Study finds ‘Internet addicts’ can suffer similar withdrawal symptoms to substance mis-users

Scientists at Swansea and Milan Universities have found that young people who use the Internet for excessively-long periods can suffer similar withdrawal symptoms to substance mis-users.

In a study of Internet users, published online in the international journal PLOS ONE, Professor Phil Reed of Swansea University’s Psychology Department and Dr Lisa A Osborne of the University’s College of Medicine and Professor Roberto Truzoli and Michela Romano of the Università degli Studi in Milan, reported the results of the first study into the immediate negative psychological impacts of Internet use. 

Their research found that those who engage in long periods of use reported increased negative moods after they stopped surfing the net, possibly triggering them to re-engage in net use to remove these unpleasant feelings.

Professor Reed, who is based in the University’s College of Human and Health Sciences, said: “Although we do not know exactly what Internet addiction is, our results show that around half of the young people we studied spend so much time on the net that it has negative consequences for the rest of their lives. 

“When these people come off-line, they suffer increased negative mood – just like people coming off illegal drugs like ecstasy. 

“These initial results, and related studies of brain function, suggest that there are some nasty surprises lurking on the net for people’s wellbeing.”

The results of the study also showed that heavy Internet-users also tend to be more depressed and show higher levels of autism traits.

“These results corroborate previous reports regarding the psychological characteristics and traits of Internet users, but go beyond those findings to show the immediate effect of the Internet on the mood of those who are addicted,” added Professor Reed.

The full study, entitled “Differential Psychological Impact of Internet Exposure on Internet Addicts”,is available in PLOS ONE here 


The study, which led to the “Differential Psychological Impact of Internet Exposure on Internet Addicts” paper published in PLoS ONE, explored the immediate impact of Internet exposure on the mood and psychological states of Internet addicts and low Internet-users.  

Sixty volunteer participants (27 males and 33 females, with an average age of 24.0+2.5 years) were given a series of psychological tests to explore levels of Internet addiction, mood, anxiety, depression, schizotypy, and autism traits.  They were then given exposure to the Internet for 15 minutes, and re-tested for mood and current anxiety.

Internet addiction was associated with long-standing depression, impulsive nonconformity, and autism traits. High Internet-users also showed a pronounced decrease in mood following Internet use compared to the low Internet-users.

The immediate negative impact of exposure to the Internet on the mood of Internet addicts may contribute to increased usage by those individuals attempting to reduce by re-engaging rapidly in Internet use.