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Internet addiction linked to self-harming among teens

NICK MILLER, The Age

Internet addiction has been linked to double the normal levels of self harm among high school students, in a new study published this morning.

However the researchers say it is not clear that the addiction led to self-injury - both behaviours may be symptoms of a deeper problem, a lack of self control.

Researchers from the University of Sydney and Notre Dame surveyed 1618 students aged 13 to 18 in Guangzhou in China.

About one in six reported some form of self-injury in the previous six months such as hitting, burning or cutting themselves.

Just over one in ten reported moderate or severe internet addiction: admitting to feeling depressed or moody when 'off-line', and fantasising about the internet when away from a computer.

When the results were compared, the researchers found that students were twice as likely to report high levels of self-harm (more than five episodes in the previous six months) if they also showed signs of internet addiction.

There was a much less clear link between internet addiction and an increase in lower levels of self-harm.

The authors said self-injury was a complicated adolescent behaviour that did not necessarily involve the intent to kill yourself.

Previous studies had noted a link between self harm and other addictive behaviour.

"In recent years, with the greater availability of the internet in most Asian countries, internet addiction has become an increasing mental problem among adolescents," the study authors wrote.

"Many studies have reported associations between internet addiction, psychiatric symptoms and depression among adolescents."

They said their results suggested a "strong and significant" association between internet addiction and self-injurious behaviour in adolescence.

However they warned it was too early to conclude that one could be caused by the other.

"Internet addiction and self-injurious behaviour can both be considered as part of the spectrum of impulse control disorders," they said. "All these behaviours may be rooted in some common ... factors that require further exploration."

The research, led by Dr Lawrence Lam of the University of Sydney's faculty of medicine, was published today in the journal Injury Prevention.

The Age, December 3, 2009