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      Association between problematic Internet use and specific Internet activities and COVID-19- and earthquake-related stress, anxiety, and depression symptoms among Croatian young adults


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          During the COVID-19 pandemic and concomitant earthquakes in Croatia in 2020, increased Internet use (IU) and Internet-based addictive behaviors were associated with decreasing mental well-being. We determined the changes in IU, problematic IU (PIU), and problematic specific Internet activities in young adults during the prolonged stress caused by the pandemic and earthquakes, age differences in PIU and differences in perceived source of stress (pandemic or earthquakes), and association between PIU and increase in specific Internet activities and stress, anxiety, and depression symptoms in young adults.


          A cross-sectional online survey conducted from September 30, 2021 to October 17, 2021 included 353 young adults aged 22.6 ± 2.1 years, 382 early adults aged 32.1 ± 4.4 years, and 371 middle-aged adults aged 49.0 ± 6.5 years. Data on sociodemographic characteristics, stressors (without perceived stressors, only pandemic-related stressor, only earthquake-related stressor, and both pandemic and earthquake-related stressors), PIU and IU were collected with a self-report questionnaire. The Impact of Event Scale and the Hospital Anxiety Depression Scale were used to evaluate mental symptoms. PIU and problematic specific Internet activities were assessed using Tao et al.’s criteria. Data were anaylzed with paired-sample Wilcoxon test, McNemar’s and Pearson’s chi-square tests, and structural equation modeling.


          In 17% of young adults, we found increased PIU (OR = 5.15, 95% CI [2.82, 10.18]), problematic social media use (OR = 2.77, 95% CI [1.56, 5.14]), and uncontrolled online shopping (OR = 5.75, 95% CI [1.97, 22.87]) ( p < 0.001 for all). PIU and problematic social media use were more common among young adults (60.8%), as well as problematic online gaming (25.9%). Problematic social media use was more frequent among young adults reporting pandemic stress than among those without perceived stress (69.9% vs. 43.2%). Increased online gaming predicted more severe avoidance symptoms ( p = 0.041), increased social media use predicted more severe depression symptoms ( p = 0.017), increased online shopping predicted more severe intrusion ( p = 0.013) and anxiety symptoms ( p = 0.001). PIU predicted more severe intrusion ( p = 0.008), avoidance ( p = 0.01), anxiety ( p < 0.001), and depression ( p = 0.012) symptoms.


          Different effects of the pandemic and earthquakes on IU could reflect a different effect of various stressors on Internet behavior of young adults. Type of problematic Internet behavior may predict for the type of mental health problem.

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                Author and article information

                Front Psychiatry
                Front Psychiatry
                Front. Psychiatry
                Frontiers in Psychiatry
                Frontiers Media S.A.
                09 August 2023
                09 August 2023
                : 14
                : 1227182
                [1] 1Department of Psychiatry and Psychological Medicine, University of Zagreb, School of Medicine , Zagreb, Croatia
                [2] 2Department of Addiction, University Psychiatric Hospital Vrapče , Zagreb, Croatia
                [3] 3Department of Psychiatry, Referral Center for Stress-related Disorders of the Ministry of Health, University Hospital Dubrava , Zagreb, Croatia
                [4] 4Department of Forensic Sciences, University of Split , Split, Croatia
                [5] 5Ivo Pilar Institute of Social Sciences , Zagreb, Croatia
                Author notes

                Edited by: Hans Rohlof, Utrecht University, Netherlands

                Reviewed by: Farzin Bagheri Sheykhangafshe, Tarbiat Modares University, Tehran, Iran; Zaheer Hussain, Nottingham Trent University, United Kingdom

                *Correspondence: Tina Peraica, tperaica@ 123456kbd.hr
                Copyright © 2023 Kovačić Petrović, Peraica, Blažev and Kozarić-Kovačić.

                This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

                : 22 May 2023
                : 24 July 2023
                Page count
                Figures: 1, Tables: 5, Equations: 0, References: 90, Pages: 12, Words: 10095
                Original Research
                Custom metadata
                Adolescent and Young Adult Psychiatry

                Clinical Psychology & Psychiatry
                young adults,internet use,covid-19,earthquakes,mental health
                Clinical Psychology & Psychiatry
                young adults, internet use, covid-19, earthquakes, mental health


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