01.11.2012 Online addiction: vigilance is called for
Excessive Internet use. The report "Gefährdungspotenzial von Internet und Online-Games" [Risk Potential of the Internet and Online Games"] produced by the Federal Office of Public Health does not yet sound the alarm on online addiction, but warns that increased vigilance is required.
In response to two parliamentary requests by Erika Forster-Vannini and Barbara Schmid-Federer, the Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH), together with a panel of specialists, has drawn up an expert report on the potential threat posed by the Internet and online games. According to the report, which was approved by the Federal Council in August 2012, between one and six per cent of Internet users engage in uncontrolled, excessive and thus problematic use of the Internet. Young people tend to use the Internet more than adults, and men more than women. Excessive Internet use is not yet very widespread, but experts assume that increasingly more and increasingly younger adolescents and children will make problematic, i.e. excessive, use of the Internet in the future.
Physical and psychological consequences
According to the report, a number of studies have demonstrated a connection between excessive Internet use and physical health status. Anyone who engages in excessive surfing or game-playing on the Internet loses all sense of self and time. The consequences of such behaviour include poor eating habits, lack of exercise and insufficient or irregular sleep. In addition, sitting in front of a computer for hours on end can cause postural damage and muscular atrophy and have harmful effects on eyesight. But besides somatic damage, it can also have detrimental psychological effects: excessive Internet users are more likely to suffer from anxiety disorders, depressive moods or ADHS than normal users.
Promoting media skills and early identification and intervention
The report recommends promotion of media skills and early identification and intervention as the most important preventive measures. The task of transmitting media skills is covered at the federal level by the Federal Social Insurance Office's national programme on protecting young people from media-related harm and on media skills. The strategy of early identification and early intervention in cases involving children and young people at risk is already part of the Third Programme of Measures to Reduce Drug Problems (MaPaDro III).
Keeping an eye on the problem
According to the report, there is not yet any need for dedicated counselling and treatment units for "Internet addicts". However, the staff of existing addiction treatment facilities should be empowered to deal with the phenomenon. In addition, the problem of excessive Internet use will be carefully monitored as it evolves, so that any further developments will trigger a prompt response. For this purpose, the FOPH's National Addiction Monitoring survey will include questions on Internet use.
Expert report on the risk potential of the Internet and online games
The publication "Gefährdungspotenzial von Internet und Online-Games" reports on the extent of excessive Internet use and of the health problems associated with such behaviour. It also contains an overview of preventive measures, interventions (e.g. treatment) and recommendations on action. The report can be downloaded from http://www.bag.admin.ch/jugendprogramme/10047/13303/index.html
Isabelle Widmer, Drugs Section, firstname.lastname@example.org