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What is Computer Addiction?
Computer addiction is defined as the persistent, compulsive use of a computer despite negative consequences. Those who suffer from computer addiction tend to prioritize computer use above all other daily activities and responsibilities. Computer addiction can lead to serious problems surrounding your career, relationships, and other life areas as a result of your spending an excessive amount of time on the computer and neglecting these important obligations.
Understanding how computer addiction works can help you determine whether you or a loved one is suffering from a real problem and needs professional treatment. Since many Americans use computers for hours at a time for reasons like work or school, not everyone who spends an excessive amount of time on the computer is necessarily suffering from addiction or at any risk. But knowing signs and symptoms of computer addiction can bring you closer to getting the help you need to improve areas of your life that may be neglected or suffering on behalf of addiction.
What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Computer Addiction?
The amount of time someone spends on the computer may seem like the most obvious, tell-tale sign a person is suffering from computer addiction. But computer addiction is characterized by a wide range of compulsive behaviors that can cause a serious emotional and psychological upset, along with problems that affect your livelihood.
Common signs of computer addiction:
- Being preoccupied with computers
- Experiencing strong urges to use the computer for any reason
- Skipping fun and important events and activities to spend time on the computer
- Spending more time on the computer than with friends and loved ones
- Being defensive about the amount of time you spend on the computer
- Making excuses or trying to justify your computer use
- Performing other computer activities when you should be doing work or schoolwork
- Lying to friends and family about computer use
- Feeling anxious or depressed surrounding computer use
- Mood swings and irritability about not being able to use the computer
- Spending more time on the computer than initially intended
- Loss of sense of time when using the computer
- Thinking about what you will do on the computer when away from it
- Inability to reduce or stop computer use despite attempts to cut down or quit
- Mixed feelings of guilt and euphoria when using the computer
- Using the computer to escape negative feelings and emotions
Those who suffer from computer addiction and who do spend ample amounts of time on the computer may also experience one or more physical symptoms.
Physical symptoms that may indicate computer addiction:
- Sleep disturbances or insomnia caused by blue-light exposure
- Headaches and migraines
- Dry eyes and vision problems
- Neck and backaches
- Changes in weight
- Carpal tunnel syndrome
Side Effects of Computer Addiction
Computer addiction is associated with several negative consequences that can seriously impact your family life, social life, and work life. The effects of computer addiction can also affect your physical and mental health, and lead to serious health conditions that could take years to treat or reverse.
Common effects of computer addiction:
- Inability or difficulty with interacting with people socially in real life
- Loss of pleasure in activities that take place in real life
- Overspending on computers, software, and related accessories
- Loss of relationships due to excessive computer use
- A decline in work or school performance due to excess unrelated computer use
- Negative feelings associated with uncontrollable computer use
- The onset of mental illness like depression or anxiety
- Lowered self-esteem due to lack of social interaction
- Poor personal hygiene
- Weight gain from sitting down for long periods
- Vision impairment
Many effects of computer addiction can be improved or reversed with professional treatment. For instance, family dynamics can be improved using family therapy so you can mend relationships that may have been strained or broken on behalf of computer addiction. Group counseling and 12-step support group therapy may help rebuild your confidence and self-esteem after becoming socially isolated due to excess computer use.
How Does Computer Addiction Interact With Drug Addiction?
Computer addiction and substance use disorders are similar in that they share the same set of compulsive behaviors. Just like those who suffer from computer addiction, those who suffer from substance abuse tend to isolate themselves from friends and family, lie about their drug use habits, and are unable to stop using drugs despite attempts to quit. But instead of using drugs and alcohol to make themselves feel better, people who suffer from computer addiction do activities on the computer that offer them similar feelings of joy, happiness, and euphoria.
Computer addiction may increase your risk for developing a substance use disorder due to the way computer addiction can affect your physical, mental, and emotional well-being. Those who are unable to achieve the same feelings of pleasure and euphoria once experienced from computer use may use drugs and alcohol to improve their mood and feel better about themselves. For example, those who feel lonely after losing friends on behalf of computer use may abuse alcohol to escape negative emotions. Those who suffer physical symptoms triggered by computer addiction such as headaches and backaches may turn to drugs like heroin and opiates for pain relief.
The co-existence of computer addiction and a substance use disorder is known as a dual diagnosis. People who suffer from a dual diagnosis can be treated for both conditions at the same time to prevent one of the disorders from intensifying and becoming worse. For instance, a person addicted to computers and opioids which is only treated for computer addiction faces a heightened risk for overdose and death if they aren’t treated for opioid addiction. On the other hand, a person who is only treated for opioid addiction can stay caught up in computer addiction and continue suffering depression, social isolation, and other problems that increase their risk for drug relapse.
Fortunately, those who need help recovering from a dual diagnosis can be safely and effectively treated for both addiction types at a professional addiction treatment center. Detoxification and behavioral therapies are among the most common treatments used to treat a co-occurring drug use disorder and behavioral addiction.
How Are Computer Addiction and Substance Abuse Treated?
Computer addiction is treated using a range of behavioral therapies that focus on addressing the root psychological causes of your addiction. Many treatment programs for computer addiction are similar to those for drug use disorders, but without detoxification since no substances are involved. Therapy is available in either an inpatient or outpatient environment, though inpatient or residential rehab treatment is recommended so you can develop new healthy lifestyle habits while focusing on your recovery.
Cognitive behavioral therapy, 12-step support group therapy, and group counseling are just some evidence-based therapies for computer addiction. CBT helps you identify and change harmful thoughts and behaviors driving your addiction, while support groups and group counseling can help you develop new friendships, overcome social isolation, and boost your self-esteem. Motivational enhancement and individual therapy are other evidence-based therapies for computer addiction.
If you think you or a loved one may be at risk for computer addiction, follow these steps to minimize your risk and avoid the negative consequences associated with addiction:
- Limit the amount of time you spend on the computer.
- Commit to only using your computer for work, school, and other important tasks like paying bills and scheduling appointments.
- Set limits on where you can use your computer.
- Seek social support in the form of friends, family, and support groups that can help you stay on track with your goals surrounding computer use.
- Keep a computer diary to track your computer activities and the amount of time you spend using the computer.
Use our directory to find resources in your state that can help you fight and overcome computer addiction. Professional treatment can help you address and modify thoughts, behaviors, and unhealthy habits contributing to your computer addiction so you can benefit from improved physical, mental, and emotional health.