Impact of internet addiction on mental health among undergraduates in Nigeria : IJS Global Health

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Impact of internet addiction on mental health among undergraduates in Nigeria

Aderinto, Nicholas MBBS

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International Journal of Surgery: Global Health 5(6):p e88, November 2022. | DOI: 10.1097/GH9.0000000000000088
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Several terms have been proposed to describe excessive computer use, including internet addiction, cyberspace addiction, internet addiction disorder, online addiction, net addiction, internet-addicted disorder, pathologic internet use, high internet dependency, problematic internet use, and others1. The term “addiction” was used previously to describe psychoactive substances that crossed the blood-brain barrier and temporarily altered the brain’s chemical balance.

However, in recent times, a growing number of psychologists, social scientists, and health care professionals have argued that psychological dependency, such as that associated with gambling, sex, the internet, work, exercise, and other activities, should be considered addictions as well because it can result in feelings of guilt, shame, hopelessness, despair, failure, rejection, anxiety, and humiliation.

It has a detrimental influence on identity formation; it alters the structure of the growing brain by compromising gray and white matter integrity in the orbitofrontal cortex of the prefrontal regions of the brain, and it causes changes in the structure of the developing brain2. Poor cognitive functioning, poor academic achievement, participation in dangerous activities, poor food habits, poor interpersonal relationships, and self-injurious behavior are all consequences3.

Because of the benefits connected with internet usage, such as access to timely and required information, international access to news, events, and interpersonal connection through email, internet adaptation has become a vital tool in these modern times. Despite the internet’s spectacular expansion and use, academics have expressed worries about the hazards connected with excessive internet use4.

Impact on mental health

Man’s mental health is hinged on a number of factors, and these factors can either pose a risk to or protect his mental health and well-being. These factors that contribute to one’s mental health, however, have a complex association. It involves genetics and an interplay of environmental and lifestyle choices. As much as genetics have been shown to be a major factor in mental health, as evidenced by mental illness running in the family, no single gene has been solely responsible for a mental disorder. This shows the complex correlation associated with mental illness4. One of the environmental factors that have been associated with a mental disorders is the internet.

The internet has become an integral part of human life with an importance that cannot be overemphasized. It gives access to timely, accurate, and relevant information. The use of the internet has increased drastically in recent years. The number of active internet users globally increased from 413 million in 2000 to over 3.4 million in 20165.

Internet addiction is associated with many mental disorders, including low self-esteem, impulsiveness, poor sleep, mood disorders, depression, and suicide6. A strong correlation has been established between mental health, quality of life, and the level of Internet addiction. The idea that internet addiction significantly impacts one’s mental health has been universally embraced since Young first described it. Aside from mental health, internet addiction has a massive effect on physical health, the common ones being a pain, stiffness in arms and joints, dry and strained eyes, back-pain, neck-pain leading to headache, sleeping disorder, extreme hyperactivity, excessive talkativeness, decreases in hygiene, and eating disorders, all of which have further impacts ones mental health deleteriously. Poor academic performance is known to be one of the significant contributors to mental illness among undergraduates. Internet addiction, on the other hand, internet addiction has been shown to cause poor time management, leading to poor academic performance. Hence it goes without saying that internet addiction can cause poor mental health status via poor academic performance.

In the Nigeria context, a study done by Okwaraji and colleagues showed that 59.2% of undergraduates were addicted to the internet, and 24.5% had some form of depression. It also showed a strong correlation between internet addiction and depression7. With the aid of sophisticated neuroimaging modalities, it has been shown that internet addiction is associated with some structural and functional alteration in the human brain, especially in the region of the brain associated with emotional decision making and cognitive function. This is evidenced clinically by the increased prevalence of impulsiveness, depression, mood disorders, and suicide8. Lin and colleagues found that internet-addicted patients have widespread deficits in white matter integrity, which perhaps manifests in demyelination. Internet addiction is also associated with significant gray matter atrophy in the right orbitofrontal cortex, bilateral insula, and right supplementary motor area. It has also been associated with reduced cortical thickness, larger hippocampus and amygdala volume, reduced spatial dopamine D2 receptor, and significant abnormalities in the dopaminergic neural system9.


Internet use in school, spending more time on the internet per day, and utilizing the internet for social networking were all linked to internet addiction (16). The school administration should improve the accessibility, dependability, and regulation of campus internet services to help students learn and be more productive in the classroom. It is recommended that the school administration raise awareness of internet addiction and its potential risks among university students; this could be included in the curriculum implementation support program for students’ foundation courses. Students should be given ample opportunities to participate in extracurricular activities and socialize with their peers. Also, students, overburdened with studies and long posting schedules, should have access to therapists for emotional and mental assistance.

More research is needed to determine the prevalence and implications of mental, psychological, and social disorders related to internet addiction in high-risk populations. In addition, there is a need to expand research on mental health concerns in Nigeria to influence policy decisions and interventions.

Ethical approval


Sources of funding

Nicholas Aderinto

Author contribution

Nicholas Aderinto

Conflict of interest disclosures

The author declares that there is no financial conflict of interest with regard to the content of this report.

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