personality attributes were important in both substance abuse and Internet addiction, but that Internet addiction remained an important predictor of substance abuse,” study co-author Georgios Floros, at Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, said in an email to ABC News.
Floros and colleagues surveyed 1,271 students between the ages of 14 and 19 on the Aegean island of Kos about their Internet use, substance use and personality. To determine who was “Internet addicted,” the researchers administered a 20-question “Internet addiction test” that asked how often the students stayed online longer than they’d intended, how often their grades or studies slipped because of the amount of time spent online, and how often they’d “yell, snap or act annoyed” if someone bothered them while they were online.
When they compared the mean values of “illicit substance abuse” among the teenage participants, the researchers found that those who reported substance abuse had “significantly” higher mean scores on the Internet addiction test, and that those scores were important predictors for substance use, either past or present.
“The predictive element showed an interesting new finding,” said Floros.
“It’s not a shocking result to me,” David Greenfield, a Connecticut psychologist and founder of the Center for Internet and Technology Addiction, told ABC News. “The study offers another set of variables to look at when doing a workup.”
Dr. Megan Moreno, a pediatric and adolescent medicine specialist at UW Health in Madison, Wis., said, “I’ve definitely seen kids who showed signs of problematic Internet use. Some of them do go on to have other problem behaviors. Sometimes that’s substance abuse, sometimes it’s other addictive behaviors, like excess exercise or excess shopping.”
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