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 Internet addiction disorder among 15-19-yr-olds in Colombo

Internet addiction disorder among 15-19-yr-olds in Colombo

02 Nov 2023 | BY Ruwan Laknath Jayakody

  • Causative factors include being male, lack of outdoor sports engagement, having an unemployed mother, and excessive daily Internet use for non-academic activities 

Being of the male sex, the excessive use of social media, the lack of engagement in outdoor sports, having an unemployed mother, excessive engagement in Internet gaming, excessive Internet usage time per day for non-academic activities, and a higher duration of Internet use in terms of years were identified as statistically significant associated factors concerning Internet addiction disorder among 15-19-year-old adolescents in the Colombo District.

These findings were made in a research article on the same by G. Ariyadasa (attached to the Health Ministry's Health Promotion Bureau), C. De Silva (attached to the Ministry's Family Health Bureau) and D. Jayawardane (attached to the National Hospital in Colombo) and published in the Ceylon Journal of Science's 52nd volume's fourth issue in October 2023.


The Internet has become a significant component of contemporary life for all age groups. People have increasingly adopted and used the Internet for entertainment, socialisation, and information retrieval. Easier access to smartphones and the higher utilisation of laptops has allowed and provided for people to use the Internet freely. Although the positive aspects of the Internet have been readily praised, there is a negative side of its excessive and pathological use. Internet addiction disorder is defined in J. Kandell and J. Jonathan's “Internet addiction on campus: The vulnerability of college students” as a psychological dependence on the Internet once logged on, regardless of the type of activity. The condition, per M. Shaw and D.W. Black’s “Internet addiction and clinical management” is also an impulse control disorder that results in personal, professional, educational, and financial conflicts with life relationships being affected. Even though Internet addiction disorder has emerged as a universal issue, its international prevalence estimates vary vastly. C. Cheng and A.Y.L. Li’s “Internet addiction prevalence and the quality of (real) life: A meta-analysis of 31 nations across seven world regions” reported a global prevalence of 6%. K. Chakraborty's “Internet addiction: Consensus, controversies, and the way ahead” revealed that the worldwide prevalence of the disorder could vary from 0.3% to 38%. In Sri Lanka, C. Rodrigo and R. Nilakshika's “Problematic Internet behaviours among university students in Sri Lanka” revealed that 27.6% of university students in Sri Lanka have the disorder.

In Asia, a higher variation in prevalence among young people and adolescents, ranging from 8.1% to 50.9% has been revealed. There are many negative consequences of Internet addiction disorder that have been reported including a variety of detrimental outcomes for adolescents that may require professional intervention.


Internet addiction disorder may manifest the same troubling effects as substance abuse among adolescents. Per L. Chung and L. Jaekyoung's “Personal factors, Internet characteristics, and environmental factors contributing to adolescent Internet addiction: A public health perspective”, it can be characterised as various physical and psychological problems, which mostly manifest in adolescents as a low educational performance, the lack of motivation, social withdrawal, and loneliness. Internet addiction disorder is one of the fast growing addictive behaviours and is a significant public health problem affecting a large number of adolescents worldwide. Therefore, preventive strategies should be geared towards addressing the associated factors. An Indian study reported that being of the male gender, having a personal device, the time of Internet use, using smartphones, having a permanent login status, chatting through the Internet, making online friends, and engaging in online shopping, watching films, online gaming, searching information online, and messaging have been found to be significantly associated with the Internet addiction disorder. The duration of Internet use, having higher levels of depression, compulsivity, aggressiveness, having a lower family cohesion, having a higher accessibility to Internet cafes, and having a higher exposure to Internet gaming are associated significantly with the disorder.

Another Indian study reported social networking, chatting, downloading media files, and pornography as associated factors. Many countries share the public health impact of Internet addiction disorder.

Statistics in SL 

Ariyadasa et al.’s study was a descriptive, cross sectional study including an analytical component to assess Internet addiction disorder among 15-19-year-old adolescents in the Colombo District. The study was carried out in Government schools having Grades 10 to 13 in the Colombo District, from October 2019 to July 2021. The multi-stage stratified cluster sampling method was used. The number of students in each class varied from 10 to 43 in all the schools. The final sample size was 1,351 including 15-19-year-old adolescents of both the genders. The highest proportion of adolescents was in the age group of 16 years (573/42.7%) and the lowest proportion was in the 18-year-old age group (231/17.2%). The mean age was 16.3 years. A total of 687/50.9% adolescents were males and 664/49.1% were females.

There were 17.2% of adolescents with Internet addiction disorder and 82.8% of adolescents not having the disorder.

Among the associated factors of Internet addiction disorder, the male sex emerged as a significant predictor. Addiction is more common in males than in females. According to the present study, being a male has increased the odds of having Internet addiction disorder.

Male preponderance to addiction

The findings, in Ariyadasa et al.’s view, may be possibly due to male adolescents being generally more passionate about knowing unknown facts or exploring new inventions or that they are usually more attracted to addictive objects such as pornography, cybersex, and online gaming compared with females. They also have more freedom than females to engage in online activities. G. Kormas and C. Elena's “Risk factors and psychosocial characteristics of potential problematic Internet use among adolescents” reported that the male gender was having higher levels of Internet addiction disorder.

In Sri Lanka, V. Sachitra's “Internet addiction, academic performance and university students” reported that there was a male preponderance to addiction in undergraduates at the University of Sri Jayewardenepura. Adolescent boys utilise the Internet more frequently and extensively than adolescent girls. These gender differences that were observed could be attributed to the potential confounding effect of the differences in the frequency of Internet utilisation between the genders. Excessive social media use can lead to an uncontrollable urge among the users to log on and devote so much time and effort. M. Griffiths and J. Daria's “The evolution of Internet addiction: A global perspective” explains that the excessive use of social media can be viewed as one form of an Internet addiction disorder, where individuals exhibit a compulsion to use it.

Social media

According to the current study, the excessive use of social media has increased the odds of having Internet addiction disorder. This finding of the study has been persistent throughout. A Bangladeshi study concluded that spending time on social media websites was the most common online activity among adolescents. E. Guedes and S. Federica's “Internet addiction and excessive social networks” revealed that the increased prevalence of social media usage has become addictive among youth. The alarming statistic regarding an association between Internet addiction disorder and social media use sheds light on policy implications. Programme planners in the education and health sectors could consider the possibility of students being addicted to social media usage and educate students about the negative consequences of such addictive behaviour. A lack of engagement in outdoor sports was seen among adolescents as making them more likely to have Internet addiction disorder. 

Lack of physical activity

A Korean study reported that exercise and sports can significantly reduce the levels of Internet addiction disorder and elaborated that Internet addiction disorder leads to changes in the neural structure, decreases the activity of the dopaminergic system, and limits the neurocognitive function which can be reversed by an exercise based intervention. The other possible explanation is that outdoor sports and exercise can substantially reduce the time spent online and make adolescents physically active. M. Khan and S. Faizania's “Effect of gender and physical activity on Internet addiction in medical students” reported that the total score and frequency of Internet addiction disorder diagnosed by the Internet Addiction Test were higher in students lacking physical activity as compared to those with regular physical activity.

Students who take part in any kind of physical activity outdoors tend to stay away from gadgets that are needed to use the Internet. They are more inclined towards healthy activities instead of spending time on the Internet. They tend to sleep early because of physical tiredness, so the chances of Internet usage till late at night are rare in these students. On the other hand, students who do not participate in physical activities are lazy and remain stuck with Internet devices. 

Maternal unemployment

The unemployment of the mother was reported to have higher levels of Internet addiction disorder among the 15-19-year-old adolescents. This was an unexpected finding in the present study contradicting the previous research. Despite that, a South Korean study found that there are strong positive associations between Internet addiction disorder and high maternal education level which again contradicts the finding of the current study. K. Johansson and P. Solveig's “The interplay between national and parental unemployment in relation to adolescent life satisfaction in 27 countries” showed that maternal unemployment is associated with low life satisfaction in adolescents.

It is debatable that children and adolescents are wholly mediated by the situation within the family and that if the mother is unemployed, she has to be with her children most of the time and that therefore, Internet addiction disorder among the children should be less. However, maternal unemployment can also be associated with low income levels in families, and they may generally have lower educational achievements. Mothers in such families may not be aware of the adverse effects of Internet addiction and possibly not supervise the use of the Internet by their children, which may lead to overuse and addiction.

Internet gaming

Excessive engagement in Internet gaming was reported to have higher levels of Internet addiction disorder among 15-19-year-old adolescents. Internet based gaming is an emerging issue for adolescents as well as their parents. Excessive online video gaming is considered to be associated with addictive behaviour that often leads to significant daily work, and educational disruptions among adolescents. G. Kormas and C. Elena's “Risk factors and psychosocial characteristics of potential problematic and problematic Internet use among adolescents” reported that Internet gaming has been positively associated with Internet addiction disorder.

A. Tsitsika and J. Mari's “Internet addictive behaviour in adolescence: A cross sectional study in seven European countries” reported a positive association between multiplayer role playing games and Internet addiction disorder. A Tunisian study reported having a strong association between the Internet gaming frequency and Internet addiction disorder.

Longer durations

The excessive average daily hours spent online for non-academic activities among adolescents were reported to be associated with higher levels of addiction. According to the aforementioned Bangladeshi study, young adults spending excessive time daily online had higher levels of Internet addiction disorder. F. Rodgers and M. Tiffany's “Internet addiction symptoms, disordered eating, and body image avoidance” revealed higher levels of Internet addiction disorder among participants who spent more weekly hours online.

The total duration of Internet use in years among adolescents was associated with higher levels of Internet addiction disorder. The above mentioned Bangladeshi study reported a statistically significant relationship between the duration of Internet use and Internet addiction disorder, and that if the duration was less than six months, that reduced the level of the Internet addiction disorder.

Therefore, increased online engagement for a longer duration can be significantly associated with Internet addiction disorder. This also reflects the early initiation of Internet activities in early adolescents which needs to be controlled by the parents.

Ariyadasa et al. recommended that school based prevention programmes be developed, thereby increasing the awareness of the Internet addiction disorder's seriousness amid the growing use of digital technology in education.

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