However, there are effective treatments available regardless of the type of internet addiction a person experiences. Below, we’ll look at eight signs of internet addiction and ways to get help with overcoming these addictions.
What Is Internet Addiction?
Although it’s not yet recognized as a diagnosable mental health condition in the APA’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), excessive and uncontrollable use of the internet and online devices—called internet addiction—is a genuine phenomenon that affects millions of people globally. In South Korea, a government survey concluded that around 20% of the population is at risk of developing an internet addiction. This equates to about 10 million people in just one country.
Internet addiction can be described as an impulse control problem or behavioral addiction that involves excessively using online devices and becoming dependent on them. It can eventually develop into a hindrance and control a person’s life in several ways.
Despite not being an official DSM-5 diagnosis, internet addiction or pathological internet use contains many of the same traits as any other addiction.
According to research published in Current Psychiatry Reviews, addictions tend to present with the following characteristics:
- Compulsive use or loss of control
- Mood modification (i.e., distress reduction)
- Persistence despite negative consequences
Globally, around 60% of internet users connect via mobile devices. For someone experiencing internet addiction, this means that even if they need to be away from their computers, they can still be connected, not notice any withdrawal symptoms, and potentially never gain awareness of their addiction. Internet addiction has the potential to affect social relationships, contribute to financial hardship, and lead to underperformance at work or school.
For those experiencing internet addiction, the rewards and stimulation can be so powerful that reasoning and emotional control are overridden—something often seen in other addictive behaviors as well.
Types Of Internet Addiction
Not every person experiences internet addiction in the same way, and researchers have identified different types of internet addiction:
- Cybersex (e.g., porn or webcam services)
- Cyber-relationships (e.g., online dating, chat rooms)
- Social media (e.g., use of public or semi-public profiles)
- Gaming (e.g., gambling and online video games)
- Compulsive information-seeking (e.g., scouring sources of information constantly)
While internet addiction is often divided into these groups in the literature, they are not necessarily mutually exclusive, and there can be overlap and interplay. For example, for many people, online gaming or social media use can foster online relationships that can consume much of their time.
What Are The Signs Of Internet Addiction?
Although there are no formalized diagnostic criteria for internet addiction in the DSM-5, extensive research has been carried out on internet addiction, and patterns have been recognized among individuals experiencing this addiction. The following eight behavioral patterns may indicate an internet addiction:
Preoccupation With Being Online
For someone experiencing this type of addiction, being online is frequently at the center of their focus. They may think often about previous online sessions or anticipate (and really look forward to) their next session.
More Time Online Needed For More Satisfaction
Being online can create very positive feelings and can be a source of stress relief for some people, but with increased and ongoing use, that positive effect often begins to wear off. This can lead to using the internet even more often or looking for new online activities that can generate the same pleasure.
Losing Track Of Time
Sometimes, spending more time online isn’t always a deliberate, planned effort, and it’s common for people to stay online longer than they originally planned. Because of the stimulation, positive feelings, rewards, and reinforcement they receive, people can become absorbed by internet activities—especially online games, which could lead to an internet gaming disorder.
Using The Internet As An Escape
The internet can make us feel good and provide a sense of relief, which means people may use internet addiction to avoid anxiety. This is not to be considered a sign of weakness, as anyone can use behaviors like internet use to temporarily feel good. However, for some people, the experience of relief can create a feedback loop that becomes addictive.
Moodiness When Internet Usage Is Limited
When offline for any amount of time, people experiencing an internet addiction can become restless, irritable, and even depressed if they can’t reconnect. This can be a sign of withdrawal.
Unsuccessful Attempts to Manage Internet Use
Even if someone wishes to spend less time on the internet and to do so, withdrawal symptoms may hinder these efforts. This can cause feelings of hopelessness and a continuation of the same online usage habits.
Loss Or Risk Of Lost Opportunities
People experiencing internet addiction may neglect their social lives and even jeopardize opportunities at school and work. An internet addiction can lead someone to become less productive at home, work, or school, and it may lead to missed opportunities for socializing.
Hiding Internet Usage From Others
An internet addiction may result in someone trying to conceal or downplay how often they are actually online. This can mean lying to friends, family, and even therapists about usage.
All of these signs are based on internet addiction criteria developed by psychologist Kimberly Young, as outlined in a paper by Dr. Keith Beard and Dr. Eve Wolf in the journal CyberPsychology & Behavior. If someone identifies with having at least five out of the eight characteristics, they may receive a diagnosis of internet addiction.
Treatment For Internet Addiction
Even if you don’t experience five of the above eight signs of internet addiction, you may benefit from speaking with a licensed counselor. Many therapists are trained in helping people change their behavioral patterns into ones that are helpful and productive. If you don’t feel comfortable visiting a therapist’s office to discuss internet addiction, you might consider online therapy, which has been shown to be just as effective as in-person therapy. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is a type of psychotherapy that research shows can help reduce symptoms of internet addiction, and it can be provided online.
With online therapy at BetterHelp, you can communicate with a therapist in a way that is most comfortable for you, whether by audio, videoconferencing, live chat, or a combination of these modalities. You can also contact your therapist at any time in between sessions, and they’ll respond as soon as they can. This may be helpful if you experience difficulty with internet usage in between sessions, as you can write down what you’re experiencing at the moment.
With BetterHelp, you can be matched with a licensed counselor who has experience treating internet addiction, and you can normally start therapy within 72 hours. Take the first step toward freedom from internet addiction and reach out to BetterHelp today.
What is the most common internet addiction?
Social media platforms are the most prevalent form of excessive internet use. People spend long hours scrolling through social media, which can lead to various health problems such as sleep deprivation and stress.
What are the common causes of internet addiction?
Some common causes of compulsive internet use include emotional support, stress relief, and the need for social interaction. Some people may turn to the internet as a coping mechanism for mental illness or substance abuse.
How do you know if someone is addicted to the computer?
Common symptoms of computer addiction include neglecting responsibilities, spending long hours on the computer, and experiencing physical symptoms like eye strain and carpal tunnel syndrome. If you notice these signs in friends or family, it might indicate addiction.
How does internet addiction affect students?
Internet addiction can severely impact students by causing social isolation and hampering social skills. Their academic performance may decline due to excessive internet use, distracting them from studying and attending classes.
What are five negative effects of internet addiction?
There are several negative effects of internet addiction, including health problems like sleep disorders and obesity, social isolation, diminished social skills, increased likelihood the individual will abuse alcohol or other substances, and potential for mental illness like depression or anxiety,
What are the signs of gaming addiction?
Signs of gaming addiction can include compulsive behavior about gaming, neglecting responsibilities to play games, and exhibiting addictive behavior patterns like prioritizing gaming over relationships and obligations.
How can we avoid internet addiction?
To avoid falling into internet addiction, set time limits for your online activities and engage in physical activities to offset screen time. Maintaining a strong offline social network to provide emotional support can also be beneficial.
How do I overcome my internet addiction?
The first step to overcoming internet addiction is acknowledging the problem. Seek professional help and consider joining support groups. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is one effective treatment for addressing the underlying issues.
What are the mental effects of Internet addiction?
Compulsive internet use can lead to several mental effects, like anxiety, depression, and other forms of mental illness. It may also exacerbate pre-existing conditions, warranting the need for professional help.
What is internet addiction among youth?
Internet addiction among youth is primarily characterized by excessive internet use, often at the expense of academics and social skills. It commonly manifests in forms like gaming, online shopping, and social media usage.
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