We all know we are spending too much time on our phones, and our tablets and computers. The average US adult spends 11 hours a day looking at a screen – and usually connected to the internet.
As we need the internet more and more in our lives, some experts are concerned about the effects of this continual internet use on our lives, and the reality of internet addiction.
Internet addiction disorder (IAD) isn’t yet a recognized condition by the most recent Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. However, many psychologists will argue that it is a very real condition, and that it requires treatment just as other addictions do.
How to know if it’s just a habit, or an addiction?
Is it really an addiction, or just a habit of checking things online?
A habit is when you do something regularly, usually because you have practiced doing it so that it becomes part of your routine.
An addiction involves engaging in a behavior or consuming a substance because you feel good and you get a sense of reward when you do it. With an addiction, you may know it is harmful to you, but you are unable to stop.
So if you spend 20 minutes a day checking your Facebook page, then that may be habit. If you find you are unable to stop after 20 minutes and end up being late for work, or missing other commitments, then it may be an addiction.
Symptoms of internet addiction
According to a study done in 2012 you may be experiencing an internet addiction if you spend many hours online for non-work related activities such as browsing or playing games online and you notice some of the symptoms listed below:
- Sudden changes in mood
- Intensive worry about what is happening online when you are not online
- Not being able to control the amount of time you are online
- Increasing your time online to help you to improve your mood
- Withdrawal symptoms like irritability, or depression if you are not online for the desired amount of time
- Continued online usage despite the effect on loved ones or work commitments
- Feelings of guilt knowing you are spending too long online
- No sense of time and losing track of time daily
- Boredom with normal routine
Some of the physical symptoms you may experience from being online for long periods are:
- Carpal tunnel syndrome
- Poor nutrition – either skipping meals or eating excessively
- Poor personal hygiene
- Dry eyes and vision problems
- Neck pain
Causes of internet addiction
There is definitely no single cause of internet addiction. It is a combination of factors such as underlying mental health conditions like anxiety or depression; genetics; and environmental factors.
Genetics may predispose some people to addictive behaviors making them more susceptible to becoming addicted to certain things. This is due to not having enough dopamine receptors or not making the right amount of serotonin with dopamine. Both of these are neurotransmitters that play a big role in the balance and control of mood.
Environmental factors that may play a role in internet addiction are your group of friends, your home and school environment as well as self-esteem and how you view yourself. These areas may push you to feel isolated and lonely, and thus pushing you to turn to your phone and the internet for “community”.
Self-management tips for internet addiction
If you are worried that you, or a loved one may be suffering with an internet addiction, there are a few things you can do to help control the addiction. If you try these things and you are unable to do them, you may need more professional help at a place like The Center • A Place of HOPE where there are experienced health professionals that can help you.
Some of the things you can are:
- Set a timer on your phone or your computer – some smart phones have functions where you can set limits or block certain applications. This can help you to reduce your time on the apps where you spend most of you time. Equally there are apps for computers that you can set with time limits and can freeze your computer when you’ve been on for too long.
- Engage with your community – sometimes you may spend too much time online as you may feel lonely or isolated in your community. By reaching out to see what is on in your community or where you can volunteer, may help to give you a sense of purpose and help the feeling of loneliness that is causing your addiction.
- Meditation or mindfulness – both of these help your brain to focus and to give your brain rest from the hours spent online. It can help to clear your mind and give you a calmer head space.
- Talk to someone – talk to a loved one about your worry over the time you spend on the internet. They may have some advice or help that they can give you, and even sharing how you feel may help you to break this addiction.
Treatment for internet addiction
However, if you try some of these self-management tools but they don’t feel like they are helping, you may need to seek professional help. At The Center • A Place of HOPE we are ready to help you to move forward with your life.
Our treatment will be a combination of talk therapy, either in groups or one on one, depending on what your health professional feels is best for you and your situation.
We will work with you and your family to help you to take the next steps on your journey to wellness and help you to walk away from the lure and addiction of the internet.
The Center • A Place of HOPE has many different types of health professionals, from doctors, nurses and psychologists, to nutritionists, counsellors and trainers to help to shape the right treatment program for you.