Internet addiction is a process addiction that is relatively new, but one that has been increasing in prevalence in recent years. Those who are affected by this disorder are completely preoccupied with online activities, whether they spend time on social networking sites, gaming sites, or other Internet sites.
According to the National Institute of Health, between .3 and .7% of the U.S. population suffers from Internet addiction. Many more people are problem Internet users, meaning their online activity causes disruptions and problems in their every day life, but they are able to stop if necessary.
Causes of Internet Addiction
Internet addiction is often fueled by the accessibility of the Internet on smart phones, laptops, tablets, and household computers. The majority of U.S. households have Internet access on at least one device, and many individuals and families use Internet for entertainment, communication, and work.
Some research has investigated the addictive properties of social networking sites and Internet games. Creators of these sites are able to use rewards such as unlocking new levels, the thrill of beating a high score, and the ability to connect with others online to draw users in and cause them to become hooked on the site.
Internet addiction causes the user to spend unhealthy amounts of time in front of a screen. They become preoccupied with the Internet, and will neglect household duties, parenting responsibilities, work, and other commitments. Internet addicts may try to cut back on their online usage, but find they are unable. They may feel an emotional connection to their Internet communities, and may find that the line between the real world and the virtual world becomes blurred.
Researchers have found that Internet addiction affects the individual’s brain, much like drug addiction or alcoholism does. While the addiction is considered an impulse control disorder, the person may experience a feeling of euphoria when online, which leads to increased dopamine levels in the pleasure center of the brain. Much like substance abuse, Internet use for these kinds of addicts causes them to feel good and want more.
Signs of Internet Addiction
Professor Mark Griffiths, of NottinghamTrentUniversity in the United Kingdom, describes the impact of Internet addiction on the user. He said signs and symptoms of Internet addiction include:
1. Salience: The Internet becomes the most important activity in the person’s life, affecting feelings, behaviors and thoughts.
2. Mood modification: The person receives an emotional “buzz” from using the Internet.
3. Tolerance: The person becomes acclimatized, requiring increasing amounts of Internet time to get that “buzz.”
4. Withdrawal symptoms: Abruptly ceasing Internet activity can cause the personal emotional or physical distress.
5. Relapse: The addict tends to fall back into the same behavior very easily, even after years of abstinence or control.
Internet addiction is a progressive disease, meaning it usually worsens over time. Internet addiction can lead to depression, anger issues, anxiety, fear, and loneliness. Physical effects of spending long hours in front of a computer include headache, carpal tunnel, sleeplessness, dry eyes, and poor nutrition and hygiene.
Internet addiction can affect anyone that uses the Internet, but it most commonly affects individuals in their 20s and 30s. United States’ residents struggle with Internet addiction, but China has also seen a serious increase in the number of Internet addicts. The problem has gotten so bad that the Chinese government has established 400 new rehab centers specifically for young Internet addicts. The patients in these centers take part in boot camp style activities and other techniques to force them to abandon their addiction.
Internet Addiction Treatment
Treatment for Internet addiction requires therapy and behavioral modifications. The person must retrain their mind to function without the Internet, and to develop healthy behaviors and habits to replace the addiction. Many people who are recovering from an Internet addiction also find that family therapy is a key component to recovery, as many have experienced a strain in their relationships because of the addiction. An individual suffering with Internet addiction can find help at a number of treatment centers located throughout the United States, including: The Center for Internet and Technology Addiction, Center for Digital Technology Sustainability, and Video Game Addiction.org.
Anyone struggling with an Internet addiction is encouraged to find help as soon as possible. If you or a loved one is concerned about the possibility of an Internet addiction, a useful tool is Psych Central’s Internet addiction quiz, which helps individuals determine whether or not there is a problem.
If you think you or a loved one is struggling with an Internet addiction, call for help today. A professional assessment can help determine if treatment is necessary.