In the last decade, Internet usage has grown tremendously on a global scale. The increasing popularity and frequency of Internet use has led to an increasing number of reports highlighting the potential negative consequences of overuse. Over the last decade, research into Internet addiction has proliferated. This paper reviews the existing 68 epidemiological studies of Internet addiction that (i) contain quantitative empirical data, (ii) have been published after 2000, (iii) include an analysis relating to Internet addiction, (iv) include a minimum of 1000 participants, and (v) provide a full-text article published in English using the database Web of Science. Assessment tools and conceptualisations, prevalence, and associated factors in adolescents and adults are scrutinised. The results reveal the following. First, no gold standard of Internet addiction classification exists as 21 different assessment instruments have been identified. They adopt official criteria for substance use disorders or pathological gambling, no or few criteria relevant for an addiction diagnosis, time spent online, or resulting problems. Second, reported prevalence rates differ as a consequence of different assessment tools and cut-offs, ranging from 0.8% in Italy to 26.7% in Hong Kong. Third, Internet addiction is associated with a number of sociodemographic, Internet use, and psychosocial factors, as well as comorbid symptoms and disorder in adolescents and adults. The results indicate that a number of core symptoms (i.e., compulsive use, negative outcomes and salience) appear relevant for diagnosis, which assimilates Internet addiction and other addictive disorders and also differentiates them, implying a conceptualisation as syndrome with similar etiology and components, but different expressions of addictions. Limitations include the exclusion of studies with smaller sample sizes and studies focusing on specific online behaviours. Conclusively, there is a need for nosological precision so that ultimately those in need can be helped by translating the scientific evidence established in the context of Internet addiction into actual clinical practice.
Keywords: Internet addiction, literature review, epidemiology, empirical research, last decade, quantitative, large-scale.