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Japanese Study Finds that Smoking Can Lead to Internet Addiction in Teens

Image courtesy of Korea Herald
As global Internet activity increases exponentially, the risk factors for problematic usage on the web expand in tandem. One primary component linked to troubling Internet use is cigarette smoking, and this issue presents itself significantly in the adolescent population, particularly in the Eastern part of the world.

A Japanese study conducted this year led by Dr. Hisayoshi Morioka examined the association between smoking and problematic Internet use (PIU) among adolescents. Two subcategories fall under PIU, Internet Addiction and Excessive Internet Use, and both were examined in surveys distributed to 100,050 adolescents aged 12-18 years old from 179 different middle and high schools across Japan. The purpose of this study was to clarify the association between problematic Internet use and smoking as well as improve healthcare guidance for adolescents who smoke and suffer from PIU.



For clarification purposes, excessive Internet use is defined as use of the Internet for five or more hours per day in the last 30 days. Internet addiction is indicated by affirmative responses to five or more of the eight questions on the given survey, the Young Diagnostic Questionnaire for Internet addiction. Additionally, a 12-question General Health Questionnaire was administered in order to determine a respondent's mental health status; poor mental health was defined as a score of 1 or more affirmative responses.

Chances of Problematic Internet Use Rise with Increased Cigarette Smoking

696 students who smoked ≤ 10 per day suffer from EIU
376 total students smoke between 11 and 20 per day

According to the data tables provided in the study, adolescent students who consume cigarettes on a daily basis have a significantly higher chance of suffering from Internet addiction (IA) or excessive Internet use (EIU). With a greater number of cigarettes smoked, the adjusted odds ratio, a measure of association between an exposure (in this case, smoking cigarettes) and an outcome (problematic Internet use), for PIU rose as the number of cigarettes smoked per day augmented.


Mental Health Issues Amplify Susceptibility to Problematic Internet Use


Current smoking habit and mental health status were proven to be covariates (variables predictive of the outcome under examination) in the aforementioned Japanese study. The adjusted odds ratios for suffering from either IA or EIU were significantly higher in students who reported poor mental health status. Pictured here is the percentage of individuals who excessively use the Internet broken down into percentages.




Evidently, those who are online at least five hours per day are more likely to suffer from mental instability with the data being even more one-sided regarding Internet addiction. Those with cases of mental instability are 223% more likely to become addicted to the Internet, which makes sense as people who are seeking some sort of relief often cope by resorting to surfing the web.






Problematic Internet Use and Smoking Activate Identical Areas in the Brain



Research by Christian Montag and Martin Reuter in their book Internet Addiction: Neuroscientific Approaches and Therapeutic Interventions suggests that psychological processes of wanting and consuming a drug, which mirrors addictive qualities found in the Internet, stem from the striatal brain region that simultaneously processes stimuli from cigarette consumption as well as potentially confounding variables of alcohol and assorted drugs. This neural area is highly integrated with the neurotransmitter dopamine, intrinsic in activating pleasure and reward sensations.


Current Research Hindered by Conflicting Substance Abuse, Psychiatric Disorders


While it can be inferred from Montag and Reuter's work along with the given study that smoking cigarettes leads directly to increased risk of PIU, findings from an additional Asian adolescent study depict that alcohol consumption is a more prevalent factor in students plagued with problematic Internet use; however, reasoning for this originates from the sample of students rather than direct correlation. 21.2 percent of students reported drinking alcohol while only 12.2 percent of students were smokers, yet smoking at any level presented an increased risk for Internet addiction whereas alcohol at lower levels did not correlate with greater risk for such.

Another factor that may potentially affect the legitimacy of correlations between smoking and PIU is the existence of impulse-control disorders in a portion of the respondents. Impulse-control disorders, psychiatric disorders marked by failure to resist an impulse or temptation that may harm onself or others, are reportedly associated with smoking, especially in adolescents since Internet addiction itself fits into this category. Additionally, insomnia has been linked to both smoking and PIU independently, so for future investigations, researchers ought to take into consideration the respondents' sleep habits.

Internet Addiction Epidemic Forces Detoxification Efforts


Dr. Hisayoshi Morioka's extensive study pales in comparison to the total teenage population in Japan suffering from PIU. An article from Independent Magazine notes that the Japanese government approximates the number of adolescents addicted to the Internet to be 500,000. To provide much-needed assistance to a nation rife with an unhealthy craving for screen time, digital detox centers are appearing in mass quantities where customers leave their devices at the door and are encouraged to embrace time away from the web.

This trend has prevailed particularly in Asia for quite some time with two recorded instances of death within five years in South Korea due to excessive screen time. Attempting to reverse said Internet curse, Yoneda Tomohiko, website editor for Lifehacker magazine who used to spend fifteen hours a day online, wrote a book on battling addiction to help teens understand the importance of life without screens.






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