Over the last few decades, the internet has transformed the way we live, work, communicate, socialize and relax. Indeed it is difficult to imagine a world without instant access to unlimited information and entertainment.
Yet the digital age does have its drawbacks. Internet addiction is a growing phenomenon that affects millions of people around the world, especially in developed countries. It can cause strained relationships, financial hardship, and problems at work and school. This blog will examine the main signs of internet addiction and how it can be treated.
There is ongoing debate about how best to classify excessive internet use. Some researchers1 perceive it as a symptom of another disorder, such as anxiety or depression, rather than a separate condition. However, there is a general consensus that it is as an impulse control problem or behavioral disorder that involves people excessively using and becoming dependent on the internet. When it starts to have negative consequences and control their lives, it is a sign of addiction.
Internet addiction – also known as internet addiction disorder, compulsive Internet use, computer addiction, internet dependence, problematic internet use and pathological internet use – is not yet recognized as a mental health condition in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM–5). However, it is generally agreed that it is the inability to control the amount of time spent online despite strained relationships with family and friends, and an adverse impact on professional, academic and social activities. The uncontrollable urge to engage in online activities causes people to experience negative emotions or withdrawal symptoms when their online access is restricted.
Studies show that 88.5% of the US population2 use the internet on a regular basis. However, most people consider their online activities to be harmless. There is considerable variance of the prevalence rates reported for internet addiction around the world. Research in the US and Europe has indicated prevalence rates of 1.5% and 8.2%3, although the assessment questionnaires and diagnostic criteria vary between countries. In other parts of the world, prevalence rates are reported to be higher. For example, in South Korea4, it is believed that around 20% of the population is at risk of internet addiction.
Despite not being officially recognized in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM–5), internet addiction shares these characteristics5 with other additions:
Although there is no formalized diagnostic criteria for internet addiction, researchers have identified five types of internet addiction6 that can present in people with the disorder:
This type of internet addiction includes internet porn, adult websites and chat rooms, and webcam services. An obsession with cybersex can harm a person’s ability to form real-world intimate relationships.
Net compulsions are interactive activities, such as online gambling, shopping and stock trading. With 24/7 access to online casinos and stores, it is easy for people who are already susceptible to gambling or spending to develop compulsive habits. Spending or losing vast amounts of money can cause financial hardship and relationship problems.
Cyber relationships are typically formed on social media, in chat rooms and through online dating, often to the detriment of real-life relationships with friends and family. Sometimes, people with cyber relationship addiction can lack social skills and have unrealistic expectations of in-person connections. This can make them become even more dependent on their online relationships.
The World Health Organization7 has defined gaming disorder as “as a pattern of gaming behavior (‘digital-gaming’ or ‘video-gaming’) characterized by impaired control over gaming, increasing priority given to gaming over other activities to the extent that gaming takes precedence over other interests and daily activities, and continuation or escalation of gaming despite the occurrence of negative consequences.”
The internet gives instant access to a world of data and knowledge. However, for some people, it can turn into an uncontrollable urge to constantly browse, gather and organize information. This behavior can be a manifestation of pre-existing, obsessive-compulsive tendencies. Often, compulsive information seeking can have negative repercussions at work and home.
While internet addiction is usually divided into the above subcategories, there is sometimes an overlap between the groups. For example, there can be a blurred line between online gambling and gaming addiction, and many gamers develop online relationships.
In 2005, Dr. Keith W. Beard proposed eight characteristics that are signs of internet addiction8. If five or more of the traits below describe a person’s behavior, they can be diagnosed with internet addiction:
Internet addiction has been linked to a number of physical and mental health issues:
Even though internet addiction is not formally recognized, many mental health practitioners are trained to help sufferers change their unproductive, and often destructive, behavioral patterns. Internet addiction can be treated like any other addiction and many people fully recover. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is often used to help people develop an intentional rather than compulsive relationship with technology.
One of the fastest growing types of internet addiction is gaming disorder. Clinicians and helping professionals need to be equipped with specialist tools and skills to successfully treat the increasing number of clients (and concerned family members) presenting with this condition. Get started today by registering for INTENTA’s Gaming Disorder Clinical Training.
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