Internet addiction is a problem that may not be as easy to diagnose and treat as other behavioural addictions such as gambling, sex, and overeating. Much of this is due to the newness of the problem. The key to diagnosing internet addiction is recognising whether a patient’s behaviour is pathological. In other words, does the patient use the internet compulsively? Is the person unable to control his or her time spent online? These are questions that need to be answered by professionals who understand the nature of compulsive behaviour.
Any suspicion that you might suffer from internet addiction is motivation to contact us at Addiction Helper. While we do specialise in substance addictions, we also offer our free services to those suffering from behavioural addictions as well. We can help you find the treatment you need to overcome your compulsive internet use and take your life back.
Understanding Internet Addiction
The jury is still out in relation to how similar internet addiction is to other behavioural addictions. This is clearly seen in the long list of terms used to describe the condition:
- Internet addiction disorder (IAD)
- Problematic internet use (PIU)
- Compulsive internet use
- Internet overuse
- Problematic computer use
- Pathological computer use
When the idea of internet addiction was first proposed in 1995, it was considered a satirical hoax within the fields of psychology and psychiatry. However, proponents of the diagnosis compared the mechanics of pathological gambling to those of compulsive internet use to find they were very similar. This led to a general acceptance of internet addiction as being at least a compulsive behaviour, if not a psychological addiction.
In the years since we have come to understand more about what causes people to use the internet compulsively. We are now more comfortable than ever with the idea that the condition is similar enough to compulsive gambling to merit classification as a behavioural addiction.
What Drives Internet Addiction
What must be understood about behavioural addictions is that they are all about the pleasure of the behaviour rather than an object. In other words, a gambling addict is not addicted to video slot machines. Those machines do not emanate chemicals or fumes that have psychoactive effects in the brain. Rather, the gambler is addicted to the act of gambling itself. Internet addiction is similar.
The question for experts is what drives internet addiction. Three major components seem to make up the majority of problems among compulsive users:
Pornography – Internet pornography is so pervasive that its proliferation and use constitutes a very significant portion of the entire amount of bandwidth used across the digital universe. Some people who are addicted to the internet spend the majority of their time viewing pornography.
Social Media – Others obsessed with being online cannot seem to disconnect from their social media accounts. They are addicted to being connected, as it were. Attempting to withdraw from social media can be as challenging as withdrawing from a chemical substance.
Gambling – Unfortunately, the internet has made it easier for problem gamblers to continue their compulsions from the privacy of their homes. That means online gambling has also made it possible to develop a co-occurring internet addiction alongside the gambling problem.
As researchers currently understand it, those struggling with internet addiction receive an immense amount of pleasure from doing so. Their activities trigger the release of certain chemicals that arouse the brain’s reward centres to the extent that sufferers feel as though their desires control them.
It is interesting to observe that internet addicts must always ‘up the ante’, so to speak, to enjoy the same level of pleasure – just like addicts using alcohol or hard drugs. The gambler must gamble more often; the pornography user must continually look for new things that cause arousal; the social media addict must constantly find new avenues to be connected.
Signs and Symptoms of Internet Addiction
A person suffering from internet addiction will demonstrate some noticeable signs and symptoms indicating a problem exists. The signs and symptoms may be difficult to identify given the fact that so many of us spend so much time online. Nonetheless, they are as follows:
- A preoccupation with getting online
- Gradually spending more time online to achieve satisfaction
- Repeated efforts to cut back on internet use, resulting in failure
- Agitation, depression, or irritability when online access is restricted
- Regularly losing track of time while online
- Risking harm to relationships, job opportunities, etc. in order to be online
- Lying about how much time is spent online
- Using the internet as an escape from life’s problems.
Internet addiction does not have the same kind of profound physical impact as substance addictions. For example, spending an excessive amount of time online is not going to cause liver disease like excessive drinking will. But that does not mean internet addiction is harmless.
Long-term internet abuse can lead to a long list of problems, including:
- damaged personal relationships
- loss of a job or educational opportunity
- financial stress
- social impairment
- gradual withdrawal and isolation.
Internet addicts can also develop physical problems that include headaches, backaches, carpal tunnel syndrome, insomnia, poor nutrition, and certain conditions that are the direct result of neglecting personal hygiene.
Treatment for Internet Addiction
The standard treatment for internet addiction begins with assessing the severity of the problem. Once that is determined, therapists then devise counselling therapies and other strategies that will gradually help the individual withdraw and, ultimately, avoid using the internet altogether.
This kind of treatment is best left to professionals who know all of the finer details of behavioural addictions. If you need help finding a treatment provider, we invite you to contact us here at Addiction Helper. We work with dozens of private clinics all over the UK. We can also put you in touch with counsellors, support groups, and others able to help you.