While the Internet is ripe with incredible opportunities for learning and connection, most activities considered to be “entertaining,” can also be abused to the point—some argue—of addiction. Online addictions such as gambling, pornography, shopping, and living in “alternate” or “virtual worlds” have increasingly hit the headlines as the world becomes increasingly wired.
In addition, recent research has shown that people with an Internet addiction have noticeable changes in their brains that are similar to the changes happening in the brains of people addicted to cocaine, heroine, and other drugs. Along with cases of addiction (such as alcohol, gambling, or sex), Internet addiction also runs the gamut of severity. However, as more and more research emerges on the brain, Internet addiction as a mental disorder may soon be commonplace.
According to Dr. Kimberly Young of The Center for Internet Addiction, meeting five of the following symptoms could indicate a real problem.
1. Do you feel preoccupied with the Internet (think about previous online activity or anticipate next online session)?
2. Do you feel the need to use the Internet with increasing amounts of time in order to achieve satisfaction?
3. Have you repeatedly made unsuccessful efforts to control, cut back, or stop Internet use?
4. Do you feel restless, moody, depressed, or irritable when attempting to cut down or stop Internet use?
5. Do you stay online longer than originally intended?
6. Have you jeopardized or risked the loss of a significant relationship, job, educational or career opportunity because of the Internet?
7. Have you lied to family members, therapist, or others to conceal the extent of involvement on the Internet?
8. Do you use the Internet as a way of escaping from problems or of relieving a dysphoric mood (e.g., feelings of helplessness, guilt, anxiety, depression)?
Other symptoms may include:
• Failed attempts to control behavior
• Heightened sense of euphoria while involved in computer and Internet activities
• Neglecting friends and family
• Neglecting sleep to stay online
• Being dishonest with others
• Feeling guilty, ashamed, anxious, or depressed as a result of online behavior
• Physical changes such as weight gain or loss, backaches, headaches, carpal tunnel syndrome
• Withdrawing from other pleasurable activities
Treatment varies with severity of the addiction. However, most experts agree, that limiting time online and even implementing filtering software can be a positive first step to a balanced digital life. This includes taking frequent breaks, pursuing outside activities and exercise, seeking out friends who spend little time online and establishing a reasonable schedule for Internet use. If the case is severe, and online behavior has resulted with more damaging consequences, it is recommended that you seek professional help immediately to restore a healthy life balance.