The Internet has become a fun and useful tool for students, business people, homemakers, and others to use for school, work, and communication purposes. Internet use is very enjoyable and productive for most people, but for some, Internet usage can become a compulsive behavior that interferes with school, work, daily life, and relationships. When an Internet user begins to feel more at home with online friends than with real friends or cannot stop the compulsive need to surf the Net, play games, view pornography, or gamble, then the user may have stepped out of bounds with his or her Internet use and crossed over into the realm of Internet addiction, which can have very negative consequences in a person’s life.
Factoid:Studies conducted by Stanford University’s School of Medicine indicate that about one in eight Americans show at least one sign or symptom of Internet addiction. A number of other countries have also recorded problems with Internet addiction, including Iran, Italy, Germany, Pakistan, and the Czech Republic.
Signs and Symptoms of Internet Addiction
Internet addiction signs and symptoms will vary from one person to the next. In other words, researchers cannot point to a set number of hours per day or a total number of messages sent or games played that would indicate a person is addicted to the Internet. However, there are some warning signs to watch out for that may indicate your Internet use has become problematic, including:
- Difficulty completing daily tasks: Dishes start piling up and there’s nothing to eat in the house because you have spent all your time on the Internet. You find you have to stay later at work to finish everything because you were online most of the day. Perhaps you stay even longer at work to use the Internet freely after other employees have left for the day.
- Losing track of your online time: You find that you are staying on the Internet longer than you had intended to. You may intend to get on the Internet for a few minutes and find that several hours have passed. You get angry or irritable if your Internet time is interrupted.
- Getting defensive about your Internet use: You’re tired of your parents or spouse telling you to get off the computer for a while. You attempt to hide your Internet use or lie to your family or supervisors about how much time you spend on the Internet and what you do while you are online.
- Feeling a sense of euphoria from using the Internet: The Internet becomes a feel-good activity for you, and you use it as an outlet for feelings of depression, stress, or sexual excitement. Perhaps you have attempted to limit your Internet use several times but have failed.
- Isolating yourself from family and friends: Your social life begins to suffer because you are always online.You get the feeling that your online friends are the only people who truly understand you.
If you see yourself or a loved one in one or more of the above scenarios, there’s a very good chance that you or your loved one may be suffering from an Internet addiction disorder. Another symptom that comes with this disorder is guilt. You don’t have to feel guilty about having an addiction to the Internet. This addiction has become very common in the past decade as more and more people are finding enjoyment and relief from the stress of daily life by spending a vast amount of time online.
Did You Know?Internet addiction has been described as an impulse control disorder. Although no intoxicating drugs are involved, the disorder is much like pathological gambling,which occurs when addicts develop an emotional attachment to gambling.
Physical Signs and Symptoms of Internet Addiction
Aside from the emotional issues, an addiction to the Internet has been found to cause physical discomfort for many Internet addicts. Few of those who spend hours and hours per day online will walk away from the computer without experiencing at least one of the physical ailments of overextended computer use. Some of the physical problems Internet addicts may experience include:
- Sleep disturbances
- Strained vision
- Dry eyes
- Pronounced weight gain or loss
- Neck aches
- Severe headaches
- Carpal tunnel syndrome
Factoid:Internet addiction has a lot in common with other addictions, in that Internet addicts often use the Internet as a fantasy world that allows them to connect with people on the Internet as a substitute for connecting with people in daily life. Many of those with an addiction to the Internet are unable to achieve these relationship connections normally.
Causes and Effects of Internet Addiction
“They may get into repeated arguments regarding their online use, which can tear down any stable relationships they had been able to maintain.”An addiction to the Internet can have major life consequences. Much like the alcohol or drug addict, the Internet addict suffers from financial, academic, occupational, and family problems. Real life relationships are negatively affected as a result of excessive Internet use. Internet addicts isolate themselves, spending very little time with real people, and are often considered socially awkward. They may get into repeated arguments regarding their online use, which can tear down any stable relationships they had been able to maintain.
Some Internet addicts set up online profiles that use alternate identities, which they use to pretend that they are someone else-perhaps someone they imagine themselves to be. This is often caused by feelings of low self-esteem, fear of rejection or disapproval, or a feeling of inadequacy. These feelings can lead to clinical problems of anxiety and/or depression.Many people who suffer from Internet addiction will experience withdrawal symptoms when they try to limit or stop their Internet use. Some of these withdrawal symptoms include:
- Mood swings
If you have attempted to withdraw from Internet use and are experiencing any of the above problems, you can call our 24-hour hotline, seven days a week at 1-888-287-0471 to talk to a caring representative.
Did You Know?Many therapists and rehabilitation centers have begun to treat Internet addicts using the same approaches that are used to treat alcohol and drug addictions, including taking patients through a 12-step program.
Therapy and Counseling for Internet Addiction
Just as with many other addictions, therapy can help the Internet addict control his or her Internet use. One popular therapy treatment option is cognitive-behavioral therapy, which offers step-by-step methods to halt compulsive Internet use and attempts to help the patient alter his or her perceptions about Internet use. Therapy can also teach you healthier methods to cope with the emotions that often surface when giving up an addiction, such as depression and anxiety.
If your addiction to the Internet is affecting your loved ones, which may be the case if your Internet use involves excessive cyber sex or online affairs, counseling can help you to work through any issues that may be affecting your relationship. Marriage counseling can help you reestablish a loving relationship with your spouse if you have been relying on the Internet to meet your social needs.
Our representatives can help you locate a therapist or counselor in your area who treats Internet addiction. Call our 24/7 free national referral service at 1-888-287-0471, and speak to one of our representatives who will be happy to help.
Factoid:An assistant professor at Harvard University opened a clinic for Internet addicts in 1996 when she herself became addicted to Internet solitaire and began losing sleep and spending less time with her family. When she opened the clinic, she saw about two patients a week. Today, she sees dozens of patients a week and receives calls daily from people seeking treatment for Internet addiction.
Other Internet Addiction Treatment Options
One of the primary methods used to treat Internet addiction is having the patient gradually reduce the amount of time he or she spends on the Internet. By employing this treatment option, withdrawal symptoms can be kept to a minimum so that the Internet addict can safely and slowly stop using the Internet. Oftentimes, an inpatient Internet addict treatment center is the best option for Internet addiction treatment because an Internet rehab center has the capability to limit the addict’s access to the Internet, thereby reducing temptation.
Not everyone, however, has a lifestyle that allows them to take advantage of inpatient treatment. There are those who have outside commitments that just won’t allow them to take the time necessary to research all available treatment options before choosing an Internet addiction rehab facility that can meet their special needs for addiction treatment.
You will also discover that not every Internet addiction treatment center offers both outpatient and inpatient services. The treatment option you choose will likely affect your lifestyle and your success in recovering from an Internet addiction. Typically, inpatient centers require you to check into the facility for a set length of time. Inpatient treatment for Internet addiction is usually a prime choice for Internet addicts who need a bit more time to recover from their addiction to the Internet. Inpatient treatment for Internet addiction is also the treatment of choice for those Internet addicts who want time to recover from their addiction to the Internet without the interference of outside distractions.
If you decide to pursue outpatient treatment for your Internet addiction, you are typically expected to go to an Internet addiction treatment center daily (not including weekends) to speak with an addiction counselor about how you are progressing through the program. You will discover that outpatient treatment costs a lot less than inpatient treatment, and will provide you with the flexibility your life demands for you to maintain your relationships and job. The major drawback to an Internet addiction outpatient treatment program is that you will still be thrust into the environment that may have caused you to develop an addiction to the Internet, which could cause you to relapse. Whichever choice you make-outpatient or inpatient-you will probably need to put a few things in your life on pause until you have completed your Internet addiction treatment program.
Did You Know?Therapists have reported seeing a large number of teenagers and young adults who suffer from Internet addiction. They indicate that these patients grew up spending hours at a time on the Internet, sending instant message sand playing games. Many of these patients have severe developmental problems, such as a lack of social skills and attention deficit disorder.
Helping a Child with Internet Addiction
If you suspect that your child or teenager suffers from an addiction to the Internet, you will want to take measures to remedy the problem as soon as possible before you find yourself needing to seek outside help. Some things other parents have tried that have met with some success include:
- Monitoring computer use: Restrict the amount of time your child spends using a computer, iPad, or iPhone. Set clear time limits and restrict use to areas in the home where you can monitor online activity. Don’t allow the child to use these devices in his or her bedroom. Encourage other social activities and interests:Get your child away from the computer and out into the yard. Expose him or her to other activities, such as scouts, team sports, and after school clubs.
- Set an example: Unless you are using the computer for work, limit your own computer use. Use the time away from the computer to help your child with homework, play a board game, or watch a television show.
- Talk to your child: If your child constantly wants to be on the computer, it may be a sign that he or she has deeper problems. Find out if the child is having problems at school, with friends, or if there is another reason for his or her wanting to retreat to the computer.