Addicted to the internet? Behavioral therapy could work, researchers find

Jul 10, 2019, 1:09 PM
internet addiction behavioral therapy...
For individuals with internet addiction, there's a type of short-term therapy that can be an effective treatment, according to a small study published Wednesday in medical journal JAMA Psychiatry. Photo: Getty Images

(CNN) — Many people spend hours on the internet every week — but some people can’t pull away.

For individuals with internet addiction, there’s a type of short-term therapy that can be an effective treatment, according to a small study published Wednesday in medical journal JAMA Psychiatry.

Researchers found that 69.4% of men with internet addiction entered remission if they received short-term cognitive behavioral therapy, compared to 23.9% of men who entered remission while being on a waitlist to receive therapy.

People in remission were 10 times more likely to be part of the short-term cognitive behavioral therapy group than the waitlist control group.

“This indicates a strong treatment effect for subjects suffering from internet addiction or gaming disorder,” said Klaus Wölfling, lead author of the study, in a podcast for JAMA Psychiatry. Wölfling is a researcher in the Department of Psychosomatic Medicine and Psychotherapy at the University Medical Center of the Johannes Gutenberg-University Mainz in Germany.

Internet addiction, according to the researchers, is excessive use of the internet that negatively affects family, social, work and other aspects of life.

Last year, the World Health Organization recognized internet gaming disorder as a mental health condition. The criteria for gaming disorder in WHO’s International Classification of Diseases includes at least 12 months of recurrent patterns of gaming, loss of control, and continued behavior even after causing negative consequences and distress in other aspects of life.

For this study, researchers used a broader definition of internet addiction, to include patients who were addicted to gaming, social networks, pornography, online surfing or general internet use. The prevalence of internet addiction is estimated to be 6% worldwide.

15 weeks of therapy

The study looked at 143 men between the ages of 17 and 55 across four outpatient clinics in Germany and Austria, who met criteria for internet addiction based on scores from the Assessment of Internet and Computer Game Addiction, a standardized survey used in the field.

It is based on 14 criteria that include frequency of internet activity, withdrawal symptoms, preoccupation with the internet and a loss of interest in other life activities. Internet addiction was defined as a score greater than 13, while remission was defined as a score of less than 7.

The short-term cognitive behavioral therapy consisted of 15 weeks of group and individual sessions. The program was divided into three phases: education about the addiction, psychotherapeutic intervention — such as showing healthy use of the internet — and “focus on relapse prevention techniques and transition into everyday life,” according to Wölfling.

The people who were in the waitlist control group did ultimately receive the cognitive behavioral therapy, but after a 15 week delay to allow the study to be completed.

The study assessed only men because they are the predominant patients in internet addiction in the clinics, according to Wölfling. For behavioral addiction generally, men “represent 90% of patients treated or diagnosed in outpatient clinics,” the researchers wrote.

Patients were assessed at the start of treatment, mid-treatment and post-treatment at four months.

Those in the short-term cognitive therapy group also had a follow-up assessment after six months. Researchers looked at self-reports of internet addiction behaviors and symptoms.

At the end of treatment, patients in the therapy group showed lower self-reported addiction symptoms such as withdrawal, preoccupation and time spent online, and better social, work and day-to-day functioning.

Patients showed lower rates of depression overall, without significant differences between the two groups. A small number of people became more depressed and had to be transferred to an inpatient facility, the researchers noted.

This was the first randomized, clinical trial across multiple clinics that looked at the treatment for internet addiction, but the study had several limitations.

The small sample size could have “overestimated” the effect of short-term therapy, the researchers wrote.

Also, the study was limited to men and based on information patients reported on their own condition. Some patients dropped out, with 100 patients completing the study as scheduled.

Future randomized controlled trials should have better patient retention, include women and be longer in duration, according to Wölfling.

“Patients might profit even further if the treatment phase would be prolonged,” he said in the JAMA Psychiatry podcast.

“Understanding of the person and history and the development of the pathologic behavior or disorder may be more important for the patient to learn about their own history and own life’s development.”

™ & © 2019 Cable News Network, Inc., a Time Warner Company. All rights reserved.

Today’s Top Stories


FILE - A Tesla owner charges his vehicle at a charging station in Topeka, Kan., Monday, April 5, 20...

US report: nearly 400 crashes of automated tech vehicles

However, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration cautioned against using the numbers to compare automakers,
10 days ago
Iran digital intrusion...
Curt Gresseth

Don’t get hacked. Protect your online data by being cyber-ready.

A cyber-security says defend yourself against hackers by being cyber-ready.
1 month ago
The gold star on your license will be needed if you want to fly in the next year....
Dan Bammes

Your driver’s license needs this if you want to fly in the next year

The gold star on your driver's license will be needed for anyone 18 and older. Most people have been getting them as they've renewed their licenses over the past four or so years.
2 months ago
FILE - The Twitter splash page is seen on a digital device, Monday, April 25, 2022, in San Diego. E...
KELVIN CHAN AP Business Writer

Musk’s Twitter ambitions to collide with Europe’s tech rules

Europe's Digital Services Act requires big tech companies to police their platforms more strictly or face billions in fines.
2 months ago
secondary water davis weber...
Chandler Holt

WSU achieves water conservation goals four years early

Over 5 years ago, Weber State University set a water conservation goal to reduce campus water usage by 30% by 2025, a goal they achieved in 2021.
2 months ago
FILE - Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk arrives on the red carpet for the Axel Springer media award i...

Tesla CEO Elon Musk offers to buy Twitter for $43 billion

He says the social media platform he has criticized for not living up to free speech principles needs to be transformed as a private company.
2 months ago

Sponsored Articles

Tax Harassment...
Jordan Wilcox

The best strategies for dealing with IRS tax harassment | You have options!

Learn how to deal with IRS tax harassment. This guide will teach you how to stop IRS phone calls and letters, and how to handle an IRS audit.
spend a day at Bear Lake...
Bear Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau

You’ll love spending the day at Bear Lake | How to spend a day at Bear Lake

Bear Lake is a place that needs to be experienced. Spend a day at Bear Lake.
Curb Appeal...
Price's Guaranteed Doors

How to have the best of both worlds for your house | Home security and curb appeal

Protect your home and improve its curb appeal with the latest security solutions like beautiful garage doors and increased security systems.
Prescription opioids can be disposed of during National Prescription Take Back Day...
Know Your Script

Prescription opioid misuse | How to protect your family from the opioid epidemic

Studies have shown that prescription opioid misuse has increased since COVID-19. So what do you need to know about these opioids?
Follow @ikeyospe...

Tax Tuesday: The Most Common Mistakes People Make When Filing Their Taxes

Fortunately, for most average earners, they will not end up owing overpayments received for the Child Tax Credit in 2021.
Follow @ikeyospe...

Tax Tuesday: How will last year’s child tax credits affect you?

Fortunately, for most average earners, they will not end up owing overpayments received for the Child Tax Credit in 2021.
Addicted to the internet? Behavioral therapy could work, researchers find