Sometimes people refer to internet addiction as compulsive internet use, pathological computer use, or internet addiction disorder. Regardless of the term used, internet addiction is related to poor life satisfaction, and difficulties in most areas of life. Internet addiction can cause social, financial, relationship, emotional and medical problems.
Those who become addicted to the internet may have already been experiencing isolation or social difficulties, or even medical problems, and the long-periods of time spent reading, typing, or gaming on the internet only further these problems.
Some persons, for example, may suffer from medical problems that lead to impaired mobility. The internet has offered these people access to a world that many never thought possible. However, those with mobility problems may be less inclined to improve his/her functioning and opt to use the internet instead. This can worsen one’s mobility. The same is true for those who have been isolated for assorted reasons, or who suffer from psychiatric or emotional issues, including social anxiety.
When one is involved in an intimate relationship with another and develops an internet addiction, whether they engage in an online affair or pornography, may be perceived by their loved one as a “cheater”. This is because the emotional attachment that an internet addict has to his/her online activities and the time spent on them overwhelms the addict and takes time, intimacy, and emotional attachment away from the relationship.
An internet addiction can be related to internet usage in general, or more specifically relate to social media usage, gaming, news and information, cybersex, pornography, and digital relationships, among others. When assessing and treating internet addiction, the addiction subtype is often useful in guiding the treatment plan and in developing a long-term recovery plan. The treatment for internet addiction can range from total abstinence to a strict schedule of amount of permissible internet time per day or week.
SIGNS & SYMPTOMS OF INTERNET ADDICTION
- Large amount of nonessential (work, paying bills, e-mail communication) time that is spent using the internet, whether it be on a mobile device, desktop, laptop, or other type of apparatus
- A group of online friends that is separate and distinct from one’s regular group of friends and loved ones and that distract or take away a significant amount of time and resources from one’s established support system
- Decreased time spent on usual leisure activities
- Relationship, legal (pornography, underage acquaintances, cyber bullying, financial), social, work, school and other problems
- Deny or minimizes the amount of time spent on the internet and the impact it is having on one’s life and the lives of those around them
- Hiding internet usage
- Sleep disruption or lack of sleep due to internet usage and the compulsion to continue internet usage despite physical signs of sleep deprivation
- Defensiveness when confronted with facts (not beliefs) about excessive internet usage and outright lying about the situation
- Medical problems (as listed above) from excessive internet usage
- Mysterious absences away from home or work – to meet with other cyber addicts
- Financial problems due to online spending from shopping, site fees, and other online activities
- Decreased work or school performance
- Excessive discussion and talk about internet activities, social media, or gaming
- Anxiety and depression
- Feeling of guilt and remorse over internet usage
- Significant mood changes, agitation and anger when not able to use the internet in “sufficient” quantities, such as when other obligations take precedence or when trying to cut down on online activities
INTERNET ADDICTION TREATMENT
Simply decreasing one’s internet usage or stopping it altogether does not fundamentally treat the addiction. For full treatment, it is important to seek the reasons that are contributing to excessive internet usage, whether it be a sexual disorder, loneliness, social awkwardness, or simply using the internet as a tool for isolation to combat anxiety or depression. It is not farfetched that a suspected internet addiction may not be an internet addiction at all; rather, a different addiction may be transferred to the internet, such as shopping, sex, love and pornography, gambling, or gaming.
For these reasons, it is important to truly identify the patient’s history of internet usage, the personal gains that are sought by internet usage, and whether there is a condition present, or that was present, prior to the initiation of excessive internet usage. If is from this thorough assessment and analysis process that a truly beneficial treatment plan can be developed.
Seeking treatment for internet addiction is clearly necessary for social and emotional reasons. But, an overlooked area of concern is the development of medical problems, up to and including death. There are those who overlook hygiene, routine medical concerns, and do not eat or drink fluids, and have ultimately succumbed to an internet, and especially gaming, addiction. Other medical problems that can be exacerbated or caused by an internet addiction are carpal tunnel syndrome, various orthopedic problems – back, wrists, legs – and poor general nutrition and hygiene, eyesight problems, and sleep disturbances.
Again, as stated above, it is worth stressing that many of those who develop an internet addiction have underlying emotional, mental health, and/or self-esteem issues or have struggled with other compulsions or addictions that have been transferred to an online addiction. In fact, one may not be addicted to the internet at all, rather the excessive time spent online serves the purpose of fueling a sex, gambling, gaming, shopping or relationship addiction.
The treatment for internet addiction is like that of other addictions and is best carried-out by addiction professionals, those who are skilled and educated on the treatment of alcoholism and drug addiction. So, those who are addicted to the internet may find themselves in a residential drug rehab, especially if they suffer from a substance abuse problem as well. Inpatient or residential rehab may be a necessary starting point for those with an internet addiction, where self-esteem, emotional, psychiatric and other addictions can be addressed simultaneously with the internet addiction. The internet is meant to be a tool to facilitate daily activities, rather than to be a replacement for the world.