People glued to the Internet are more likely to suffer from depression, says the first large scale study of its kind.

The Internet use and depression levels of 1,319 people aged 16-51 were evaluated for the study, and of these, 1.2 percent were classed as being internet addicted.

Researchers found striking evidence that some users have developed a compulsive Internet habit, whereby chat rooms and social networking sites have replaced real-life social interaction.

These findings by University of Leeds (UL) psychologists suggest that this type of addictive surfing can seriously impact mental health.

Catriona Morrison, from the UL, who led the study, observed: “The Internet now plays a huge part in modern life, but its benefits are accompanied by a darker side.”

“While many of us use the Internet to pay bills, shop and send e-mails, there is a small subset of the population who find it hard to control how much time they spend online, to the point where it interferes with their daily activities.”

These 'Internet addicts' spent proportionately more time browsing sexually gratifying websites, online gaming sites and online communities.

They also had a higher incidence of moderate to severe depression than non-addicted users.

“Our research indicates that excessive Internet use is associated with depression, but what we don't know is which comes first – are depressed people drawn to the Internet or does the Internet cause depression?

“What is clear, is that for a small subset of people, excessive use of the Internet could be a warning signal for depressive tendencies,” said Morrison, according to an UL release.

The research is slated for publication in Psychopathology next week.