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Trapped on the Web: Internet Addiction Disorder

IMAGE It is an understatement to say that the Internet has changed the way we communicate. We turn to our computers and smartphones in search of information and to connect with friends on social media websites. Some of us shop online while others spend hours reading blogs, playing games, or even searching for romance. If you click around long enough, you might even stumble across an Internet addiction quiz.

A Result of Life Spent in Front of Screens

A number of psychologists and other medical specialists have claimed that certain people really are at risk for computer and smartphone overuse.

There may be a growing number of people with an Internet-related disorder as our culture becomes more and more dependent on the computer and smartphone, not only through work that is more Internet-based, but also through socializing and entertainment that is increasingly Internet mediated.

Priscilla C., in fact, met her current boyfriend through an online card game in a chat room. "I am not sure how you get attracted to someone over the computer, but that is how our relationship started," she says.

John D., a computer technician, spends many hours online playing computer games at work and connecting with various people through instant messaging. "In my role as tech support, there is a lot of downtime when we are just waiting for someone to call for help. Having the computer around really helps with those slow moments." While neither Priscilla nor John has a problem, both use the Internet to supplement face-to-face relationships rather than replace them. There are others who use the Internet to avoid human contact or their responsibilities.

When the Web Takes Control

Internet addiction can come in different forms. You may be familiar with the terms computer addiction, Internet addiction disorder, or cyberaddiction. They are all terms used to label abuses that can range from overuse of web-based games, excessive monitoring of pornography sites, or simply staying online with little regard for the time. These behaviors become a problem when they start effecting relationships and work.

Internet addiction is a growing social issue that is also associated with other psychiatric problems such as depression or anxiety.

Defining Internet Addiction

A clear definition of Internet addiction is difficult because it includes many different components. There are however, psychological and physical signs that you may recognize.

The following are the some of the psychological characteristics:

  • A sense of well-being in front of a screen and/or a sense of depression or emptiness when not at the screen
  • Craving more and more time at the computer or smartphone and an inability to control time using them
  • Problems with job or school because of the time spent on the Internet
  • A lack of honesty about how much time is spent on the computer or smartphone
  • Ignoring family and friends

There also may be some physical signs that something is not right. Some of these include:

A Compound Problem

Internet addiction disorder is often linked with depression, anxiety, or attention deficit disorder (ADD), and many people are seeking help for another condition when they are diagnosed.

There are also some risk factors. People at higher risk for Internet addiction include those with other addictions, higher stress levels, or no social support.

Although it may be difficult to cut back your usage, you can overcome your Internet addiction.

Treating the Addiction

As with any addictive pattern, people have the ability to control their own behavior if they so desire. In other words, if you want to change, you can. Here are some tips to get started:

Moderation, Control and Time Management

Moderation and controlled use as a form of primary treatment is the best way to get started. It is unrealistic to expect to cut out Internet usage completely. In fact, in today's society, it is nearly impossible. Try to set times and schedules for Internet use. Evaluate when and how the Internet is used and try to modify habits. Consider scheduling Internet time with a real life event that will force you to walk away.

Behavior Modification

Some evaluation methods at Internet addiction treatment centers include standard measures for stress, impulse control and anxiety, and depression, as well as parameters designed specially to measure computer and smartphone addiction. Most treatment is based on cognitive behavior therapy, a therapeutic method that allows the person to identify the problem, take an active role in determining the solutions, and relearn skills.

If you feel that your computer or smartphone use is negatively impacting your life, talk to your doctor or a therapist. There is help available.

  • American Psychological Association

    http://www.apa.org

  • Mental Health America

    http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net

  • Canadian Mental Health Association

    http://www.cmha.ca

  • Health Canada

    http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca

  • Cash H, Rae CD, Steel AH, Winkler A. Internet addiction: A brief summary of research and practice. Curr Psychiatry Rev. 2012;8(4):292-298.

  • Computer Addiction Services website. Available at: http://www.computeraddiction.com. Accessed January 14, 2015.

  • Internet and computer addiction. Helpguide website. Available at: http://www.helpguide.org/articles/addiction/internet-and-computer-addiction.htm. Updated December 2016. Accessed January 5, 2017.

  • Korkeila J. Internet addiction. Duodecim. 2012;128(7):741-748.