8 Signs Of Internet Addiction
The digital age has provided us with many benefits, conveniences, and sources of learning and entertainment. But how much is too much? Internet addiction has been a growing concern in many societies, and this article will cover some of its signs and options for help.
What Is Internet Addiction?
Although it’s not yet recognized as a diagnosable mental health condition in the APA’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (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 fact, in South Korea, a government survey concluded that around 20 percent of its population is at risk of developing an internet addiction. This equates to about 10 million people in just one country. In the US, findings from the Pew Research Center shows that up to uses the internet on a daily basis. Many people consider their internet usage to be harmless. So, when does it become a real problem?
Internet addiction can be described as an impulse control problem or behavioral disorder that involves us excessively using online devices and becoming dependent on them. It can eventually develop into a hindrance and control our lives—a sign of addiction.
As we’ve seen with gambling, addiction isn’t limited to substance use, and despite not being an official DSM-5 diagnosis, internet addiction or pathological internet use contains many of the same traits as any other addiction.
All addictions, including the internet, share these characteristics:
Compulsive use or loss of control
Mood modification (i.e., distress reduction)
Globally, around 90% 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 impact social relationships, contribute to financial hardship, and lead to underperformance at work or school.
For those coping with internet addiction, the rewards and stimulation can be so powerful that sound reasoning and emotional control are overridden—something seen in other addictive behaviors as well.
Types of Internet Addiction
Internet addiction is actually an umbrella term that can encompass a few different subcategories.
Not every case is the same, and researchers have outlined different types of internet addiction:
Cybersex (i.e. porn or webcam services)
Cyber-relationships (i.e. online dating, chat rooms)
Social media (i.e. curation of public or semi-public profiles)
Gaming (i.e. gambling and online video games or offline software-based games)
Compulsive Information-seeking (i.e. scouring sources of information constantly)
While internet addiction is often divided into these groups in the research literature, it’s important to note that 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.
What Are The Signs of Internet Addiction?
Although there are no formalized diagnostic criteria for internet addiction, extensive research has been carried out since the 1990s that identifies eight behavioral patterns that might 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 might be thinking about previous online sessions, or may anticipate (and really look forward to) the next ones.
More Time Online For More Satisfaction
Being online can create very positive feelings and can be a source of stress-relief for people, but with increased and ongoing use that original positive effect begins to wear off. This can lead to using the internet even more often or looking for new online activities that can help generate the same pleasure.
Losing Track of Time
Sometimes spending more time online isn’t always a conscious effort, and it’s common for people to stay online longer than they originally planned. Because of the stimulation, positive feelings, rewards, and reinforcement, 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 who struggle with negative feelings are prone to internet addiction as a way to avoid their external lives.
Moodiness When Internet Usage Is Limited
When offline for any period of time, people experiencing an internet addiction can become restless, irritable, and even depressed if they can’t reconnect. This is a sign of withdrawal.
Unsuccessful Attempts to Manage Internet Use
Even if someone wishes to spend less time on the internet and tries to make an attempt, withdrawal symptoms can stifle these efforts. This can cause feelings of hopeless and a continuation of the same online usage habits.
Lost or Risked Losing Opportunities
It’s common for people experiencing internet addiction to neglect their social lives and even jeopardize opportunities at school and work. An internet addiction can lead to someone becoming unproductive at school or stop showing up to work.
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 a popular internet addiction test developed by Dr. Keith Beard; if someone identifies with having at least five out of the eight characteristics, they may receive a diagnosis and be able to get help.
Treatment For Internet Addiction
Compulsive internet usage can be treated just like any addiction, and we can successfully overcome it. Although internet addiction isn’t formally recognized, help is still available. Many therapists are trained in helping people change their behavioral patterns into ones that are helpful and productive.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is a type of psychotherapy that research shows can help change thoughts and feelings related to the internet. By learning new ways to respond and cope with emotions, we can become less dependent on using the internet and suffering through the negative consequences of addiction.
Even though the internet isn’t an ingested substance, it can create chemical reactions in the brain and symptoms of withdrawal can occur, making usage reduction difficult to manage. However, there are ways to gradually taper-off and lessen withdrawal symptoms, such as using software that restricts the amount of time spent online.
When used in conjunction with therapy, these types of software may help us be more accountable for our actions while simultaneously reducing dependency. They may also help us develop the skills and logic required to handle the emotions and sensations we can feel while using or staying away from the internet.
Additionally, there are also support groups but—because internet addiction is a more recent phenomenon—they aren’t as common as groups for alcohol or narcotics. That said, since there can be overlap, some people with addiction to the internet may find support from groups related to sex addiction and gambling.
For those unable to find a therapist in their area or in need a more affordable option, online therapy can still be a viable option despite the nature of internet addiction. In fact, research has shown that virtual reality therapy treated online gaming addiction in its participants as effectively as traditional CBT. Seeking treatment online may be an accessible first step and offer a potential avenue to reshape harmful behaviors for those familiar with the internet and more comfortable online.
Though its negative effects can be disruptive, disordered internet behavior—like any addiction—can be effectively addressed and treated. Understanding the situation is a key first step toward seeking help. With proper support and guidance, it is possible to navigate internet addiction and improve our quality of life.
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