It’s hard to believe a communications’ technology advancement could spawn a whole new category of addiction, and yet internet addiction has become a diagnosable disorder. Maybe not as dire as disease-identified disorders like alcohol and drug abuse, internet addiction is no less capable of wreaking havoc in a person’s life.
The myriad of sites and activities on the Internet offer a “virtual” smorgasbord for anyone at risk of becoming addicted. Though people often do carry out necessary and productive tasks while online, when does this time spent become excessive?
Considering the wide expanse the Internet encompasses, the term “internet addiction” includes a wide variety of behaviors and activities. When someone compulsively engages in one or more online activities to the point where real-life pursuits fall by the wayside, an addiction may be at work. For someone at risk of internet addiction, this virtual reality can engage his or her thoughts and emotions much like real-life is supposed to do. The end result involves hours of time spent in front of the computer screen.
According to a Texas State University resource site, five types of internet addiction exist:
- Information overload, where a person web surfs on a continuous basis
- Cyber-relationship addiction, involving ongoing online interactions with friends
- Computer addiction, where a person plays games or works on programming code for hours on end
- Cybersexual addition, involving excessive amounts of time spent in adult chat rooms and porn sites
- Net compulsions, involving specific activities like compulsive gambling, obsessive auctioning and compulsive trading
While anyone who spends time online can develop an internet addiction, people most likely to get addicted do tend to have certain preferences and/or lifestyle patterns. The online world allows for many degrees of anonymity so someone who enjoys interacting inside a “faceless crowd” may be more susceptible to internet addiction. People who have a lot of time on their hands, such as a retiree or someone who spends a lot of time at home may also end up spending more time online than normal.
Gender can also play a role in internet addiction in terms of the type of online activities someone would venture towards. Not unlike real-life, males often gravitate towards power or status-based pursuits, such as information overload, cyber-porn and aggressive online games. Females are more likely to develop supportive online relationships or seek out romantic partners.
Just because an internet addiction poses no direct threat to one’s physical health doesn’t mean it can’t disrupt a person’s life in significant ways. In actuality, the effects from an internet addiction are quite similar to those caused by an alcohol or drug addiction.
Warning signs to watch out for include:
- Failed attempts to limit the time spent online
- Mood swings (restlessness, depression or irritability) when away from the Internet for longer than usual
- Spending more and more time online
- Problems at work due to excessive online use
- Relationship problems due to excessive online use
- Using the Internet to escape from difficult situations or difficult emotions
Even though it’s just a technological wonder at best, overuse of the Internet can cause real problems in people’s lives.