Internet Addiction — ChildSafeNet (2023)

The internet can provide access to some valuable tools, interesting stories, exciting games and informative content but, when used in excess, the internet has the ability to interfere with work, life, relationships, and daily routines. Internet addiction disorder is a potentially dangerous condition that affects individuals who spend large amounts of time online socializing with friends, playing games, gambling or just surfing the web despite the negative consequences that result from spending so much time online.

Learning about the causes and symptoms of internet addiction can help you to detect a problem early on and find help.Internet addiction does not have to cause long term consequences in your life or in the life of a loved one—help is available in the form of counseling, therapy, and social support groups that will assist you in overcoming impulsive behaviors and reducing the amount of time you or your loved one actually spends online.

What is Internet Addiction?

Internet addiction is described as an impulse control disorder, which does not involve use of an intoxicating drug and is very similar to pathological gambling. Some Internet users may develop an emotional attachment to on-line friends and activities they create on their computer screens. Internet users may enjoy aspects of the Internet that allow them to meet, socialize, and exchange ideas through the use of chat rooms, social networking websites, or "virtual communities." Other Internet users spend endless hours researching topics of interest Online or "blogging". Blogging is a contraction of the term "Web log", in which an individual will post commentaries and keep regular chronicle of events. It can be viewed as journaling and the entries are primarily textual.

Similar to other addictions, those suffering from Internet addiction use the virtual fantasy world to connect with real people through the Internet, as a substitution for real-life human connection, which they are unable to achieve normally.

Internet addiction is a growing epidemic characterized by a compulsive desire to interact online through internet gaming, gambling, cybersex, social networking or compulsive surfing of the web. According to Dr. Kimberly Young, the first psychologist to document internet addiction, these disorders are similar to impulse-control disorders. Meeting five of the following symptoms can lead to a diagnosis of internet addiction disorder:

- Feeling preoccupied with the internet. (thinking about your previous online activity or anticipating the next time you will go online)

- Feeling a desire to use the internet for increased amounts of time in order to achieve satisfaction with your use of the web. (similar to tolerance that is addressed in substance abuse problems)

- Having a lack of control in efforts to stop using the internet or to cut back use.

- Feeling restless, irritable, depressed or otherwise moody when not using the internet.

- Staying online longer than you originally planned to.

- Jeopardized a job, relationship, educational opportunity or other important opportunity because of the internet.

- Lying to friends, family members or others in an effort to conceal the true amount of time that you spend online or your actual activities while online.

- Using the internet as a way of escaping reality, escaping problems or relieving a negative mood.

Types of Internet Addiction Disorders

An addiction to the internet can come in various forms. Most of the time, internet addiction is characterized by the activity that an individual is taking part in while they are online such as shopping, socializing or gaming. Internet addiction disorder includes:

- Net Compulsions –this includes compulsive gambling, gaming, shopping, trading stocks or other obsessive use of the internet that interferes with your work or home, relationships or financial well-being.

- Cybersex Addictioncompulsive use of the internet to take part in adult chat rooms, fantasy role playing sites, or to watch internet pornography.

- Cyber-Relationship Addiction –taking part in social networks, chat rooms and virtual messaging online to a point in which these online relationships mean more than real-life relationships with friends or family members.

- General Computer Addiction –obsessively playing on the computer, not necessarily online. This may include playing games such as Solitaire or programming a computer obsessively.

- Compulsive Web Surfing –obsessively surfing the web or a database to a point in which you take time from your friends, family members or regular daytime tasks at work or home.

Most internet addiction disorders are the result of cybersex, online gambling or gaming, and cyber-relationships.

Recognizing the Difference Between Healthy & Unhealthy Internet Use

Not all users who surf the web will become addicted to the internet and, excessive use of the internet is not always associated with addiction. There are many ways that the internet can be used in a healthy way and in some cases, even excessive use of the internet is safe. The internet provides us with a constant, ever-changing source of entertainment, information and tools that is accessible through computers, smart phones, tablets, laptops and other hand-held devices.

How can we recognize healthy internet use versus unhealthy use of the internet? How much internet use is too much? Is it the same for everyone?

All of these questions surrounding internet usage and the level of use that is considered healthy come into mind when thinking about internet addiction. The answers:

- Everyone is different and therefore level of internet usage that is health will differ from one person to the next. Some people rely on the internet for work and use it excessively but this does not necessarily mean that they are addicted. Others might connect with distant relatives or friends online because they cannot connect in person and this too does not necessarily mean that they are addicted.

- Unhealthy use of the internet is characterized by a person’s decision to interact online instead of in person, a decision to spend time online instead of handling work assignments or tasks, or a decision to spend time online instead of handling important tasks in life.

- Unhealthy use of the internet will often cause negative consequences to the user in terms of broken relationships or friendships, heightened anxiety in real world social situations, loss of a job due to reduced productivity or financial distress due to excessive spending online.

What are the warning signs of Internet addiction?

The symptoms of internet addictionmay not be visibly present or a person may only show a few of the signs of internet addiction. There is not a set amount of time spent online each day that can be used to describe the presence of an addiction to the internet. This amount of time will be different for each individual.

Some of the warning signs of internet addiction include:

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- Spending more time online than you even realize. On-line longer than originally intended. Do you often find that you wind up online longer than had anticipated? If you find that your planned time online goes from being a few minutes to actually spending hours online, you might have a problem.

-Repeated, unsuccessful efforts to control, cut back or stop Internet use.Feelings of restlessness, moodiness, depression, or irritability when attempting to cut down use of the Internet.

- Isolating yourself from friends or family members to spend time online.Do you spend more time socializing online than you do in real life? You might have an addiction to the internet if you are isolating yourself from friends or family members in order to spend time online.

- Becoming defensive about your time spent online.If you feel like you have to be defensive about the time that you spend online or you feel like you have to lie to your friends or family members about what you are doing online than you might have a problem.

-Difficulty completing tasks at work or at home because you spend too much time surfing the web.Jeopardized or risked loss of significant relationships, job, educational or career opportunities because of Internet use. If you have trouble focusing on your priorities or you find that your time online has made you slack on your tasks at work or at home you you may be suffering from an internet addiction.

- Euphoric feelings when involved with internet activities.Do you use the internet to reduce stress, gain sexual gratification or excitement? If you use the internet to boost your mood or to feel better you may have a problem.

-Preoccupation with the Internet. Thoughts about previous on-line activity or anticipation of the next on-line session.

- Use Internet to escape from problems or to relieve a dysphoric mood. (e.g. Feelings of hopelessness, guilt, anxiety, depression.)

Why we rely on our screens

Oxytocin

Oxytocin is best known as the ‘love hormone’. But it’s also primarily a molecule of social connection. But how is this relevant to our screen use? Well, oxytocin is triggered when we use social networking apps. Our brains interpret tweeting or messaging as if we’re directing interacting with people we can about. Posting a photo, responding to comments, tweeting people – it can all give a feeling similar to meeting with friends in person.

Dopamine

Dopamine is another reason we’ve come to somewhat depend on technology. In a social content, any positive social stimuli can result in dopamine being released – almost like a reward. It reinforces the behaviour that preceded it, which includes interaction over any screen. Text messages, likes and comments, notifications – they all have the potential to release dopamine.

The result tends to be short-term, addictive, dopamine-driven feedback loops. If you compulsively check for notifications, it’s because most apps use variable reward schedules optimised to encourage you to stay engaged. We perceive the reward to be delivered at random and end up checking habitually – almost in the same way a slot machine works.

Cortisol

Cortisol is known as the ‘fight-or-flight’ hormone. It’s what lets you know when you're in potential danger. But if you’re the type of person who regularly (say, every 15 or so minutes) checks your phone, putting it down can trigger a release of cortisol. When we don’t have an alert or notification every time we check our phones, so our brain starts to wonder about checking. To get rid of the anxious feeling that cortisol gives you, you pick up your phone to see if anything has happened.

Putting down the phone doesn’t shut off your brain. The effects of using our devices and staring at screens don’t stop when we stop. But as we learn more about what’s going on in our heads when we use digital devices, we can reflect on our usage and start to change how they make us feel. We can actively try to create situations where we don’t need our devices.

What are the Causes of Internet Addiction?

People become addicted to the internet for a number of different reasons. Most of the time, the urge to compulsive use the internet is the result of a desire to manage unpleasant feeling such as depression, anxiety, stress or loneliness. Some feel socially inept in the real world and turn to social media interaction as a means of feeling close to people, while others may lose themselves online in an effort to temporarily feel better. Unfortunately, the internet, when used compulsively, can lead to many consequences.

Some causes of internet addiction include:

- Self-medication for a mental health disorder.Many people use the internet to mask anxiety, depression, or other mental illness.

- Information addicts.Some people have an intense hunger for knowledge and the internet provides immediate access to tons of information that can be very attractive for information addicts.

- Anxiety or social disorders.Some people have anxiety when they are face to face with people or suffer from other social disorders that make it difficult for them to interact in real life but easier to interact online.

- Loneliness.Many people, especially those who do not have a companion, interact online to fulfill a void that causes them to feel lonely.

- Shifting from a real world addiction.Many people who suffer from a real world addiction to shoppingor gamblingwill shift their addictions to an online version such as internet gambling or excessive shopping online.

Effects of Internet Addiction

In many ways, internet addiction can be compared to an addiction to drugsor alcoholin that, internet addiction causes a desire to use the internet more and more in order to produce a satisfactory effect. This is similar to the way an alcoholic may need to drink more alcohol in order to feel the benefits of the substance or the way that a drug addict may use more drugs in an effort to produce the same “high.” Internet addicts become dependent on the use of cyberspace in order to feel normal.

Internet addicts struggle to control their behaviors and often experience great despair over their consistent failure to escape their addictive behaviors. A loss of self-esteem and a burning desire to escape can lead the addict further into their addiction sending them into a whirlwind of social anguish, relationship failure and emotional pain. In the end, the internet addiction will cause a sense of powerlessness for the addict.

Internet addiction results in personal, family, academic, financial, and occupational problems that are characteristic of other addictions. Impairments of real life relationships are disrupted as a result of excessive use of the Internet. Individuals suffering from Internet addiction spend more time in solitary seclusion, spend less time with real people in their lives, and are often viewed as socially awkward. Arguments may result due to the volume of time spent on-line. Those suffering from Internet addiction may attempt to conceal the amount of time spent on-line, which results in distrust and the disturbance of quality in once stable relationships.

Some suffering from Internet addiction may create on-line personas or profiles where they are able to alter their identities and pretend to be someone other than himself or herself. Those at highest risk for creation of a secret life are those who suffer from low-self esteem feelings of inadequacy, and fear of disapproval. Such negative self-concepts lead to clinical problems of depression and anxiety.

Many persons who attempt to quit their Internet use experience withdrawal including: anger, depression, relief, mood swings, anxiety, fear, irritability, sadness, loneliness, boredom, restlessness, procrastination, and upset stomach. Being addicted to the Internet can also cause physical discomfort or medical problems such as: Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, dry eyes, backaches, severe headaches, eating irregularities, (such as skipping meals), failure to attend to personal hygiene, and sleep disturbance.

Psychological Effects of Internet Addiction Disorder may include:

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· Depression

· Dishonesty

· Feelings of guilt

· Anxiety

· Feelings of Euphoria when using the Computer

· Inability to Prioritize or Keep Schedules

· Isolation

· No Sense of Time

· Defensiveness

· Avoidance of Work

· Agitation

· Mood Swings

· Fear

· Loneliness

· Boredom with Routine Tasks

· Procrastination

Physical Effects of Internet Addiction Disorder may include:

· Backache

· Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

· Headaches

· Insomnia

· 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)

· Neck Pain

· Dry Eyes and other Vision Problems

· Weight Gain or Loss

When to tackle digital use problems

Are you now wondering whether you’re spending too much time on your device? Signs you may have a problem include if it’s:

  • interfering with your work or school life

  • become a negative in your relationships

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  • encouraging you to sit around more

  • affecting your sleep

  • making you feel anxious or unhappy

When we use devices, we often find ourselves in a cycle. Any negative feelings associated with not using a device normally vanish when we pick them up again. So we keep repeating the behaviour.

It will take some commitment, but it is possible to tackle some of the main issues associated with excessive digital use. But remember that it can take anything between a few weeks to many months to form new habits – so keep persisting. So what should you do? Start by:

  • Using technology to your advantage and set time limits on certain apps. After you’ve used up your daily allowance, you won’t be able to use them anymore.

  • Have a conversation about boundaries with your friends or family. Agree on when devices should be off limits so that everyone can be present. A good example of this would be mealtimes.

  • Make sure you’ve organised enough fun activities which don’t require a device. Whether it’s physical activity or spending time with friends, make it hard for you to check your device. Recognise and praise yourself for spending time without a screen.

How can someone get help?

The first step is to determine if there is a problem. 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

· Behavior modification

· Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT)

· Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

· Equine Therapy

· Art Therapy

· Recreation Therapy

· Reality Therapy

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.

A Certified Addictions Counselor trained in identification and treatment of Internet addiction can effectively perform an assessment to determine what level of care is most appropriate.

There are many steps that you can take to reduce impulsive behaviors and get your internet usage under control. Many of the ways that you can get help for internet addiction can actually be taken on by you individually without the need for treatment.

Take these steps to get your internet usage under control:

- Get help for any mental health problems that may be contributing to your compulsive use of the internet.If you suffer from depression, stress, anxiety or other mental health problems that are contributing to your desire to self-medication by using the internet, get help!

- Develop coping skills.If you use the internet as a way to cope with stress or to deal with other emotions, you’ll need to develop coping skills in order to reduce your urges to use the internet. Instead of resorting to the internet as a method of coping with stress or anger or other emotions, develop skills that will help you to cope with these emotions without the internet.

- Get support.You’ll need an extensive support network to help you through the difficult times when you are most vulnerable and susceptible to using the internet. Your support network may consist of friends, family members, co-workers, community groups, and social support groups as well as your counselor or therapist.

- Log your time.One way that you can reduce the amount of time that you spend online is to actually keep a log of the time that you do spend online. Keep track of the time of day that you log onto the internet, how long you spend and any emotions that were present prior to your use of the internet or during your internet use. You can even log your activity online so that you can review your log to determine emotions that may have triggered a particular activity or impulsive behavior.

-Set a timer.You can reduce the amount of time that you spend online by setting a timer before you go online and making a commitment to yourself to get off of your computer when the timer goes off. You should also make a commitment to turn your computer off at a particular time each day to allow for interaction with family or to handle other tasks.

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- Substitute internet usage with healthy activities.Instead of going online, take a walk, read a book, call a friend or find another way to fill the time with a healthy activity.

- Responsible digital behaviours. Working out what amount of screen time is or isn’t good for you isn’t a simple task. Although some studies or experts claim to have a figure, it won’t be suitable for all.

Whether or not your screen use interferes with your life is something for you to work out. The patterns, habits and feelings behind our screen use are potentially of more interest than the volume of use. Using screens carefully may be more important than using them less. However long you spend, there are healthier habits and responsible ways to be online that everyone can embrace.

Methods of Internet Addiction Treatment

Many different options for treatment exist to assist those who cannot cope with or overcome their internet addiction on their own.

If self-help for internet addiction doesn’t work for you, consider these internet addiction treatment options:

- Cognitive-behavioral therapy –providing methods of changing compulsive thoughts that result in poor behavior into positive thoughts and reactions,cognitive-behavioral therapycan help to change the perceptions that you have regarding your internet use. This method of therapy is effective at reducing anxiety, eliminating stress or alleviating depression.

- Support Groupswhile there may not be as many support groups for those suffering from internet addiction as there are for those suffering from substance abuse or a gambling addiction, there are often alternatives. For instance, if you tend to spend your time online gambling, you can take part in Gamblers Anonymous, or if you tend to spend your time watching pornography, Sex Addicts Anonymous may be an alternative social support option.

Helping an Individual who is Addicted to the Internet

If you think you know someone who is addicted to the internet, there are steps you can take to help that individual overcome their addiction.

Follow these times to help someone who is addicted to the internet:

- Manage your own time online to show your loved one the right ways.

- Help the individual to find friends and social support

- Help them get involved in other activities that aren’t online

- Encourage counseling and therapy

- Help them manage their time online by keeping a log of internet usage

Preventing Internet Addiction in Children and Teens

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

Sources:

https://www.addictions.com

http://www.addictionrecov.org/Addictions/index.aspx?AID=43

https://www.psycom.net/iadcriteria.html

https://www.comparethemarket.com/broadband/content/screen-usage-guide/#healthy-habits

FAQs

Is internet addiction disorder in the DSM 5? ›

In the fifth edition of the Diagnosfic and Stafisfical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), Internet Gam- ing Disorder is identified in Section III as a condition warranting more clinical research and experience before it might be considered for inclusion in the main book as a formal disorder.

What is internet addiction simple definition? ›

Internet addiction is defined as an unhealthy behavior that interferes with and causes stress in one's personal, school, and/or work life. Like other addictions, compulsive Internet usage completely dictates a person's life.

What are the prevention of internet addiction? ›

Agree the hours of use of the computer (no more than 1.5 - 2 hours daily, with the exception of weekends). Place the computer in a common site in the home, like the living room. Promote social activities.

What are the reasons for internet addiction? ›

Internet addiction, often referred to as internet addiction disorder (IAD), isn't a recognized condition in the most recent edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5).
...
What causes it?
  • underlying mental health conditions, including anxiety and depression.
  • genetics.
  • environmental factors.
26 Aug 2019

Is Internet addiction a mental illness? ›

Excessive Internet use has not been recognized as a disorder by the World Health Organization, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) or the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11). However, the diagnosis of gaming disorder has been included in the ICD-11.

How does the DSM-5 define addiction? ›

Cravings and urges to use the substance. Not managing to do what you should at work, home, or school because of substance use. Continuing to use, even when it causes problems in relationships. Giving up important social, occupational, or recreational activities because of substance use.

What are the negative effects of Internet addiction? ›

Body aches, Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, insomnia, vision problems, and weight gain/loss are just some of the physical problems one may suffer as a result of an internet addiction. Emotional effects may include depression, dishonesty, anxiety, social isolation, aggression, and mood swings.

What are the effects of Internet addiction essay? ›

Many internet addicts develop anxiety issues and depression. This hampers their personal and professional growth. Their physical health also deteriorates. They can incur health problems like obesity, heart condition, and hypertension.

How does internet addiction affect the brain? ›

Internet addiction alters the volume of the brain. The brain changes are similar to those produced by alcohol and cocaine addiction. IAD shrinks the brain's gray and white matter fibers which results in changes to emotional processing and brain functioning.

How do I stop computer addiction essay? ›

To prevent computer addiction, you should limit the usage time and should allow your children to use the computer only when necessary. Give them your time and care so that they get busy with you rather than a computer. Encourage them to play outdoor sports and sometimes join them too.

How can I help my student with internet addiction? ›

A teacher should indulge students in group activities and encourage participation in creative, exploratory and exciting healthy activities. This will help students to spend more time with people around them and less time on Internet.

Why students are addicted to the Internet? ›

In general, the main reason why youths are at particular risk of internet addiction is that they spend most of their time on online gaming and social applications like online social networking such as Twitter, Facebook, and telegrams [51].

Is there a diagnosis for social media addiction? ›

There are no clinical diagnostic criteria for social media addiction,” Simeone notes. “But if an individual excessively or compulsively uses social media platform to improve their mood, that's a key symptom of addiction which may suggest dependency.

What is the diagnostic criteria for Internet addiction? ›

This failure is described by the following set of criteria: (1) a preoccupation with the Internet, (2) the need to use the Internet for increasing amounts of time, (3) unsuccessful efforts to stop using the Internet, (4) mood change when attempting to stop or cut down Internet usage, (5) staying online longer than ...

What are the diagnostic criteria for Internet gaming disorder? ›

The proposed symptoms of internet gaming disorder include: Preoccupation with gaming. Withdrawal symptoms when gaming is taken away or not possible (sadness, anxiety, irritability) Tolerance, the need to spend more time gaming to satisfy the urge.

Is there a DSM 6th Edition? ›

Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders 2022 Hardcover.

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