62% of the world's total population uses the internet, and this growth is rapidly increasing, with more than 600,000 new users each day. Such a massive increase of internet users means only one thing – an upsurge of internet addiction as well.
Are you unable to last a day without checking Facebook? Are you constantly updated on the latest Instagram stories of your friends and your favorite celebrities? Do you often pull an all-nighter playing online games? If you responded yes to any of these questions, you might have an internet addiction.
What Is Internet Addiction?
The American Psychological Association defines internet addiction as “a behavioral pattern characterized by excessive or obsessive online and offline computer use that leads to distress and impairment.” Shopping, gambling, chat discussions, online relationships, gaming, information seeking, and pornography viewing are just a few of the potentially addictive activities available on the internet. Most people have experienced being tempted to spend more time online than they intended, but it may become an addiction for some.
Unfortunately, internet addiction is still not officially recognized as a disorder. Some psychiatrists believe that internet addiction has the same characteristics as many other substance use disorders, such as excessive usage, withdrawal symptoms, tolerance, and negative consequences. It's still unclear whether internet addiction is a symptom of an underlying condition or a separate disorder entirely.
Despite the controversy surrounding internet addiction, its prevalence in the U.S. is nothing short of startling. Up to 77% of adults say they go online “almost constantly.” Considering that internet addiction still hasn't been classified as an official diagnosis, this number is still an approximation. There may be a growing body of research and treatment available for internet addiction, but there has been no direct government response to this issue.
Staggering as it may be, internet addiction is a severe issue that requires treatment. If left untreated, addiction to the internet can be extended to other types of addictions within the ballpark of the internet, such as sexting or gaming addiction. That's why it's essential to take a proactive approach to tackle internet addiction as early as possible, and we can only do this if we are aware of its signs and symptoms.
Signs and Symptoms of Internet Addiction
Addiction occurs when a behavior or desire becomes a hindrance and takes precedence over the most critical areas of one's life, such as relationships, work, or school. A person suffering from internet addiction manifests emotional and physical symptoms.
Emotional symptoms include:
- Feelings of guilt
- Mood swings
Physical symptoms include:
- Sudden gain or loss of weight
- Eyesight problems
- Poor nutrition
- Neck pain
Types of Internet Addiction
Internet addiction can take various forms. People can watch videos, play video games, and use social media on the internet. Each of these has the potential to be addictive. Because the internet has so much to offer, many different forms of addictions exist, ranging from cybersexual to information seeking.
- Cybersex addiction: A non-substance addiction where the internet is used for sexually gratifying activities. It comprises online pornography, adult chat rooms, and websites with sexual predators.
- Online gaming addiction: The compulsive or uncontrolled use of online video games. People with online gaming addiction may quit attending school or quit their jobs if gaming becomes their primary focus. Some people may even refuse to eat or bathe.
- Virtual relationship addiction: This type of addiction concerns individuals who are deeply involved with finding and maintaining relationships online. These online friendships are most commonly formed in chat rooms or social media platforms, although they can happen anywhere on the internet.
- Net compulsion: The symptoms of net compulsions are similar to those of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). People with OCD may repeatedly check to verify if a door is locked or if the oven is turned off. People with net compulsions might check social media all the time or constantly refresh their email inbox.
- Information seeking: Some people have an uncontrollable urge to google. While continuous learning is healthy, ceaseless curiosity can cause anxiety and overthinking.
What Causes Internet Addiction?
As it is with other disorders, it's difficult to find an exact reason for internet addiction. Multiple contributing elements are a feature of this condition. Those include:
- Anonymity: Expressing unpopular opinions or arguing with a stranger is a lot easier when done anonymously. This addiction is fueled by the motivation of not revealing one's identity but still being fulfilled.
- Instant gratification: Nothing is more motivating than to get instantly validated through likes and comments on social media posts.
- Convenience: The internet makes it quick and effortless to connect with people, things, and information from anywhere on the planet.
- Dopamine chase: Every time an internet user picks up a device, they receive a small reward – a message from a friend, an exciting story on Instagram, a fresh employment lead. This experience is an internet addiction effect that keeps people browsing the internet to get a “hit” of dopamine.
- Novelty: The internet can be addicting because there is a non-ending web of new information and entertainment waiting to be discovered, and the experience is different every time.
Why Is Internet Addiction Treatment Needed?
Several studies have shown that people with internet addiction are at a higher risk of mental health problems than ordinary internet users. Prolonged use of social media sites like Facebook and Instagram are associated with low self-esteem and may be related to signs and symptoms of depression. People addicted to the internet are susceptible to experiencing negative emotions and even withdrawal symptoms when their internet access is restricted.
Interestingly, over-reliance on the internet may indicate other mental health problems. People suffering from depression or anxiety are more prone to become isolated, with the internet serving as their only social outlet. This consequence increases the likelihood of developing an addiction.
A study showed that there is an association between escapism and internet addiction. Internet use as a form of escapism to relieve stress and avoid confronting problems could contribute to internet addiction.
There is still plenty to learn about internet addiction with all the ongoing research surrounding this topic. But what we have covered so far should be enough to convince you to find ways on how to stop internet addiction.
Internet Addiction Treatment Options
The good news is internet addiction is treatable with the proper care and help. There is widespread agreement that total internet abstinence should not be the goal of treatment, but rather abstinence from harmful applications and restricted and balanced internet usage.
Internet addiction is classified as an obsessive-compulsive disorder by some professionals, while others compare it to an impulse control disorder. Therefore, there isn't a single treatment for internet addiction. Below are a few treatment options available at your disposal:
Like people with substance abuse disorders, people with addiction to the internet can find support in peer support groups that assist while relieving social isolation, humiliation, and alienation. They compensate for the absence of social support that the patient initially sought online.
Some professionals believe that medications can aid in treating internet addiction. Other disorders, like depression and anxiety, may be based on internet addiction. Medication for the underlying problem may help treat internet addiction.
It is also believed that internet addiction will disappear if depression, anxiety, or another ailment is treated. Furthermore, studies have found that antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications reduce internet usage.
Recovering from internet addiction is especially effective in a rehabilitation center. Internet addiction treatment programs are intended to manage internet addiction symptoms and assist you in recovering in a supportive and medically-supervised treatment center.
Internet addiction therapy entails teaching ways to help a person control their internet use. Early on in the treatment, therapy will focus on developing motivation to change and being more aware of the dangers of internet addiction.
Different types of therapy can treat internet addiction, but cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a common one. CBT was designed to treat depression, but it has now been proven to be incredibly effective in treating addiction as well, thanks to the way clients are taught to create coping skills to avoid relapse.
Another mental health treatment that is gaining popularity is online counseling. Several studies have shown that online therapy can help people with anxiety and depression symptoms, suggesting that it may be equally beneficial in treating internet addiction. If you're the type who prefers online communication, you will find online therapy more convenient, less expensive, and more pleasant overall.
In this day and age of social media, online dating, and online gaming, consulting the internet to verify a fact or find a partner has become a part of muscle memory to most of us. However, if you have been finding yourself using the internet for an extended amount of time, then it might be time for a huge change. Internet addiction is curable, and it's never too late to seek internet addiction treatment.
Alternatively, you can also schedule an online therapy session with one of our mental health professionals. Start your journey to mental wellness with DoMental right now.