Addiction Treatment
Addiction Treatment

Internet Addiction

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Medically reviewed: 06/23/2018
Last updated: 05/15/2019
Author: Addictions.com Medical Review

Reading Time: 6 minutes

What is Internet Addiction?

Internet addiction, also known as compulsive Internet use, is a behavioral addiction marked by a compulsive desire to perform one or more online activities, including gaming, social media, or browsing. Those who suffer from this behavioral disorder may be addicted to online shopping, gambling, social networking, or gaming, or a combination of multiple online activities.

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Internet addiction is a relatively new mental health concern, considering worldwide Internet use increased by 1,000% between the years 2000 and 2015. Evidence suggests Internet addiction is most prevalent among males, people with higher income, and those who exhibit certain psychosocial traits like neuroticism, impulsivity, and loneliness. Depression and anxiety are also common risk factors for Internet addiction.

Spending an excessive amount of time on the Internet doesn’t necessarily indicate you have a problem with Internet addiction, since many people spend hours at a time on the Internet for work, school, and various other reasons, and can still function normally from day to day. Internet use becomes a serious problem when it starts impairing your ability to perform normal daily activities and take care of important responsibilities such as those pertaining to work, school, family, and finances.

What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Internet Addiction?

Familiarizing yourself with signs and symptoms of Internet addiction can help you determine whether you or a loved one may need help in the form of professional treatment. Signs and symptoms of Internet addiction are similar to those of many other types of behavioral addictions. Those who suffer from Internet addiction tend to prioritize Internet use above all other important life obligations and may skip social activities, so they can devote more time to being online.

Someone must exhibit at least five of the following traits to be diagnosed with Internet addiction:

  • Preoccupation with the Internet, such as thinking about activities you’ll do next time you’re online.
  • Feeling the need to spend more time online to achieve the same amount of satisfaction.
  • Repeated, failed attempts to reduce Internet use.
  • Feelings of irritability, depression, and moodiness when Internet use is limited.
  • Using the Internet for longer periods of time than intended.
  • Putting a job or relationship at risk so you can use the Internet.
  • Lying about the amount of time you spend online.
  • Relying on the Internet to regulate or improve your mood.

Other signs and symptoms you may be suffering from Internet addiction:

  • Being defensive about the amount of time you spend online
  • Inability to complete other important tasks due to spending too much time online
  • Missing appointments, work, or school due to using the Internet
  • Loss of sense of time when using the Internet
  • Loss of pleasure or boredom with real-life activities
  • Weight gain due to sitting for long periods of time
  • Weight loss due to skipping meals so you can be online instead
  • A decline in personal hygiene
  • Insomnia and sleep disturbances
  • Headaches
  • Neck and back pain
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome

If you or your loved one is exhibiting any of the above signs or symptoms of Internet addiction, it may be time to seek help. Professional addiction treatment can help you recover from the effects of compulsive Internet use and get you back on track with your career, education, relationships, and other important life goals and responsibilities.

How Does Internet Addiction Interact with Substance Use?

Internet addiction shares many of the same traits and symptoms as substance use disorders. Those who suffer from Internet addiction exhibit certain behaviors they may also practice when using drugs and alcohol — increasing the risk for substance abuse. For instance, those who spend more time on the Internet to achieve the same amount of satisfaction may also consume higher amounts of alcohol to chase after a greater level of euphoria.

Certain symptoms of Internet addiction such as depression and neck pain may also increase the risk for substance abuse when people use drugs and alcohol as coping methods. For example, a person who suffers neck and back pain from spending excess time looking at a computer screen may turn to heroin or painkillers to self-medicate and lessen pain without having to get professional help from a doctor. The co-existence of Internet addiction and a substance use disorder is known as a dual diagnosis and can be effectively treated at an addiction treatment center using a combination of drug detox and behavioral therapy.

What are the Causes of Internet Addiction?

People become addicted to the internet for a number of different reasons. Most of the time, the urge to compulsive use the internet is the result of a desire to manage unpleasant feeling such as depression, anxiety, stress or loneliness. Some feel socially inept in the real world and turn to social media interaction as a means of feeling close to people, while others may lose themselves online in an effort to temporarily feel better. Unfortunately, the internet, when used compulsively, can lead to many consequences.

Some causes of internet addiction include:

  • Self-medication for a mental health disorder. Many people use the internet to mask anxiety, depression, or other mental illness.
  • Information addicts. Some people have an intense hunger for knowledge, and the internet provides immediate access to tons of information that can be very attractive for information addicts.
  • Anxiety or social disorders. Some people have anxiety when they are face to face with people or suffer from other social disorders that make it difficult for them to interact in real life but easier to interact online.
  • Many people, especially those who do not have a companion, interact online to fulfill a void that causes them to feel lonely.
  • Shifting from a real world addiction. Many people who suffer from a real world addiction to shopping or gambling will shift their addictions to an online version such as internet gambling or excessive shopping online.

How are Internet Addiction and Substance Use Disorders Treated?

Internet addiction can be effectively treated using behavioral and cognitive therapies that help you change harmful behaviors and thoughts that may be driving your compulsive Internet use. These therapies also teach you how to manage triggers like stress or loneliness that cause you to turn to the Internet and help you repair broken relationships that may have suffered on behalf of your addiction.

Therapies for Internet addiction:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy
  • Dialectical behavioral therapy
  • Support group therapy
  • Individual and group therapy
  • Family therapy
  • Recreation therapy
  • Art therapy
  • Horse therapy

CBT helps you change negative compulsive thoughts and behaviors into those that are positive, while support group therapy allows you to bond with others in recovery so you can rebuild your confidence, self-esteem, and social skills. Many of these therapies can be customized for you or your loved one to support a full, healthy recovery from Internet addiction. Dual diagnosis treatment is also available for those overcoming alcohol and drug use disorders in addition to Internet addiction.

When left untreated, Internet addiction can cause serious problems with your overall livelihood and affect your career, education, family, relationships, and physical health. Internet addiction may also increase your risk for substance use disorders and other behavioral addictions. Getting help for your Internet addiction today can allow you to repair your life that much sooner so you can get back to the people and activities that matter the most.

Preventing Internet Addiction

If you feel that you or your loved one may be at risk for Internet addiction, there are steps you can take to lower your risk and maintain healthy habits surrounding Internet use.

Steps that can help prevent Internet addiction:

  • Seek professional treatment for mental health disorders that may lead to compulsive Internet use
  • Find healthier ways to manage stress such as yoga or deep breathing
  • Get support from friends, family, and therapists to hold you accountable for healthy Internet use
  • Track and limit the amount of time you spend online
  • Engage in other healthy activities such as exercising, socializing, and reading

Use our online directory to find nearby treatment centers devoted to helping you successfully fight and overcome Internet addiction. Behavioral and cognitive therapies are available in either an inpatient rehab or outpatient setting, though inpatient rehab centers may help you experience a more fulfilling recovery.