People who use the internet excessively may have more mental health problems, such as depression and anxiety, a new study has claimed.

Using two scales to evaluate internet use, researchers from McMaster University in Canada found high rates of problematic internet use in a group of primarily college-aged students.

They evaluated internet addiction using the Internet Addiction Test, as well as newer scale of their own design, based on updated addiction criteria.

The study may have implications for how psychiatrists approach excessive internet use, researchers said.

The unstoppable rise of the internet has given rise to fears that increasing numbers people are becoming unable to cope without regularly going online.

The Internet Addiction Test (IAT) is the standard test used to measure excessive reliance on the internet.

“The IAT was developed in 1998, prior to the widespread use of smartphone technology. In addition, internet use has changed radically over the last 18 years, through more people working online, media streaming, social media, etc,” said Michael Van Ameringen, from McMaster University.

“We were concerned that the IAT questionnaire may not have been picking up on problematic modern internet use, or showing up false positives for people who were simply using the internet rather than being over-reliant on it,” he said.

Researchers surveyed 254 students and correlated internet use with general mental health and wellbeing. Thirty-three of the students met screening criteria for internet addition according to the Internet Addiction Test.

However, 107 students met criteria for problematic internet use with the new screening tool.

The research team also administered a further series of self-reported tests to see how the internet addicts compared to the others in the survey on areas such as symptoms of depression and anxiety, impulsiveness, inattention and executive functioning, as well as tests for ADHD.

“We found that those screening positive on the IAT as well as on our scale, had significantly more trouble dealing with their day to day activities, including life at home, at work/school and in social settings,” Van Ameringen said.

“Individuals with internet addiction also had significantly higher amounts of depression and anxiety symptoms, problems with planning and time management, greater levels of attentional impulsivity as well as ADHD symptoms,” he said.

“This may have practical medical implications. If you are trying to treat someone for an addiction when in fact they are anxious or depressed, then you may be going down the wrong route,” he added.