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Internet Addiction

What Is Internet Addiction?

Internet addiction is a relatively new behavioral addiction and can be difficult to identify. Because the internet is used often throughout daily life, either to keep in contact with loved ones or as part of a person’s job, it can be hard to differentiate between safe and unsafe levels of engagement. Internet addiction can present itself in a number of unique ways, depending on the individual. When considering internet addiction, it is more beneficial to measure one’s intentions and relationship with their use of the internet and media rather than by only gauging by the number of hours an individual is in front of a screen. Internet addiction encompasses several different things, from social media, how they engage with video games, compulsive online shopping, and more. As a result, the first step towards understanding if an internet addiction has developed would be to look at one’s own practices regarding their use of screens, as well as their expectations regarding these various kinds of media.

Various Kinds of Internet Addiction

Internet addiction can mean a few different things, depending on the individual and their attitudes surrounding any particular kind of media. Excessively playing video games to the point that one’s physical and mental health begins to suffer is just one common way in which internet addiction can manifest. However, others may see their engagement with social media or blogging as a daily need of theirs and may even begin to ascribe their own sense of self-worth and validation to social media. Individuals that find themselves compulsively checking their messages, emails, or blog for likes or comments may be showing signs of an unhealthy relationship with the internet.

 

Others may use the internet as a way to compulsively shop and find themselves scouring online stores and impulse buying non-essential items due to convenience. Those suffering from internet addiction may find it incredibly difficult to turn off many of their devices and may even find themselves checking their social media feeds at inopportune times throughout the day. Even thinking about one’s engagement with the internet can begin to cause distractions and a person may find themselves unable to focus on regular tasks or responsibilities until they have checked messages or reached an arbitrary point in a video game. These are some examples of what can be considered an internet addiction.

Signs of Internet Addiction

Since internet addiction can manifest in many ways, each individual may express their own unique symptoms. However, there are some guidelines that can help identify internet addiction in oneself and others. While the inability to turn off internet-connected devices or need to compulsively check social media are ways in which internet addiction can present itself, those suffering from the addiction may also find themselves irritable when they are separated from these devices and unable to engage with them. Internet addiction can also lead to an individual having difficulty managing their time and may let responsibilities go overlooked as they distract themselves with various devices. An individual may lose track of time while on the internet, lie about how often they engage with the internet, or express feelings of depression, anxiety, or loneliness whenever they are not able to stay connected.

 

Those suffering from internet addiction may also find their health compromised as they either skip meals or eat unhealthy foods to stay engaged with their online activities. Neck aches and backaches are common and weight gain is also possible if an individual begins to forgo a healthy diet and exercise. Internet addiction can also cause insomnia as a person may keep themselves awake to continue engaging with their media of choice. Personal hygiene may also suffer as a person remains situated in front of their screens and may even skip showers, brushing their teeth, or other daily hygiene routines.


A study by the University of Tromsø in Norway reported that individuals who have previously been diagnosed with a psychological disorder are at a higher risk for developing PTSD. Women are also more likely to be diagnosed than men. The United States Department of Veteran Affairs reports that approximately 10% of women will develop PTSD in their lifetime compared to 4% of men.

 

The following factors also play a role in the development of PTSD:

  • Socioeconomic status
  • Previous traumatic experiences or history of abuse
  • Family history of PTSD
  • Absence of a support structure
  • Chronic stress

There are a wide variety of treatment options available that can be tailored to individual needs. Medication is often prescribed in tandem with talk therapy to provide relief for the physical symptoms. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is often used to process the memories and feelings associated with the trauma. Support groups can also provide validation and an understanding community, which can enhance the effects of one-on-one therapy. Several popular options for treating PTSD include the following:

  • Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT): This therapy focuses on the connection between thoughts and how they manifest in our behaviors. It can be used to help people with PTSD challenge negative thought patterns and associations (e.g., fear responses to objectively safe people and places).
  • Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT): This therapy is geared towards changing negative thoughts and behavioral patterns and substituting them with positive, healthy ones. DBT is especially beneficial for individuals with PTSD who have also been diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD).
  • Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR): EMDR is a trauma processing technique that uses rhythmic eye movements to work through negative emotions and memories.
  • Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT): This type of CBT involves focused sessions geared towards changing negative thought patterns related to the trauma. It increases objectivity and makes it easier to evaluate and respond to situations associated with the event.
  • Prolonged Exposure (PE): Sometimes, feelings and memories associated with trauma can be so overwhelming that they are avoided entirely. PE therapy is a way of addressing this by slowly working through emotions, memories, and other aspects of the trauma.

Effects of Internet Addiction

Those suffering from internet addiction may feel that the use of the internet is directly tied to their sense of self-worth, especially when considering their use of social media, which can lead to feelings of depression and anxiety. Individuals suffering from internet addiction may also develop familial issues or otherwise begin to isolate themselves in favor of being online and social interaction skills may begin to suffer as an individual focuses solely on a digital environment for communication. Those suffering from this addiction may also have difficulty performing in their professional fields as they may begin to skip work or become increasingly distracted while using the internet and fail to complete assigned responsibilities, leading to potential job loss and financial issues.

Internet Addiction and Substance Use

Like many addictions, internet addiction ties the use of electronic media with the reward system of the brain, which releases dopamine and creates a “positive” reaction when an individual engages with online activity. Drugs and alcohol can also have a similar effect on a person and an individual may begin to associate drugs, alcohol, and their use of the internet as positive and rewarding activities. Feelings of anxiety or depression may also cause an individual to seek emotional escape from their internet addiction, and the fast-acting nature of drugs or alcohol may be an appealing option to placate these emotions. However, this can lead to a situation in which a person circumvents their emotions using drugs or alcohol, but is still engaging with their internet addiction because it was never properly addressed, creating a dangerous cycle and the development of a substance use disorder that accompanies internet addiction. Addressing this cycle and how both addictions influence each other is an important part of the recovery process and needs to be addressed in tandem to create the most impactful recovery plan.