8 Signs Of Internet Addiction

Updated August 27, 2020

The digital age has provided us with many benefits, conveniences, and sources of learning and entertainment, so there is no question that the world, as a whole, enjoys and depends on the internet every day, but how much is too much? Internet addiction has been a growing concern in many societies, and this article will cover the signs of it and how it can be helped.

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What Is Internet Addiction?

Although it’s not yet recognized as a diagnosable mental health condition in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual 5th edition (DSM-5) by the American Psychiatric Association, the excessive and uncontrollable use of the internet and online devices, called internet addiction, is a genuine phenomenon that affects millions of people around the world, especially in developed areas.

In fact, in South Korea, it is believed that around 20 percent of its entire population is at risk of developing an internet addiction. This equates to about 10 million people, just in South Korea alone. [1]

In the United States, studies show that up to 77 percent of the population uses the internet on a daily basis, but most people consider their activities, such as browsing online forums, watching video streaming services, and chatting with their friends and family while sharing funny pictures to be harmless. [2]

So, where is the line drawn, and it becomes a real problem?

Internet addiction can be described as an impulse control problem or behavioral disorder that involves people excessively using online devices and being dependent on them. It can eventually develop into a hindrance and control their lives. This is a sign of addiction.

As we’ve seen with gambling, addiction isn’t limited to substance abuse, and despite not being officially recognized in the DSM-5, internet addiction or pathological internet use contains many of the same traits as any other addiction.

All addictions, including the internet, share these characteristics: [4]

  • Salience
  • Compulsive use or loss of control
  • Mood modification (i.e., stress reduction)
  • Tolerance
  • Withdrawal

Additionally, people will continue to use a chemical or perform addictive behaviors, despite being aware of and experiencing the negative consequences of the action.

Around 75 percent of Americans use mobile devices to go online, so even if they need to leave home or be away from their computers, they can virtually always be connected, never notice any withdrawal symptoms, and never realize that they are truly addicted. [3]

Unfortunately, many people don’t realize that there is a problem until the world around them starts to fall apart – internet addiction can ruin social relationships, cause financial hardships, and cause people to underperform or lose their position at school and work.

Even while witnessing the problems occurring in their lives, the rewards and stimulation can be so powerful that it overrides all reasoning and logic required to handle their feelings and emotions, and this is something seen in other addictive behaviors as well.

Types of Internet Addiction

The internet is a place of many different areas of interest, and therefore, internet addiction is actually a broad term that can encompass a few different types of subcategories.

Not every case of internet addiction is the same, and there are currently five types of internet addiction that you should know about that can present itself in people with the disorder. These five areas of potentially problematic internet use are: [3]

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  • Cybersex (i.e., internet porn or webcam services)
  • Net compulsions (i.e., online gambling and shopping)
  • Cyber-relationships (i.e., social media, online dating, chat rooms)
  • Gaming (i.e., online video games or offline software-based games)
  • Compulsive Information-seeking (i.e., browsing Wikipedia or sources of information constantly)

While internet addiction can often be divided into these groups, it’s important to know that none of these are mutually exclusive and that there can certainly be some overlap between them.

For example, for many people, online gambling can fall into the gaming category, and many games can foster online relationships.

Nonetheless, it can still be helpful to be aware of specifics, it’s important to try to keep an eye out for the general signs of internet addiction so that it can be identified, and the next section will be dedicated to covering these.

What Are The Signs of Internet Addiction?

Although there are no formalized diagnostic criteria for internet addiction, extensive research has been carried out on the condition since the 1990s, and researchers have created questionnaires to help people determine if they have an online addiction. [2] This section will involve many aspects of these questionnaires so that you can recognize the signs of internet addiction and get help.

  1. Preoccupation With Being Online

For someone with this type of addiction, being online is typically at the center of their focus. They might be thinking about previous online sessions, or may anticipate (and really look forward to) the next ones.

  1. More Time Online For More Satisfaction

Being online can create very positive feelings and can be a source of stress-relief for people, but over time, the effect that they originally had begins to wear off, and this can cause people to start to use the internet more often or look for new activities that can help them find the same pleasure.

  1. Losing Track of Time

Sometimes spending more time online isn’t always a conscious effort, and it’s very common for people to stay online longer than they originally planned to. Because of the stimulation, positive feelings, rewards, and reinforcement, it can be easy to get absorbed into internet activities, especially online games, leading to an internet gaming disorder.

  1. Using The Internet As An Escape

In addition to making them feel good and providing a sense of relief, people who struggle with negative feelings are often prone to internet addiction because it offers them a way to avoid the problems that are occurring in their lives.

  1. Moodiness When Internet Usage Is Limited

When away from the internet for any given period of time, people who have an online addiction can become restless, irritable, and even depressed if they can’t get online. This is a sign of withdrawal.

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  1. Unsuccessful Attempts to Manage Internet Use

Even if a person wishes to spend less time on the internet and voluntarily tries to make an attempt, withdrawal symptoms can stifle these efforts. This can cause patients to feel hopeless and continue with their old online usage habits.

  1. Lost or Risked Losing Opportunities

Internet addiction can take its toll on different aspects of many people’s lives, and it’s common for people to neglect their social lives and even jeopardize their opportunities at school and work. For instance, having an internet addiction can cause someone to become unproductive at work or stop showing up entirely.

  1. Hiding Internet Usage From Others

People who are addicted to the internet may have others complain about their internet habits and still try to conceal or downplay how often they are actually online. This can mean lying to friends, family members, and even therapists about their usage. [2]

All of these signs are based on a popular internet addiction test that was developed by Dr. Keith Beard;  if someone were to be identified with having at least five out of the eight characteristics, they would receive a diagnosis and be able to get help, and the next section will discuss some of the treatment options that people who struggle with internet addiction. [2] [3]

Treatment For Internet Addiction

Compulsive and pathological internet usage can be treated just like any addiction, and many people will successfully overcome it.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is a type of psychotherapy that can help change their thoughts and feelings related to the internet, and by learning new ways to respond and cope with their emotions they can become less dependent on using it, since excessive internet usage can be linked to negative emotions, triggers, and therefore can be used as a form of self-relief or escapism.

Even though the internet isn’t a substance like drugs, tobacco, or alcohol, it can create chemical reactions in the brain, and the symptoms of withdrawal can be present and make internet usage difficult to manage for many people. However, there are ways to gradually taper-off and make these symptoms less powerful, such as using software that can restrict the amount of time that is spent online.

When used in conjunction with therapy, these types of software can help teach people how to be more accountable for their actions while simultaneously reducing dependency. It will also give you the skills and logic required to handle the emotions and sensations you can feel while using and staying away from the internet.

Since internet addiction is a relatively recent phenomenon in the grand scheme of things, there are also support groups, but they aren’t as common as groups for alcohol or narcotics. However, since there can be overlap between them, people who are addicted to the internet may find support from groups related to sex addiction and gambling.

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Although internet addiction isn’t formally recognized, help is still very accessible. Many therapists are trained in helping people change their unproductive and often destructive behavioral patterns into ones that are helpful and productive.

It’s encouraged and highly recommended that you try to find someone who will work with you outside of the internet, but if you need a more affordable option or you’re struggling to find a therapist in your area, online therapy can still be a viable option as long as you follow through with the treatment plan.

Ideally, you’ll want to avoid internet usage during this time since it’s the activity you’re trying to control, but it’s always better to reach out for help no matter what your options are than not doing so at all.

Conclusion

Hopefully, this article has helped you learn how you can spot the signs of internet addiction, so that you or a loved one can get the help that they need. Even though it starts by understanding that there is a problem with their internet use and making an effort to stop, it sometimes isn’t enough, as it’s pretty common for people to make unsuccessful attempts at managing their time online. However, with assistance and the right guidance, it is possible to beat internet addiction just like anything else.

References

  1. Sullivan, M. (2019, July 30). South Korea Says About 20% Of Its Population Is At Risk For Internet Addiction. Retrieved from https://www.npr.org/2019/07/30/746687204/south-korea-says-about-20-percent-of-its-population-is-at-risk-for-internet-addi
  2. Hoeg, N. (2020, April 29). Internet Addiction. Retrieved from https://www.addictioncenter.com/drugs/internet-addiction/
  3. Mental Health America. (2020). Risky Business: Internet Addiction. Retrieved from https://www.mhanational.org/risky-business-internet-addiction
  4. Cash, H., Rae, C. D., Steel, A. H., & Winkler, A. (2012). Internet Addiction: A Brief Summary of Research and Practice. Current Psychiatry Reviews, 8(4), 292–298. doi: 10.2174/157340012803520513

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