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Empirical studies have identified increasing rates of problematic Internet use worldwide and a host of related negative consequences. However, researchers disagree as to whether problematic Internet use is a subtype of behavioral addiction. Thus, there are not yet widely accepted and validated diagnostic criteria for problematic Internet use. To address this gap, we used mixed-methods to examine the extent to which signs and symptoms of problematic Internet use mirror DSM-5 diagnostic criteria for substance use disorder, gambling disorder, and Internet gaming disorder. A total of 27 university students, who self-identified as intensive Internet users and who reported Internet-use-associated health and/or psychosocial problems were recruited. Students completed two measures that assess problematic Internet use (Young’s Diagnostic Questionnaire and the Compulsive Internet Use Scale) and participated in focus groups exploring their experiences with problematic Internet use. Results of standardized measures and focus group discussions indicated substantial overlap between students’ experiences of problematic Internet use and the signs and symptoms reflected in the DSM-5 criteria for substance use disorder, gambling disorder, and Internet gaming disorder. These signs and symptoms included: a) use Internet longer than intended, b) preoccupation with the Internet, c) withdrawal symptoms when unable to access the Internet, d) unsuccessful attempts to stop or reduce Internet use, e) craving, f) loss of interest in hobbies or activities other than the Internet, g) excessive Internet use despite the knowledge of related problems, g) use of the Internet to escape or relieve a negative mood, and h) lying about Internet use. Tolerance, withdrawal symptoms, and recurrent Internet use in hazardous situations were uniquely manifested in the context of problematic Internet use. Implications for research and practice are discussed.


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PLoS ONE 11(1): e0145981. doi:

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Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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