Published online Jun 10, 2019. doi: 10.5498/wjp.v9.i3.55
Peer-review started: April 26, 2018
First decision: June 15, 2018
Revised: January 30, 2019
Accepted: May 15, 2019
Article in press: May 15, 2019
Published online: June 10, 2019
Problematic Internet use (PIU) or Internet addiction has been recognized to be a behavioral addiction characterized by excessive or poorly controlled preoccupations, urges, or behaviors regarding computer use and Internet access that leads to impairment or distress resembling substance abuse.
To investigate the prevalence and characteristics of Internet use and abuse in a group of drug addicts from Southern Italy, by means of a specific questionnaire [“Questionario sull’Utilizzo delle Nuove Tecnologie” (QUNT)].
All subjects (183) were heavy smokers, almost 50% of them used heroin and/or opioid compounds, 30% alcohol, 10% cannabis, 8% cocaine, and 5% were polydrug users. Almost 10% of the individuals were also suffering from gambling disorder.
The time spent online was more than 4 hours a day in the total sample, with a slight prevalence in male subjects. Cocaine and cannabis users spent more than 6 hours online, significantly more than opioid and alcohol abusers. Distribution of the QUNT factors was not different in both sexes. Cocaine users showed higher scores at the “loss of control”, “pornography addiction”, and “addiction to social networks” factors, for the stimulant effect of this substance. Moreover, 15 out of the total 17 cocaine users were pathological gamblers. Positive and statistically significant relationships were observed between some QUNT factors and body mass index.
These findings indicate that PIU is less severe in subjects taking sedative substances, such as heroin/opioids and alcohol, than in subjects taking stimulants. Alternatively, it may be used as a “stimulant” trigger in cocaine and cannabis users. Flattening effect of abuse drugs was noted on possible sex-related differences in QUNT items. We observed a sort of “protective” effect of a love relationship and/or living together with a partner, as those engaged subjects showed lower scores on different items than single subjects or those living alone. The relationship between time spent online (and related sedentary lifestyle) and body mass index would suggest that Internet use might be a contributing factor to increasing weight gain and obesity amongst adolescents and young adults worldwide. Our findings also highlighted the specific vulnerability of drug addicts who use stimulants, rather than sedative compounds, to other kinds of behavioral addictions, such as gambling disorder.
Core tip: This study investigated the characteristics of Internet use and problematic Internet use (PIU) in drug addicts through a specific questionnaire. The findings indicated that PIU is more common in subjects taking cocaine and cannabis than in subjects taking opioids or alcohol, and that the also affected by pathological gambling disorder. This suggests a favoring role of stimulant drugs towards the development of behavioral addictions. The relationship between time spent online and body mass index indicates that Internet use might be a factor that promotes weight gain and obesity. Addiction prevention should take into consideration PIU, which currently represents a worldwide epidemic.