The Internet is a powerful new medium that millions of people use every day. People use the Internet for entertainment, work, establishing social contacts, and to interact with others around the world.
The proliferation of Internet use has led to the creation of a possibly new psychological condition called Internet addiction. The exact characteristics and diagnostic criteria for Internet addiction have yet to be fully established, but most healthcare professionals agree that it is a real and growing concern within the medical field.
What Is It?
One possible definition for Internet addiction proposed in an article in Psychiatry MMC states that Internet addiction is characterized by an individual’s inability to control his or her online use, resulting in anguish and impairment of the activities of daily life. This definition likens Internet addiction to substance abuse in that both addictions lead to significant problems with the addict’s personal and professional life.
It should be noted that Internet addiction is not associated with two of the more important characteristics of drug addiction, namely withdrawal and tolerance. Drug addicts often experience physical symptoms of withdrawal while they are undergoing detoxification. Internet addicts do not experience any such symptoms. Furthermore, drug addicts, over time, require larger and larger doses of their drug of choice in order to experience the positive benefits or high.
Like substance abusers, Internet addicts do derive a sense of euphoria while using the Internet. This pleasurable aspect often motivates the addict to use the Internet more frequently.
Types of Internet Addiction
There are specific kinds of Internet addiction that are linked to the direct reason the addict uses the Internet.
The Internet provides many diversions that can act as big time wasters. Instead of investing their time at work or with family, addicts spend time online gaming, stock trading, Internet gambling, or compulsively using auction or advertising sites, such as eBay or Craigslist. Net compulsions often lead to financial and job-related problems.
Some addicts use the Internet to browse through pornography, adult chat rooms or other sites of an intimate nature. Often this type of Internet addiction wreaks havoc on the addict’s personal relationships.
Online relationship obsession
Some Internet users become addicted to social networking sites, social chat rooms and messaging centers. These online relationships soon take precedence over other relationships in the addict’s life.
In some cases of Internet addiction, people become obsessed with aspects of their computer that don’t require online access, such as offline games like Solitaire or Minesweeper. People with this addiction may also obsessively work on computer programming.
How Does It Start?
As with most addictions, Internet addicts turn to the Internet to help manage negative, overwhelming emotions.
Feeling like depression, stress, loneliness and anxiety are all subdued when the addict is online. This absence of negative emotion lifts a figurative burden off the addict’s shoulders and they experience a sense of profound relief.
Though the Internet does provide a temporary release from negative emotions, it does nothing to actually help the underlying stressors that produced the emotions in the first place. Therefore, soon after the addict gets off the computer, he or she is bombarded with the same overwhelming emotions. This causes them to get back on the Internet and spend even more of their time surfing online.
This cycle of highs while on the Internet and emotional lows when not using the computer leads to an addiction. As addicts begin to lose themselves within a virtual world, many of their real-world priorities are left unattended.
Signs and Symptoms
An Internet addiction can be identified by the various behavioral and physical changes experienced by the addict.
Internet addicts often lose track of how much time they spend online. If they initially decide to only use the Internet for one hour, they actually end up staying online for hours or even days. Instead of quickly checking their email, addicts will spend hours surfing from site to site. Addicts also become irritated or even angry when they are interrupted while using the Internet.
While suffering from an addiction to the Internet, addicts are unable to perform even basic domestic or workplace tasks. They forget to do their laundry or cook dinner. They miss deadlines and turn in shoddy work due to spending too much time online. Addicts isolate themselves from their friends and relatives. They often complain that only their virtual friends understand them.
Addicts experience a sense of euphoria when using the Internet. They regularly go online to relieve stress or sadness, for excitement, or to experience sexual gratification. This sense of euphoria is often followed by a sense of shame and defensiveness.
Addicts will feel bad about the time they spend on the computer, but are also angry when there are nagged by their spouses or loved ones. They often lie or hide their Internet usage from their bosses and loved ones. In some cases, the addict tries to stop using the Internet but fails.
Internet addiction is also associated with some physical symptoms. Addicts may develop carpal tunnel syndrome, a nerve disorder characterized by pain and numbness in the wrists and hands, from their extensive time using a computer keyboard. This can be a potentially debilitating disease that can limit the addict’s ability to work in the future. They may also have dry eyes, vision problems, back pain, sleeping issues, and obvious weight loss or weight gain. These symptoms may worsen over time.
Diet and Lifestyle Changes
Internet users who spend excess amounts of time online are more likely to eat smaller, less nutritious meals or to skip meals altogether, a study in the journal Nutrition Practice and Researchfound. Internet addicts also snack while using their computers and usually have a low-quality, unhealthy diet. This often causes some form of malnutrition. If left untreated, this malnutrition can progress and lead to more serious health problems.
Internet addicts are more prone to irregular sleep patterns and disturbances in their sleep cycles. They often report insomnia, sleep apnea and frequent nightmares. Sleep disturbances may increase the addict’s risk of developing mental health problems and turning to substance abuse.
The Role of Interventions
Internet addiction is a comparatively new disease that has yet to be fully studied by medical professions. Therefore, it is often not considered as dangerous as more traditional addictions, such as drug or gambling addictions. However, severe Internet addiction can lead to disastrous consequences in the addict’s personal and professional life.
Most Internet addicts refuse to acknowledge the fact that their Internet use is ruining their lives. They argue that without the Internet they will be unable to keep in touch with valued friends, colleagues and associates. They have based their whole lives on their online social constructs; as a result, they are loathe to admit that their time online is adversely affecting their real lives. Therefore, when confronted about their addiction, Internet addicts will often react with derision or exasperation.
Without treatment, people addicted to the Internet will continue to suffer and may lose their jobs and loved ones due to neglect.
To overcome this denial mechanism, friends and relatives of the Internet addict may need to stage an intervention. The intervention team will present concrete examples of how the addict’s Internet use has caused several adverse effects in, not only the addict’s life, but also the lives of his or her loved ones. Hopefully, by the end of the intervention, the Internet addict will see the terrible toll their addiction has had on their life and ultimately agree to seek treatment.
For more information on interventions and how to stage one, contact us today. We are here 24 hours a day to answer any questions you have and to assist you in getting your loved one the help they need.