Internet Addiction Treatment, A Systematic Review

In previous posts I already expressed my doubt about this phenomenon: Internet Addiction. The biggest problem with studies defining a new syndrome is usually that they don’t use validated diagnostic tools but mostly some severity scale. Internet Addiction is not clearly defined in the recent scientific publications and research. Some researchers have adapted substance use disorder, while others reference pathological gambling, resulting in an inconsistent definition of Internet addiction.

Being as it is, therapeutic research was done with such a creaky concept as Internet Addiction is. A recent systematic review according to the CONSORT statement has recently been published.
In this review of 8 treatment studies several key limitations were found.

  • inconsistencies in the definition and diagnosis of Internet addiction,
  • a lack of randomization and blinding techniques,
  • a lack of adequate controls or other comparison groups,
  • insufficient information concerning recruitment dates, sample characteristics, and treatment effect sizes.

Only one of the eight study was a Randomized Controlled Trial RCT, others were pre-test/post-test design. No clear definitions were used, one study referred to internet addiction as an impulse control disorder, others as substance abuse disorders. Only five studies used a diagnostic instrument. Most studies used “psychological interventions”: cognitive behavior therapy (CBT), motivational interviewing (MI), reality training, or a combination of psychological and/or counseling therapies within a self-devised treatment program. Two studies by the same group used pharmacologic interventions: a psychostimulant and an antidepressant, only one study used a control group and the treatment regimes varied between studies.

Each study utilized its diagnostic tool for Internet addiction as an outcome measure, with some studies also including measures of anxiety, depression, self-esteem, and behavioral functioning.

The results of the studies were favorable in seven, but the authors did not report the estimated effect sizes nor their precision, most outcomes were qualified as: “having a powerful outcome”, “improving the maladaptive behavior”, “clearly suggest that the program is effective”, “very effective to improve Internet addiction level”, “improved clinical symptoms and visual attention, associated with reduced severity of Internet video game play” and “effective at ameliorating the common symptoms”

A lot of work still has to be done, what do you think?
King, D., Delfabbro, P., Griffiths, M., & Gradisar, M. (2011). Assessing clinical trials of Internet addiction treatment: A systematic review and CONSORT evaluation Clinical Psychology Review, 31 (7), 1110-1116 DOI: 10.1016/j.cpr.2011.06.009