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Problematic internet usage in US college students: a pilot study

Dimitri A Christakis12*, Megan M Moreno3, Lauren Jelenchick3, Mon T Myaing1 and Chuan Zhou12

Author Affiliations

1 Seattle Children's Research Institute, Center for Child Health, Behavior, and Development2001 Eighth Avenue, Seattle, WA 98121, USA

2 Department of Pediatrics, University of Washington, 4500 Pacific Street, Seattle, WA 98105, USA

3 Department of Pediatrics, University of Wisconsin, 2870 University Avenue, Madison, WI 53705, USA

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BMC Medicine 2011, 9:77  doi:10.1186/1741-7015-9-77

Published: 22 June 2011



Internet addiction among US college students remains a concern, but robust estimates of its prevalence are lacking.


We conducted a pilot survey of 307 college students at two US universities. Participants completed the Internet Addiction Test (IAT) as well as the Patient Health Questionnaire. Both are validated measures of problematic Internet usage and depression, respectively. We assessed the association between problematic Internet usage and moderate to severe depression using a modified Poisson regression approach. In addition, we examined the associations between individual items in the IAT and depression.


A total of 224 eligible respondents completed the survey (73% response rate). Overall, 4% of students scored in the occasionally problematic or addicted range on the IAT, and 12% had moderate to severe depression. Endorsement of individual problematic usage items ranged from 1% to 70%. In the regression analysis, depressive symptoms were significantly associated with several individual items. Relative risk could not be estimated for three of the twenty items because of small cell sizes. Of the remaining 17 items, depressive symptoms were significantly associated with 13 of them, and three others had P values less than 0.10. There was also a significant association between problematic Internet usage overall and moderate to severe depression (relative risk 24.07, 95% confidence interval 3.95 to 146.69; P = 0.001).


The prevalence of problematic Internet usage among US college students is a cause for concern, and potentially requires intervention and treatment amongst the most vulnerable groups. The prevalence reported in this study is lower than that which has been reported in other studies, however the at-risk population is very high and preventative measures are also recommended.