Characteristics of Internet Addiction/Pathological Internet Use in U.S. University Students: A Qualitative-Method Investigation
Studies have identified high rates and severe consequences of Internet Addiction/Pathological Internet Use (IA/PIU) in university students. However, most research concerning IA/PIU in U.S. university students has been conducted within a quantitative research paradigm, and frequently fails to contextualize the problem of IA/PIU. To address this gap, we conducted an exploratory qualitative study using the focus group approach and examined 27 U.S. university students who self-identified as intensive Internet users, spent more than 25 hours/week on the Internet for non-school or non-work-related activities and who reported Internet-associated health and/or psychosocial problems. Students completed two IA/PIU measures (Young’s Diagnostic Questionnaire and the Compulsive Internet Use Scale) and participated in focus groups exploring the natural history of their Internet use; preferred online activities; emotional, interpersonal, and situational triggers for intensive Internet use; and health and/or psychosocial consequences of their Internet overuse. Students’ self-reports of Internet overuse problems were consistent with results of standardized measures. Students first accessed the Internet at an average age of 9 (SD = 2.7), and first had a problem with Internet overuse at an average age of 16 (SD = 4.3). Sadness and depression, boredom, and stress were common triggers of intensive Internet use. Social media use was nearly universal and pervasive in participants’ lives. Sleep deprivation, academic under-achievement, failure to exercise and to engage in face-to-face social activities, negative affective states, and decreased ability to concentrate were frequently reported consequences of intensive Internet use/Internet overuse. IA/PIU may be an underappreciated problem among U.S. university students and warrants additional research.