Although internet addiction is not yet a diagnosable illness, it is certainly raising concerns among adolescent experts who fear too much time online carries with it certain risk factors.

For many young people the internet (and social media sites it gives them access to) is a lifeline. It is their way of connecting with the rest of the world and their peers. However it is also a way of escaping the world and avoiding social interaction with other living human beings.

Susan McLean, cyber safety expert and Generation Next speaker, points out some of the issues that can arise when too much time is spent interacting in a virtual online world:

Anxiety. The internet is used to distract from worries and fears. An anxiety disorder like obsessive compulsive disorder may also contribute to excessive email checking and compulsive use.
Depression. The internet can be an escape from feelings of depression, but too much time online can make things worse. Internet addiction further contributes to stress, isolation and loneliness.
Other addictions. Many internet addicts suffer from other addictions, such as drugs, alcohol, gambling, and sex.
Lacking social support. Internet addicts often use social networking sites, instant messaging, or online gaming as a safe way of establishing new relationships and more confidently relating to others.
Being an unhappy teenager. For teens wondering where they fit in, the internet might feel more comfortable than real life friends.
Being less mobile or socially active than previously. Examples include coping with a new disability that limits ability to drive or becoming a parenting and finding hard to leave the house or connect with old friends.
Stress. While some people use the internet to relieve stress, it can have a counterproductive effect. The longer they spend online, the higher their stress levels will be.

Writer Helen Splarn. Editor Dr Ramesh Manocha.
Source: Susan Mclean, Healthed General Practice Education Day, Sydney 2011