Digital addict – or just checking your Facebook page? A quarter of all men and women spend 'an unhealthy amount of time online'

Research also finds that 2 per cent of people are 'digital phobic' and 1 per cent are 'digital deniers'

Almost four in 10 young adults describe themselves as digital addicts, according to research published today by Foresters, the financial services company.

A quarter of all men and women are now fixated with spending what has been described as an unhealthy amount of time online, with the figure rising to 37 per cent for those aged 18 to 25. This age group was most likely to "display extreme behaviour when using technology", defined as being addicted to social media, feeling anxious or distressed when unable to access technology and admitting to getting a high from shopping online.

Laura Sears, 23, from Guildford, is online most of the day with her PR job and spends an additional three to four hours a day checking her phone.

"I'm constantly refreshing my Facebook or Twitter page," she said. "I'm also always tweeting while watching TV shows, but don't know why I feel the need to do it – it's not as if people are going to want to read what I'm saying."

She said her behaviour had started to affect her relationship with her boyfriend: "He has insisted I leave my phone in another room, but I feel uncomfortable when it's not by my side."

Thomas Knee, 24, of London, said he had been addicted to "all things digital" since he taught himself computer programming when he was 10. "I personally don't think I have a problem. I believe that if I am addicted, it has paid off by getting me a good job in a field that I love," he said.

The research found that just 2 per cent of people were "digital phobic" and 1 per cent were "digital deniers". Steve Dilworth, Foresters' managing director, said: "It is increasingly the case that many feel dependent on this technology and begin to display worrying habits."

However, Dr David Giles, of Winchester University, who has studied social media addiction, said: "Judging by the criteria that Foresters seem to be using … then I'm an addict. It doesn't strike me as particularly worrying to say that you love buying online. If [going online] doesn't actually cause distress – the primary concern for mental health – then what's the problem?"

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