In the digital era, understanding and treating internet addiction is complicated because so much of our everyday life relies on internet connectivity. Social media like Facebook and Instagram as well as YouTube videos and the endless information available thanks to smartphones has made the internet nearly impossible to ignore. In some senses, the internet has become as American as apple pie.
When BlackBerries turned into CrackBerries, no one knew the iPhone would become as much a part of the self as our own personalities. Over the last 30 years, an increasing amount of research and attempts to treat internet addiction have been sought to curb a growing mental health crisis.
What Is Internet Addiction
Internet addiction is a type of behavioral addiction similar to eating and gambling disorders. Internet addiction disorder describes a condition of excessive and poorly controlled preoccupations, obsessions, and behaviors around devices with access to the internet. These behaviors lead to increased impairment, distress, and isolation.
Symptoms of internet addiction are mainly attributable to mental health and prioritization. They include:
- Feelings of guilt or shame
- Increased anxiety
- Extreme feelings of euphoria when participating in online activities
- No sense of time
- Work avoidance
- Agitation and mood swings
- Increased procrastination
Internet addiction affects the physical wellbeing of people, too. With internet addicts spending the majority of their day on the computer or phone, physical exercise and lousy posture can become serious problems. A recent study by Stanford Medicine concluded that lack of exercise, and not diet, was the leading cause of the rise of obesity in America. Other physical symptoms of internet addiction can include:
- Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
- Backaches and neck pain
- Poor personal hygiene
- Gaining or losing weight
Why the Internet Is Addictive
Unlike drug or alcohol addictions where the addiction is identifiable because the person continues ingesting, injecting, sniffing, or smoking a chemical substance, internet addiction is feed by a compulsive behavior that can be more difficult to identify, for both the afflicted and their friends or family.
As someone becomes addicted to the internet, the amount of time spent on the internet increases. For those unfamiliar with internet addiction, it is analogous to the alcoholic who used to need only three drinks to get drunk, but now the same drinker needs seven or eight drinks to feel the same effects.
Onset internet addiction tends to occur between someone’s late 20s and early 30s, though internet addiction can occur at any age. Once someone becomes addicted to the internet, the overall wellbeing and mental health greatly decrease. A 2013 research study demonstrates that internet addiction withdrawal consists of symptoms similar to alcohol and drug withdrawals. Excessive or obsessive internet use promotes a self-fulfilling cycle of internet use that exacerbates depression.
Experts in behavioral addiction estimate that at least 10 percent (depending on how much you think people under-report addictions) suffer social relationships, experience conflict in marriages and family life, and decreasing job performance due to their internet usage.
Dual Diagnosis and Internet Addiction
Co-occurring disorders are common. Anxiety, mood, and substance use disorders are frequently observed in people with an internet addiction. Boardwalk Recovery specializes in the treatment of substance use disorders, and treatment programs are available for those with co-occurring disorders. The emotional and psychological aspects of behavioral addictions are similar to those of drug and alcohol addiction.
Frequently, people with addictions have underlying disorders that create a perfect storm environment for obsessions and addictive behavior to begin. If someone is self-treating their depression, bipolar disorder, or anxiety disorders, the addiction may be a symptom of the underplaying condition. If you or a loved one is suffering from a substance use disorder and internet addiction, Boardwalk Recovery is available to help you begin the process of seeking treatment and developing a plan of action to help you live a rewarding and joyous life again.