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The Role Of Perceived Loneliness In Youth Addictive Behaviors: Cross-National Survey Study

Iina Savolainen, Atte Oksanen, Markus Kaakinen, Anu Sirola, Hye-Jin Paek

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Background In the ever-growing and technologically advancing world, an increasing amount of social interaction takes place through the Web. With this change, loneliness is becoming an unprecedented societal issue, making youth more susceptible to various physical and mental health problems. This societal change also influences the dynamics of addiction. Objective Employing the cognitive discrepancy loneliness model, this study aimed to provide a social psychological perspective on youth addictions. Methods A comprehensive survey was used to collect data from American (N=1212; mean 20.05, SD 3.19; 608/1212, 50.17% women), South Korean (N=1192; mean 20.61, SD 3.24; 601/1192, 50.42% women), and Finnish (N=1200; mean 21.29, SD 2.85; 600/1200, 50.00% women) youths aged 15 to 25 years. Perceived loneliness was assessed with the 3-item Loneliness Scale. A total of 3 addictive behaviors were measured, including excessive alcohol use, compulsive internet use, and problem gambling. A total of 2 separate models using linear regression analyses were estimated for each country to examine the association between perceived loneliness and addiction. Results Loneliness was significantly related to only compulsive internet use among the youth in all 3 countries (P<.001 in the United States, South Korea, and Finland). In the South Korean sample, the association remained significant with excessive alcohol use (P<.001) and problem gambling (P<.001), even after controlling for potentially confounding psychological variables. Conclusions The findings reveal existing differences between youths who spend excessive amounts of time online and those who engage in other types of addictive behaviors. Experiencing loneliness is consistently linked to compulsive internet use across countries, although different underlying factors may explain other forms of addiction. These findings provide a deeper understanding in the mechanisms of youth addiction and can help improve prevention and intervention work, especially in terms of compulsive internet use.