What Is Internet Addiction?
Do you play video games on the Internet in excess? Are you compulsively shopping online? Can’t physically stop checking Facebook? Is your excessive computer use interfering with your daily life – relationships, work, school? If you answered yes to any of these questions, you may be suffering from Internet Addition Disorder, also commonly referred to as Compulsive Internet Use (CIU), Problematic Internet Use (PIU), or iDisorder. Originally debated as a “real thing,” it was satirically theorized as a disorder in 1995 by Dr. Ivan Goldberg, M.D. who compared its original model to pathological gambling. Since this hoax of sorts, the disorder has rapidly gained ground and has been given serious attention from many researchers, mental health counselors, and doctors as a truly debilitating disorder. Though not officially recognized as a disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV), its prevalence in American and European cultures is staggering – affecting up to 8.2% of the general population. However, some reports suggest it affects up to 38% of the general population. The widely variable difference in prevalence rates might be contributed to the fact that no true and standardized criteria has been selected for Internet Addiction Disorder. It is researched differently among scientists and mental health professionals. And, it is researched differently across ethnic cultures.
The advancement in study of Internet Addiction Disorder has been negatively impacted by the lack of standardization in this area. It has been generally accepted among researchers, however, that Internet Addiction is only a subset of technology addiction in general. As the name states, its concentration is on compulsion with the Internet – as other areas of media addiction can be seen in television addiction, radio addiction, and other types of media addiction. Due to the explosion of the digital age, Internet Addiction Disorder has taken the reigns as the top culprit is technology addiction as of late. The troubling thing about this disorder is that if you are suffering from it, you are endlessly surrounded by technology. In the digital age, the Internet has taken over. Most of what we do, as a general population, can be done on the Internet. Can’t find that shirt you want in the store? No worries – the Internet has it! Need to place an order for pizza? Why call? Complete an online order! Can’t call over a friend to play a video game at 3am when you’re suffering from insomnia and can’t go back to sleep? I bet there’s someone across the globe that is awake and ready to play! That’s, in essence, why this disorder can be so troubling – even treatment-wise. It’s hard to live these days by getting rid of the Internet. We’re always surrounded by it – and for most of us, we use it daily.
Just because you use the Internet a lot – watch a lot of YouTube videos, shop online frequently, or like to check social media does not mean you suffer from Internet Addiction Disorder. The trouble comes when these activities start to interfere with your daily life. In general, Internet Addiction Disorder is subdivided into varying categories. The most commonly identified categories of Internet Addiction include gaming, social networking, email, blogging, online shopping, and inappropriate Internet pornography use. Other researchers suggest that it is not the amount of time spent on the Internet that is particularly troublesome – rather, it is how the Internet is being used. That is, the riskiness of Internet use can be just as important as the amount of time spent. Do you have a teenager using teen dating sites that could have child molesters lurking on the site? This is risky – and one of the multidimensional aspects of Internet Addiction Disorder. Other identified multi-dimensional risk factors of Internet Addiction Disorder include physical impairments, social and functional impairments, emotional impairments, impulsive Internet use, and dependence on the Internet.
Signs and symptoms of Internet Addiction Disorder may present themselves in both physical and emotional manifestations. Some of the emotional symptoms of Internet Addiction Disorder may include:
Feelings of guilt
Feelings of Euphoria when using the Computer
Inability to Prioritize or Keep Schedules
No Sense of Time
Avoidance of Work
Boredom with Routine Tasks
Physical Symptoms of Internet Addiction Disorder may include:
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Poor Nutrition (failing to eat or eating in excessively to avoid being away from the computer)
Poor Personal Hygiene (e.g., not bathing to stay online)
Dry Eyes and other Vision Problems
Weight Gain or Loss
What are the effects of Internet Addiction Disorder? If you are suffering from this disorder, it might be affecting your personal relationships, work life, finances, or school life. Individuals suffering from this condition may be isolating themselves from others, spending a long time in social isolation and negatively impacting their personal relationships. Distrust and dishonesty issues may also arise due to Internet addicts trying to hide or deny the amount of time they spend online. In addition, these individuals may create alternate personas online in an attempt to mask their online behaviors. Serious financial troubles may also result from avoidance of work, bankruptcy due to continued online shopping, online gaming, or online gambling. Internet addicts may also have trouble developing new relationships and socially withdraw – as they feel more at ease in an online environment than a physical one.
In today’s society where the use of the internet is present in schools, at home and on the go, children and teens are subjected to a whole new potential for internet addiction that was not necessarily present for adults until recently. Preventing internet addiction in children and teens can be more difficult that you may think. As a parent, there is a fine line between the level of internet usage that is acceptable and what is not for a child or teen.
Follow these tips to prevent internet addiction in children and teens:
Limit internet usage to include minimal use for social interaction.
Internet use should focus on the need to use the internet for school assignments and research.
Limit internet gaming
Monitor internet use and set boundaries
Keep internet usage restricted to specific areas of the home
Talk to your child about anxiety, depression, school, and other potential triggers that may be causing additional internet use
Seek help form a doctor, friend or professional if your child seems to be spending too much time online
The first step in treatment is the recognition that a problem exists. If you do not believe you have a problem, you are not likely to seek treatment. One of the overarching problems with the Internet is that there is often no accountability and no limits. You are hidden behind a screen – and some things that you may say or do online are things you would never do in person.
There is debate in the literature whether treatment is necessary in the first place. Some believe Internet Addiction Disorder to be a “fad illness” and suggest that it usually resolves itself on its own. Studies have show that self-corrective behavior can be achieved and successful. Corrective behaviors include software that controls the Internet use and types of sites that can be visited – with the majority of professionals in agreement that total abstinence from the computer is not an effective method of correction.
Some professionals argue that medications are effective in the treatment of Internet Addiction Disorder – because if you are suffering from this condition, it is likely that you are also suffering from an underlying condition of anxiety and depression. It is generally thought that if you treat the anxiety or depression, the Internet Addiction may resolve in step with this treatment approach. Studies have shown that anti-anxiety and anti-depressant medications have had a profound affect on the amount of time spent on the Internet – in some cases decreasing rates from 35+ hours a week to 16 hours a week. Physical activity has also been indicative of effective in increasing serotonin levels and decreasing dependency on the Internet.
Some of the more common psychological treatments of Internet Addiction Disorder include:
Individual, group, or family therapy
Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT)
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
Because of the prevalence of the disorder in the general population, treatment centers and programs have started to pop up in the US and across the globe. In some cases, electro-shock therapy was used to wean individuals off the Internet – this method has since been banned. The ReSTART residential treatment facility was started in 2009 in Seattle, WA for pathological computer use. In 2013, a USB-connected keyboard device was created to provide a very low voltage shock to users who visited particular websites. In other places nationwide and internationally, de-addiction centers have been started to aid individuals suffering from Internet Addiction Disorder.
In many instances, multimodal treatments have been employed to treat Internet Addiction Disorder. In this method of treatment, if you are suffering from this condition, you might be prescribed both medications and psychotherapy to treat your addiction to the Internet.