Researchers at Stanford University School of Medicine in Stanford, California, said their telephone survey indicated more than one in eight US residents showed at least one sign of "problematic Internet use."
The findings backed those of previous, less rigorous studies, according to the Stanford researchers.
Most disturbing was the discovery that some people hid their Internet surfing, or went online to cure foul moods in ways that mirrored the way alcoholics use booze, according to the study's lead author, Elias Aboujaoude.
"In a sense, they're using the Internet to self-medicate," Aboujaoude said. "And obviously something is wrong when people go out of their way to hide their Internet activity."
According to preliminary research, the typical Internet addict is a single, college-educated, white male in his 30s, who spends approximately 30 hours a week on non-essential computer use.
While the profile might hint that online pornography is at the root of the Internet obsession, that was only one piece of the equation, Aboujaoude concluded.
"Online pornography and, to some degree, online gambling, have received the most attention but users are as likely to use other sites, including chat rooms, shopping venues and special-interest websites," Aboujaoude said.
Stanford researchers interviewed 2,513 adults in a nationwide household survey. Because Internet addiction has not been clinically defined as a medical condition, study questions were based on established addiction disorders.
Research indicated that nearly 14 percent of the respondents found it difficult to stay away from the Internet for several days and that slightly more than 12 percent often remained online longer than expected.
More than eight percent of the people surveyed said they hid "non-essential" Internet use from family, friends or employers and nearly the same number went online to flee from real-world problems.
Nearly six percent of the respondents felt that their personal relationships suffered as a result of their excessive Internet use.
"Our telephone survey suggests that potential markers of problematic Internet use are present in a sizeable portion of the population," the researchers noted in a paper appearing in the October issue of CNS Spectrums: The International Journal of Neuropsychiatric Medicine.
Aboujaoude, a psychiatry professor in charge of Stanford's Impulse Control Disorders Clinic, said that a small but increasing number of Internet users are going to doctors seeking help to sever their unhealthy attachments to cyberspace.
He said these patients' compulsive drive to check e-mail, make blog entries or visit websites or chat rooms is not unlike what sufferers of substance abuse experience -- an irresistible urge to perform an act that may be pleasurable in the moment but that can lead to significant problems on personal and professional levels.
"The issue is starting to be recognized as a legitimate object of clinical attention, as well as an economic problem, given that a great deal of non-essential Internet use takes place at work," said Aboujaoude.