Effects of internet addiction

How Common Is Having An Internet Addiction?

Internet addiction is commonly associated with teenagers who spend days at a time playing video games, but it’s not as much of a niche issue as you would think.

A new study, published in the latest issue Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, found that a shocking 6 percent of the world’s population now suffers from Internet addiction.

Addicted to being Online?

Lead researchers Cecelia Cheng and Angel Yee-lam Li, from the University of Hong Kong, examined 164 previous Internet addiction studies, then incorporated data from 89,000 individuals living in 31 nations across the globe.

Internet addiction peaked in the Middle East at 10.9 percent and came at a low of 2.6 percent in Northern and Western Europe. The scientists suggested that a lower quality of life, and not Internet accessibility, is what likely sparks this problem.

Internet Addiction Defined

Internet addiction is an impulse-control disorder that involves someone who is unable to control his or her Internet use to the point that it negatively affects interpersonal relationships. Internet addiction is more commonly associated with teenagers and young adults, rather than older generations.

A study published last May by Carphone Warehouse found that almost half of all kids ages 14-15 admitted being addicted to the Internet. About 15 percent even said they took an Internet-connected device with them to bed. While girls admit to using the Internet for social media chatting and browsing, boys are more likely to use it for gaming proposes.

“It’s the first thing I look at in the morning and the last thing at night. It seems I’m constantly on it,” wrote an anonymous 10-year-old student.

Treating a Digital Addiction

A research project published last October in the journal Addictive Behaviors reported that the first case of Internet addiction disorder had been successfully treated.

An unnamed 31-year-old U.S. Navy serviceman entered a 35-day residential treatment program for both Internet and alcohol addiction. He had been using Google Glass for 18 hours per day to help perform tasks at his job, removing it only to sleep and wash. He had also started experiencing symptoms of the addiction that included dreams as though they were being viewed through Google Glass’ small window.

Internet addiction disorder is currently not recognized in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders as a clinical diagnosis. However, many experts believe it’s real and only a matter of time before it becomes part of the manual.

“People used to believe alcoholism wasn’t a problem—they blamed the person or the people around them,”said Dr. Andrew Doan, co-author of the study. “It’s just going to take a while for us to realize that this is real.”

Learn more about helping a teenager who’s addicted to the Internet.

Image Source: commons.wikimedia.org, en.wikipedia.org


1.What is Internet Addiction Disorder?
Internet addiction is defined as any online-related, compulsive behavior which interferes with normal living and causes severe stress on family, friends, loved ones, and one’s work environment. Internet addiction has been called Internet dependency and Internet compulsivity. By any name, it is a compulsive behavior that completely dominates the addict’s life. Internet addicts make the Internet a priority more important than family, friends, and work. The Internet becomes the organizing principle of addicts’ lives. Learn more from Kimberly Young’s TED Talk What you need to know about Internet Addiction.

2. How do you know if you have Internet addiction (IA)?
No single behavior pattern defines Internet addiction. These behaviors, when they have taken control of addicts’ lives and become unmanageable, include: compulsive use of the Internet, a preoccupation with being online, lying or hiding the extent or nature of your online behavior, and an inability to control or curb your online behavior. If your Internet use pattern interferes with your life in any way shape or form, (e.g. does it impact your work, family life, relationships, school, etc.) you may have a problem. In addition, if you find that you are using the Internet as a means to regularly alter your mood you may be developing a problem. It is important to note that it is not the actual time spent online that determines if you have a problem, but rather how that time you spend impacts your life. To assess your disorder, consider an evaluation with Dr. Young or take the IAT, the first validated measure of Internet addiction.

3. What causes Internet addiction?
Internet addiction can be understood by comparing it to other types of addictions. Individuals addicted to alcohol or other drugs, for example, develop a relationship with their “chemical(s) of choice” — a relationship that takes precedence over any and all other aspects of their lives. Addicts find they need drugs merely to feel normal. In Internet addiction, a parallel situation exists. The Internet — like food or drugs in other addictions — provides the “high” and addicts become dependent on this cyberspace high to feel normal. They substitute unhealthy relationships for healthy ones. They opt for temporary pleasure rather than the deeper qualities of “normal” intimate relationships. Internet addiction follows the same progressive nature of other addictions. Internet addicts struggle to control their behaviors, and experience despair over their constant failure to do so. Their loss of self-esteem grows, fueling the need to escape even further into their addictive behaviors. A sense of powerlessness pervades the lives of addicts.

4. How many people suffer from Internet addiction?
Studies suggest that 1 in 8 Americans suffer from problematic Internet use. Those estimates are higher in China, Taiwan, and Korea where 30 percent or more of the population may experience problematic Internet use.

5. What are the types of Internet Addiction?
Sexting and online sex addiction are still the most common form of Internet addiction. The widespread availability of sexual content online has given rise to a nearly 60% of new cases of online sex addiction from mobile use. New problems related to Internet infidelity and online affairs have also emerged as a sub-type of Internet abuse leading to new trends in divorce and marital separation. Finally, addictions to video games and online role-playing games are the fastest growing forms of Internet addiction, especially in China, Taiwan, and Korea. For more information, read more on the Internet Addiction Subtypes.

6. Do men and women differ in what they become addicted to?
Gender influences the types of applications and underlying reasons for Internet addiction. Men tend to seek out dominance and sexual fantasy online, while women seek out close friendships, romantic partners, and prefer anonymous communication in which to hide their appearance. Men are more likely to become addicted to online games, cyberporn, and online gambling, while women are more likely to become addicted to sexting, testing, social media, eBay, and online shopping. It seems to be a natural conclusion that attributes of gender played out online parallel the stereotypes men and women have in our society.

7. Who is most at risk for developing Internet addiction?
National surveys revealed that over 70% of Internet addicts also suffered from other addictions, mainly to drugs, alcohol, smoking, and sex. Trends also show that the majority of Internet addicts suffer from emotional problems such as depression, mood disorders, social disorders, and anxiety disorders and will use the fantasy world of the Internet to psychologically escape unpleasant feelings or stressful situations. Internet addicts also suffer from relationship problems in almost 75% of the cases and use interactive online applications such as social media, virtual communities, video games or online gaming as a safe way of establishing new relationships and more confidently relating to others through the virtual world.

8. What can you do about Internet addiction if you feel you have it?
Treatment options for Internet addicts include inpatient, outpatient, and aftercare support, and self-help groups. Treatment options may also include family counseling, support groups, and educational workshops for addicts and their families to help them understand the facets of belief and family life that are part of the addiction. Unlike recovering alcoholics who must abstain from drinking for life, treatment for Internet addiction focuses on moderation and controlled use of the Internet, much in the way those suffering from eating disorders must relearn healthy eating patterns. Dr. Young’s program is based on cognitive-behavioral techniques to achieve a healthy digital diet of moderated and controlled use along with a comprehensive psychosocial approach to address the underlying problems in a person’s life creating the need to use the Internet as a way of escape. Dr. Young also focuses on the spiritual principals of the Twelve Steps and incorporates the expertise of the most knowledgeable health care professionals in the field of Internet addiction.

9. Is Internet addiction recognized by the professional healthcare community?
Internet addiction was first brought to the forefront in Dr. Kimberly Young’s 1998 book, Caught in the Net: How to Recognize the Signs of Internet Addiction and a Winning Strategy for Recovery (Wiley). Since then, thousands of people have come forward seeking help, and more and more professionals are being trained to identify and treat Internet addiction. In 2014, the first Internet Congress on Internet Addiction Disorders was held in Milan showing that Korea is the leader has established the first comprehensive, national prevention and re-education program for Screen Addictions. China and Japan utilize inpatient care with Internet fasting camps. Australia developed the first inpatient adolescent treatment program. Italy has inpatient centers in Milan and Rome. France uses early education in schools and in the U.S., Internet Gaming Addiction is now listed in Section 3 of the DSM-5. In 2013, Dr. Young founded the first inpatient Internet Addiction Treatment and Recovery Center at the Bradford Regional Medical Center in Bradford, Pa under the supervision of a multidisciplinary clinical team for adults 18 years and over.

The Internet is a wild and wonderful place which has forever changed the way we live, learn, and work – but when a person can’t find a balance between their time online and their time offline, it can mean problems for their mental health.

America is online

For some people, going online becomes an addiction

There is no one definition for internet addiction; however, it is generally agreed upon that people who are addicted to the Internet have trouble filling personal and professional obligations because of their online activities, and their use of the Internet causes strain on relationships with family and friends. People who are addicted to the Internet often experience negative emotions or withdrawal symptoms when their Internet access is restricted.
Internet Addiction may also be called computer addiction, compulsive Internet use, Problematic Internet Use (PIU), Internet dependence, or pathological Internet use. Researchers estimate that 6% of people are addicted to the Internet.

There are 5 types of Internet addiction :

Cybersexual: Cybersex and Internet porn
Net compulsions: Online gambling, shopping, or stock trading
Cyber-relationships: Social media, online dating, and other virtual communication
Gaming: Online game playing
Information Seeking: Web surfing or database searches

Why do people become addicted to the internet?

  • Accessibility: Most Americans can get online easily and almost immediately, at any time of day or night.
  • Control: People can go online when they want and without other people knowing, causing them to feel in control.
  • Excitement: Going online gives people a sort of “high.” The suspense of bidding in online auctions, gambling, or playing games can be especially thrilling.

The combination of accessibility, control, and excitement make the addicted person want to continue going online.

How is internet addiction related to mental illness?

Adolescents who struggle with Internet addiction often have other mental health problems like alcohol and substance use, depression, suicidal ideation, ADHD, phobias, schizophrenia, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and/or aggression.

Adults who are addicted to the Internet are also likely to have depression, anxiety, alochol problems, compulsive behaviors, sleep disorders, ADHD, anger issues, and/or dissociative experiences.

There is debate about which comes first for people, Internet addiction or the co-occuring mental health problem.

Are you dealing with Internet addiction?

If you agree with most of the statements below, it may be time to seek help :

  • I think about being online almost constantly. If I’m not online, I’m thinking about the next time I can be or that last time that I was.
  • I need to online longer and longer each time before I feel satisfied.
  • I have tried to control, reduce, or stop my internet use, but haven’t been able to do so successfully.
  • I feel irritable or depressed when I try to reduce the amount of time that I am on the Internet or when I can’t get online.
  • The way I use the Internet has threatened a relationship with someone I care about, my job, or my school work.
  • I lose track of time when I’m online.
  • I sometimes lie to important people in my life about the amount of time I spend, or the types of activities I participate in on the Internet.
  • Being online helps me to forget about my problems or improve my mood when I’m feeling sad, anxious, or lonely.

How is Internet addiction treated?

Some professionals classify Internet addiction as an obsessive compulsive disorder, while others liken it to an impulse control disorder. Therefore, there is no one specific treatment for Internet addiction.

Internet addiction treatment aims to create boundaries and balance around Internet use rather than eliminating it entirely. However, if there is a certain app, game, or site that seems to be the focus of the addiction, stopping its use may be part of treatment.

Therapy is almost always incorporated into the treatment of Internet addiction. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and group therapy are common.

Medication may be used to manage symptoms of underlying mental illness and control intrusive thoughts about going online.

Exercise may be incorporated into Internet addiction treatment to ease the effects of reduced dopamine in the brain resulting from restricted Internet use.

Take control of Internet use

  • Take breaks. For example, try to take a 15 minute break for every 45 minutes of Internet use.
  • Fill your free time activities that are physically intense or require a lot of concentration to distract you from thinking about going online.
  • Don’t bring your smart phone or tablet with you when you leave the house.
  • Keep track of non-essential Internet use (use that isn’t related to school or work) to see if you notice patterns. Do you go online when you are bored? Are you going online to relieve feelings of loneliness or depression?
  • Make a list of things of things that you enjoy doing or need to get done that don’t include the Internet. If you feel tempted to go online, choose an activity from your list instead.

If you need help

Take a screen at mhascreening.org to determine if you are experiencing signs of an underlying mental illness. Use the results to start a conversation with your health care provider.

Seek specialized treatment. You can find treatment providers using the online SAMHSA Treatment Locator at findtreatment.samhsa.gov or by calling the SAMHSA 24/7 Treatment Referral Line 1-800-662-HELP(4357).

If you or a loved one is in a mental health crisis, please either visit your local Emergency Room, call 911, reach out to The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline’s 24 hour toll-free crisis hotline, 1.800.273.TALK (1.800.273.8255), or text “MHA” to 741741 to receive text-based crisis help.


What Is Internet Addiction?

Risk Factors and Complications

People who develop an Internet addiction often already feel socially isolated. They may have a difficult time creating and maintaining relationships with their peers.

And people with other addictions, such as to alcohol, drugs, sex, or gambling, have a higher risk of developing IAD.

Studies suggest that people with IAD are also at greater risk for mental health concerns, such as:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Hostility
  • Psychosis
  • Social isolation
  • Impulse control problems
  • Substance use disorders, such as alcoholism or drug abuse

Internet Addiction Symptoms

Like other addictions, Internet addiction isn’t based on just an interest or hobby that someone enjoys.

If it’s an actual addiction, it may cause one or more of the following:

  • Negative effects on your school or job performance
  • Reduced involvement with your family or friends
  • Loss of interest in other hobbies or pursuits
  • Feelings of anxiety or depression when you’re away from your computer
  • When not on your computer, you spend most of your time thinking about getting back to it
  • Angry or defensive reaction when someone comments on your behavior
  • Taking steps to hide the extent of your computer/Internet use

People with IAD may spend excessive amounts of time engaged in the following activities online:

  • Gaming
  • Gambling
  • Trading stocks
  • Shopping for merchandise
  • “Shopping” for relationships on dating sites
  • Cybersex or pornography
  • Social media

Many of these activities can have serious repercussions if you do them to excess, such as relationship problems or financial consequences.

Internet Addiction Withdrawal

Like all addiction behaviors, IAD can lead to excess dopamine in the brain.

This means people with IAD effectively feel a “high” when engaged on the computer — but it also means they can feel withdrawal symptoms when they aren’t online.

Symptoms of Internet addiction withdrawal include depression, irritability, anxiety, sweating or shakiness, insomnia, mood changes, and — in rare cases — a psychotic break with reality.

In one alarming case, a “25-year-old male developed a full-blown psychotic episode … after discontinuing an Internet game that he had been playing for at least eight hours a day for two years,” according to a 2014 report in Psychiatry Investigation.

Diagnosing Internet Addiction

A variety of questionnaires have tried to scientifically diagnose IAD. Currently, no single scoring system has been supported by research.

But some of the questions that may point to IAD include:

  • Are you preoccupied with using the Internet?
  • Are you unable to resist your desire to use the Internet?
  • Do you have to use the Internet for certain amounts of time in order to feel satisfied?
  • When you cannot use the Internet, do you find yourself in a bad mood, anxious, irritable, or bored?
  • When you are in a bad mood or irritable, do you turn to the Internet to solve your problems?
  • Do you stay online for longer periods of time than you mean to?
  • Do you try to decrease your online time over and over again, only to fail?
  • Do you have any physical symptoms from being online so much (backache, eyestrain)? Do you continue to use the Internet despite these symptoms?
  • Do you have any problems with your school or job performance due to your Internet use? Do you continue to use the Internet despite these problems?
  • Do you have any problems with relationships with family or friends due to your Internet use? Do you continue to use the Internet despite these problems?
  • Does your Internet use ever violate known laws?

Internet Addiction Treatment

In some cases, IAD develops as an escape from other problems, like anxiety and depression.

Medications to treat these disorders, such as antidepressants or anti-anxiety drugs, may help treat IAD.

Examples of antidepressants used to treat IAD include:

  • Celexa (citalopram) – Seroquel (quetiapine) combination therapy
  • Lexapro (escitalopram)
  • Vivitrol (naltrexone)
  • Wellbutrin (buproprion)

Ask your doctor if you need to take medication for Internet addiction.

Studies suggest physical exercise may help with the decrease in dopamine levels those with IAD experienced during treatment, due to decreased online usage.

In addition, cognitive behavioral therapy can help with some of the symptoms of IAD, such as depression and anxiety.

Therapy that aims to change behaviors may also be used to treat IAD.

Severe IAD, or an addiction that is complicated by a gambling disorder or substance abuse, may require an intensive treatment program or even an inpatient treatment program.

If you enter treatment for IAD, the goal should not be to eliminate Internet usage, but to reduce it to normal levels that allow you to function and maintain personal relationships.

Additional reporting by Brian P. Dunleavy.

Jump to: Causes Symptoms Diagnosis Treatment

Do you play video games on the Internet in excess? Are you compulsively shopping online? Can’t physically stop checking Facebook? Is your excessive computer use interfering with your daily life – relationships, work, school? If you answered yes to any of these questions, you may be suffering from Internet Addition Disorder, also commonly referred to as Compulsive Internet Use (CIU), Problematic Internet Use (PIU), or iDisorder. Originally debated as a “real thing,” it was satirically theorized as a disorder in 1995 by Dr. Ivan Goldberg, MD who compared its original model to pathological gambling. Since this hoax of sorts, the disorder has rapidly gained ground and has been given serious attention from many researchers, mental health counselors, and doctors as a truly debilitating disorder. Though not officially recognized as a disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV), its prevalence in American and European cultures is staggering – affecting up to 8.2% of the general population. However, some reports suggest it affects up to 38% of the general population. The widely variable difference in prevalence rates might be contributed to the fact that no true and standardized criteria has been selected for Internet Addiction Disorder. It is researched differently among scientists and mental health professionals. And, it is researched differently across ethnic cultures.

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Take our FREE Internet addiction quiz to see if you may benefit from further diagnosis and treatment.

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The advancement in study of Internet Addiction Disorder has been negatively impacted by the lack of standardization in this area. It has been generally accepted among researchers, however, that Internet Addiction is only a subset of technology addiction in general. As the name states, its concentration is on compulsion with the Internet – as other areas of media addiction can be seen in television addiction, radio addiction, and other types of media addiction. Due to the explosion of the digital age, Internet Addiction Disorder has taken the reigns as the top culprit is technology addiction as of late. The troubling thing about this disorder is that if you are suffering from it, you are endlessly surrounded by technology. In the digital age, the Internet has taken over. Most of what we do, as a general population, can be done on the Internet. Can’t find that shirt you want in the store? No worries – the Internet has it! Need to place an order for pizza? Why call? Complete an online order! Can’t call over a friend to play a video game at 3am when you’re suffering from insomnia and can’t go back to sleep? I bet there’s someone across the globe that is awake and ready to play! That’s, in essence, why this disorder can be so troubling – even treatment-wise. It’s hard to live these days by getting rid of the Internet. We’re always surrounded by it – and for most of us, we use it daily.

Just because you use the Internet a lot – watch a lot of YouTube videos, shop online frequently, or like to check social media does not mean you suffer from Internet Addiction Disorder. The trouble comes when these activities start to interfere with your daily life. In general, Internet Addiction Disorder is subdivided into varying categories. The most commonly identified categories of Internet Addiction include gaming, social networking, email, blogging, online shopping, and inappropriate Internet pornography use. Other researchers suggest that it is not the amount of time spent on the Internet that is particularly troublesome – rather, it is how the Internet is being used. That is, the riskiness of Internet use can be just as important as the amount of time spent. Do you have a teenager using teen dating sites that could have child molesters lurking on the site? This is risky – and one of the multidimensional aspects of Internet Addiction Disorder. Other identified multi-dimensional risk factors of Internet Addiction Disorder include physical impairments, social and functional impairments, emotional impairments, impulsive Internet use, and dependence on the Internet.

What Causes It?

Like most disorders, it’s not likely to pinpoint an exact cause of Internet Addiction Disorder. This disorder is characteristic of having multiple contributing factors. Some evidence suggests that if you are suffering from Internet Addiction Disorder, your brain makeup is similar to those that suffer from a chemical dependency, such as drugs or alcohol. Interestingly, some studies link Internet Addiction Disorder to physically changing the brain structure – specifically affecting the amount of gray and white matter in regions of the prefrontal brain. This area of the brain is associated with remembering details, attention, planning, and prioritizing tasks. It is suggested one of the causes of Internet Addiction Disorder is structural changes to the prefrontal region of the brain are detrimental to your capability to prioritize tasks in your life, rendering you unable to prioritize your life, i.e., the Internet takes precedence to necessary life tasks.

Internet Addiction Disorder, in addition to other dependency disorders, seem to affect the pleasure center of the brain. The addictive behavior triggers a release of dopamine to promote the pleasurable experience activating the release of this chemical. Over time, more and more of the activity is needed to induce the same pleasurable response, creating a dependency. That is, if you find online gaming or online shopping a pleasurable activity and you suffer from an addiction to the Internet, you will need to engage in more and more of the behavior to institute the same pleasurable feeling prior to your dependency.

The variable reinforcement effects of Internet addiction is another cause of this behavior. According to the Variable Ratio Reinforcement Schedule (VRRS) theory, the reason why you might be so addicted to Internet activity (e.g., gaming, gambling, shopping, pornography, etc.), is because it provides multiple layers of rewards. That is, your constant surfing of the Internet leads to multiple rewards that are unpredictable. Perhaps your addiction to Facebook provides a multiple and unpredictable layer of rewards in the sense that every time you sign on to read your updates, you get repeated and unexpected good news. Maybe you found out one of your great friends just got engaged. The next time you sign on, you learn another friend just had a baby! Or, perhaps the man you are really interested in just posted an update that he and his longtime girlfriend just broke up. Each sign on gives you unpredictable results that keep you entertained and coming back for more. Certain games, such as MMROPGs (massively multiplayer online roleplaying games) – including World of Warcraft and Everquest may lead to Internet addiction because, in effect, they never end.

Biological predispositions to Internet Addiction Disorder may also be a contributing factor to the disorder. If you suffer from this disorder, your levels of dopamine and serotonin may be deficient compared to the general population. This chemical deficiency may require you to engage in more behaviors to receive the same pleasurable response compared to individuals not suffering from addictive Internet behaviors. To achieve this pleasure, individuals may engage in more behavior to the general public, increasing their chances for addiction.

Predispositions of Internet addiction are also related to anxiety and depression. Oftentimes, if you are already suffering from anxiety or depression, you may turn to the Internet to relieve your suffering from these conditions. Similarly, shy individuals and those with social awkwardness might also be at a higher risk of suffering from Internet addiction. If you suffer from anxiety and depression, you might turn to the Internet to fill a void. If you are shy or socially awkward, you may turn to the Internet because it does not require interpersonal interaction and it is emotionally rewarding.

What are the Symptoms?

Signs and symptoms of Internet Addiction Disorder may present themselves in both physical and emotional manifestations. Some of the emotional symptoms of Internet Addiction Disorder may include:

  • Depression
  • Dishonesty
  • Feelings of guilt
  • Anxiety
  • Feelings of Euphoria when using the Computer
  • Inability to Prioritize or Keep Schedules
  • Isolation
  • No Sense of Time
  • Defensiveness
  • Avoidance of Work
  • Agitation
  • Mood Swings
  • Fear
  • Loneliness
  • Boredom with Routine Tasks
  • Procrastination

Physical Symptoms of Internet Addiction Disorder may include:

  • Backache
  • Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
  • Headaches
  • Insomnia
  • Poor Nutrition (failing to eat or eating in excessively to avoid being away from the computer)
  • Poor Personal Hygiene (e.g., not bathing to stay online)
  • Neck Pain
  • Dry Eyes and other Vision Problems
  • Weight Gain or Loss

What are the effects of Internet Addiction Disorder? If you are suffering from this disorder, it might be affecting your personal relationships, work life, finances, or school life. Individuals suffering from this condition may be isolating themselves from others, spending a long time in social isolation and negatively impacting their personal relationships. Distrust and dishonesty issues may also arise due to Internet addicts trying to hide or deny the amount of time they spend online. In addition, these individuals may create alternate personas online in an attempt to mask their online behaviors. Serious financial troubles may also result from avoidance of work, bankruptcy due to continued online shopping, online gaming, or online gambling. Internet addicts may also have trouble developing new relationships and socially withdraw – as they feel more at ease in an online environment than a physical one.

How is it Diagnosed?

Though it is gaining traction in the mental health field – and recently added to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders as a disorder that needs more research, a standardized diagnosis of Internet Addiction Disorder has not been discovered. This is also a significant contributing factor to the overall variability in the disorder as a whole and wide range of prevalence in the population from 0.3% to a whopping 38%.

One of the more accepted diagnostic assessments of Internet Addiction Disorder has been proposed by KW Beard’s 2005 article in CyberPsychology and Behavior. Beard proposes five diagnostic criteria in the identification of Internet Addiction Disorder in the general population:

  • Is preoccupied with the Internet (constantly thinks about past use or future use)
  • Needs to use the Internet with increased amounts of time to gain satisfaction
  • Has made unsuccessful efforts to control, cut back, or stop use of the Internet
  • Is restless, moody, depressed, or irritable when attempting to control Internet use
  • Has stayed online longer than originally intended

In addition, Beard (2005) suggests at least one of the following must also be present in a diagnosis of Internet Addiction Disorder:

  • Has jeopardized or risked the loss of a significant relationship, job, educational, or career opportunity because of the Internet
  • Has lied to family members, therapists, or others to conceal their involvement with the Internet
  • Uses the Internet as a way of escaping from problems or to relieve a dysphoric mood (e.g., guilt, anxiety, depression, helplessness)

If you have sought help with an Internet Addiction Disorder, you have likely been given a mental test or questionnaire of some sort to assess your dependency on the Internet. The most common assessment tools used to help make a diagnosis of Internet Addiction Disorder include:

  • Young’s Internet Addiction Test
  • the Problematic Internet Use Questionnaire (PIUQ)
  • the Compulsive Internet Use Scale (CIUS)

What are the Treatment Options?

The first step in treatment is the recognition that a problem exists. If you do not believe you have a problem, you are not likely to seek treatment. One of the overarching problems with the Internet is that there is often no accountability and no limits. You are hidden behind a screen – and some things that you may say or do online are things you would never do in person.

There is debate in the literature whether treatment is necessary in the first place. Some believe Internet Addiction Disorder to be a “fad illness” and suggest that it usually resolves itself on its own. Studies have show that self-corrective behavior can be achieved and successful. Corrective behaviors include software that controls the Internet use and types of sites that can be visited – with the majority of professionals in agreement that total abstinence from the computer is not an effective method of correction.

Some professionals argue that medications are effective in the treatment of Internet Addiction Disorder – because if you are suffering from this condition, it is likely that you are also suffering from an underlying condition of anxiety and depression. It is generally thought that if you treat the anxiety or depression, the Internet Addiction may resolve in step with this treatment approach. Studies have shown that anti-anxiety and anti-depressant medications have had a profound affect on the amount of time spent on the Internet – in some cases decreasing rates from 35+ hours a week to 16 hours a week. Physical activity has also been indicative of effective in increasing serotonin levels and decreasing dependency on the Internet.

Some of the more common psychological treatments of Internet Addiction Disorder include:

  • Individual, group, or family therapy
  • Behavior modification
  • Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT)
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
  • Equine Therapy
  • Art Therapy
  • Recreation Therapy
  • Reality Therapy

Because of the prevalence of the disorder in the general population, treatment centers and programs have started to pop up in the US and across the globe. In some cases, electro-shock therapy was used to wean individuals off the Internet – this method has since been banned. The ReSTART residential treatment facility was started in 2009 in Seattle, WA for pathological computer use. In 2013, a USB-connected keyboard device was created to provide a very low voltage shock to users who visited particular websites. In other places nationwide and internationally, de-addiction centers have been started to aid individuals suffering from Internet Addiction Disorder.

In many instances, multimodal treatments have been employed to treat Internet Addiction Disorder. In this method of treatment, if you are suffering from this condition, you might be prescribed both medications and psychotherapy to treat your addiction to the Internet.

Continued or Questionable Existence?

Though originally diagnosed as a “hoax” disorder – the increased digital age has propelled us into the Internet age and Internet addiction has become a truly real “thing.” However, many researchers are uncertain of whether Internet Addiction Disorder is a disorder in its own existence or rather a symptom of other underlying conditions.

Creating an even more problematic interaction is the fact that everything is online nowadays. It’s hard to make a distinction between online and offline worlds. Everything is Internet-based. From ordering food, interacting with friends, playing games, and even watching tv. Adding an additional layer of confusion and distinction is that other digital technology is taking over the world as well – make access to computers even easier. Now, we don’t have to be physically sitting in front of the computer – we can do anything from anywhere with just our phones, tablets, or other electronic devices.

Still, other researchers question whether excessive Internet use is an addiction or an obsessive-compulsive or impulse-control disorder. Indeed, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders is correct in its acknowledgement that much more research is needed to study this disorder.

Last Updated: May 22, 2019


On This Page:

  • Signs of Addiction
  • Long-Term Consequences
  • About Talbott Campus

Computers and the Internet have become essential tools in the modern business world. People rely on the Internet for just about everything including the following:

  • Work
  • Communication
  • Medical advice
  • Music
  • Shopping
  • Homework

People may jokingly claim to have an addiction to the Internet, but recent research suggests that Internet addiction is a very real issue with serious consequences. Since there can be no physical dependency to the Internet like there is with an addiction to drugs or alcohol, researches have labeled Internet addiction as Internet addiction disorder (IAD).
The disorder covers a number of impulse-control issues including the following:

  • Cybersex addiction: Compulsive use of Internet pornography sites.
  • Cyber-relationship addiction: Addiction to virtual relationships. People become obsessed with online friends and prefer their virtual reality to real-life relationships.
  • Net compulsions: Compulsive use of online gaming or online auction or bidding sites resulting in real-life financial troubles.
  • Information overload: Obsessive web surfing or database browsing. People feel they must get on the Internet constantly throughout the day, and this interferes with their productivity and real-life responsibilities.
  • Computer addiction: Fixated time spent on the computer. Many “computer geeks” fall into this category with acts of obsessive computer programming or gaming.

How Do I Know if I Am Addicted to the Internet?

How can Internet users determine whether their Internet use has crossed over to addiction? The following symptoms can provide a non-professional diagnosis for IAD:

  • Losing track of time while online
  • Responsibilities and tasks fall behind because of time spent online
  • Isolation or distance from friends and family
  • Noticeable guilt or defensiveness about how much time you spend online or what activities you engage in
  • Using the Internet to improve your mood or finding pleasure, relief or sexual gratification from time spent online
  • Failed attempts at cutting back on internet use
  • Physical symptoms such as Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, headaches, back or neck aches, unexplained weight gain or loss, dry eyes, strained images and sleep disturbances

What Are the Long-Term Consequences of Internet Addiction?

IAD is problematic, because the disorder can interfere with one’s real-life responsibilities and relationships. IAD can also affect a person’s health. Internet addiction alters the volume of the brain.

The brain changes are similar to those produced by alcohol and cocaine addiction. IAD shrinks the brain’s gray and white matter fibers which results in changes to emotional processing and brain functioning. The brain will continue to negatively transform, as long as the addiction continues.

Risk Factors for Internet Addiction Disorder Specific risk factors for IAD include the following:

  • Suffering from anxiety, depression or other mental health or mood disorders
  • Feeling lonely
  • Not having enough social interaction or support
  • Already struggling with other addictions (gambling, alcohol, drug, sex)
  • A change that limits social activity or mobility such as moving, job loss, disability or having a baby
  • High levels of stress

About Talbott Campus

Talbott Campus’ focus is on adults ages 18 and up with co-occurring substance use and mental health disorders. While we don’t directly treat internet addiction, we can help arrange interventions or help with related underlying mental health issues like anxiety and depression when combined with substance use issues. If you’d like to learn more, please call us at 678-251-3189.

In 1995, in an effort to parody the way the American Psychiatric Association’s hugely influential Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders medicalizes every excessive behavior, psychiatrist Ivan Goldberg introduced on his website the concept of “Internet Addiction Disorder.” Last summer Ben Alexander, a 19-year-old college student obsessed with the online multiplayer game World of Warcraft, was profiled by CBS News, NPR, the Associated Press, and countless other media outlets because of his status as client No. 1 at reSTART, the first residential treatment center in America for individuals trying to get themselves clean from Azeroth, iPhones, and all the other digital narcotics of our age.

At reSTART’s five-acre haven in the woods near Seattle, clients pay big bucks to detox from pathological computer use by building chicken coops, cooking hamburgers, and engaging in daily therapy sessions with the program’s two founders, psychologist Hilarie Cash and clinical social worker and life coach Cosette Rae. With room for just six addicts at a time and a $14,500 program fee, reSTART isn’t designed for the masses, and so far it seems to have attracted more reporters than paying clients. When I spoke with Rae in May, she said “10 to 15” people had participated in the 45-day program to date.

Still, the fact that reSTART exists at all shows how far we’ve progressed in taking Dr. Goldberg’s spoof seriously. You may have been too busy monitoring Kim Kardashian’s every passing thought-like thing on Twitter to notice, but Digital Detox Week took place in April, and Video Game Addiction Awareness Week followed on its heels in June. Internet addiction disorder has yet to claim a Tiger Woods of its own, but the sad, silly evidence of our worldwide cyber-bingeing mounts on a daily basis. A councilman in the Bulgarian city of Plovdiv is ousted from his position for playing Farmville during budget meetings. There are now at least three apps that use the iPhone’s camera to show the world right in front of you so you can keep texting while walking down the street, confident in your ability to avoid sinkholes, telephone poles, and traffic. Earlier this year, 200 students taking a class in media literacy at the University of Maryland went on a 24-hour media fast for a group study, then described how “jittery,” “anxious,” “miserable,” and “crazy” they felt without Twitter, Facebook, iPods, and laptops. “I clearly am addicted,” one student concluded, “and the dependency is sickening.”

In the early days of the Web, dirty talk was exchanged at the excruciatingly slow rate of 14.4 bits per second, connectivity charges accrued by the hour instead of the month, and the only stuff for sale online was some overpriced hot sauce from a tiny store in Pasadena. It took the patience of a Buddhist monk, thousands of dollars, and really bad TV reception to overuse the Web in a self-destructive manner. Yet even then, many people felt Ivan Goldberg’s notes on Internet addiction worked better as psychiatry than comedy. A year before Goldberg posted his spoof, Kimberly Young, a psychologist at the University of Pittsburgh, had already begun conducting formal research into online addiction. By 1996 the Harvard-affiliated McLean Hospital had established a computer addiction clinic, a professor at the University of Maryland had created an Internet addiction support group, and The New York Times was running op-eds about the divorce epidemic that Internet addiction was about to unleash.

Fifteen years down the line, you’d think we’d all be introverted philanderers by now, isolating ourselves in the virtual Snuggie of World of Warcraft by day and stepping out at night to destroy our marriages with our latest hook-ups from AshleyMadison.com. But the introduction of flat monthly fees, online gaming, widespread pornography, MySpace, YouTube, Facebook, WiFi, iPhones, netbooks, and free return shipping on designer shoes with substantial markdowns does not seem to have made the Internet any more addictive than it was a decade ago.

In 1998 Young told the Riverside Press-Enterprise that “5 to 10 percent of the 52 million Internet users addicted or ‘potentially addicted.’?” Doctors today use similar numbers when estimating the number of online junkies. In 2009 David Greenfield, a psychiatrist at the University of Connecticut, told the San Francisco Chronicle that studies have shown 3 percent to 6 percent of Internet users “have a problem.” Is it possible that the ability to keep extremely close tabs on Ashton Kutcher actually has reduced the Internet’s addictive power?

Granted, 3 percent is an awful lot of people. Argue all you like that a real addiction should require needles, or spending time in seedy bars with people who drink vodka through their eyeballs, or at least the overwhelming and nihilistic urge to invest thousands of dollars in a broken public school system through the purchase of lottery tickets. Those working on the front lines of technology overuse have plenty of casualties to point to. In our brief conversation, Cosette Rae tells me about a Harvard student who lost a scholarship because he spent too much time playing games, a guy who spent so many sedentary hours at his computer that he developed blood clots in his leg and had to have it amputated, and an 18-year-old who chose homelessness over gamelessness when his parents told him he either had to quit playing computer games or move out.

A few minutes on Google yields even more lurid anecdotes. In 2007 an Ohio teenager shot his parents, killing his mother and wounding his father, after they took away his Xbox. This year a South Korean couple let their real baby starve to death because they were spending so much time caring for their virtual baby in a role-playing game called Prius Online.

On a pound-for-pound basis, the average World of Warcraft junkie undoubtedly represents a much less destructive social force than the average meth head. But it’s not extreme anecdotes that make the specter of Internet addiction so threatening; it’s the fact that Internet overuse has the potential to scale in a way that few other addictions do. Even if Steve Jobs designed a really cool-looking syringe and started distributing free heroin on street corners, not everyone would try it. But who among us doesn’t already check his email more often than necessary? As the Internet weaves itself more and more tightly into our lives, only the Amish are completely safe.

As early as 1996, Kimberly Young was promoting the idea that the American Psychiatric Association (APA) should add Internet addiction disorder to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). In February, the APA announced that its coming edition of the DSM, the first major revision since 1994, will for the first time classify a behavior-related condition—pathological gambling— as an “addiction” rather than an “impulse control disorder.” Internet addiction disorder is not being included in this new category of “behavioral addictions,” but the APA said it will consider it as a “potential addition…as research data accumulate.”

If the APA does add excessive Internet use to the DSM, the consequences will be wide-ranging. Health insurance companies will start offering at least partial coverage for treatment programs such as reSTART. People who suffer from Internet addiction disorder will receive protection under the Americans With Disabilities Act if their impairment “substantially limits one or more major life activities.” Criminal lawyers will use their clients’ online habits to fashion diminished capacity defenses.

Which means that what started as a parody in 1995 could eventually turn more darkly comic than ever imagined. Picture a world where the health care system goes bankrupt because insurers have to pay for millions of people determined to kick their Twitter addictions once and for all. Where employees who view porn at work are legally protected from termination. Where killing elves in cyberspace could help absolve you for killing people in real life. Is it too late to revert to our older, healthier, more balanced ways of living and just spend all our leisure hours watching Love Boat reruns?

Contributing Editor Greg Beato ([email protected]) invites Internet addicts to follow him on Twitter at @gregbeato.

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