Although not classified as an official disorder, internet addiction has become an increasing mental health issue.

When is Internet Use a Problem?

This addiction is most often characterized by a level of internet usage that interferes with relationships, creates difficulties at work, and impairs daily functioning. Although one of the most significant characteristics of internet addiction is the amount of time an individual spends online, the element that truly identifies internet addiction is affect it has on a person’s life. The study of internet addiction as a health concern is relatively new and is growing. Furthermore, those individuals addicted to the internet may also experience problems with other types of addictions.

Internet addiction can vary according to type. For instance, various types of Internet addiction may include:

  • Cybersex or sexting
  • Online gaming
  • Compulsive shopping
  • Addiction to chat rooms
  • Online gambling

Gender may sometimes play a role in terms of the type of internet addiction an individual experiences. For instance, women may be more likely to become addicted to compulsive online shopping while men may be more susceptible to becoming addicted to online gaming.

Internet Addiction Symptoms

Despite the fact that internet addiction is not a recognized mental health disorder, studies of this issue have shown that individuals with this addiction may present certain behaviors or symptoms. Such symptoms include:

  • Being preoccupied with the Internet-An individual who is addicted to the Internet will often think about the Internet even while offline.
  • Loss of control-An addicted individual may be unwilling or unable to walk away from being online. Even when he or she only intends to look up something specific or check email, they may end up staying online for hours.
  • Experiencing moodiness or sadness when not online-As with other types of addiction, an individual who is addicted to the Internet may experience mood-altering side-effects when not online.
  • Dishonesty regarding usage-An addicted individual may lie to friends, family members, and others about the amount of time spent online.
  • Lack of inhibitions or boundaries-A person who is addicted to the Internet may experience a lack of financial, romantic, social, or sexual boundaries while online.
  • Distraction-An addicted individual may use the Internet to distract himself or herself from real-life problems.
  • Creation of virtual relationships-Online-based relationships may begin to create problems in real-life relationships due to the amount of time spent online. This could eventually lead to the loss of a significant relationship.

The Causes of Internet Addiction

At the current time, the cause of internet addiction remains unknown but could be the result of an array of factors. Persons who experience an addiction to the Internet may experience a high when online that is similar to other addictions. Some researchers also believe that genetics may make some people more susceptible becoming addicted to the Internet. Social and familial factors may also contribute to Internet addiction. Due to this, an individual may resort to online usage more frequently as a way of escaping problems in daily life. When this becomes the case, the person may begin withdrawing from daily life and real-life activities he or she once enjoyed, including spending time with family and friends.

Getting Help with Internet Addiction: Therapy and Counseling

Although internet addiction is not currently listed as a diagnosis in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, help is still available with an experienced therapist. This form of addiction shares many characteristics with gambling addiction and impulse control disorders. Researchers and therapists believe that internet addiction is largely treatable. Once an individual has acknowledged the addiction, an experienced therapist can help the individual with addressing their behavior and learning how to begin using the Internet in a healthy manner.

While there are some similarities between internet addiction and other types of addiction, there are also some differences. For instance, for most people, some level of online usage is necessary to function in society. This can be particularly problematic if the individual must use the Internet for work. Due to this, complete abstinence is not usually the goal of treatment. Instead, the goal of therapy may be to simply limit or restrict the amount of time the individual spends online engaging in a specific type of behavior, such as online gaming, shopping, viewing online pornography, etc.

Treatment approaches may vary from one individual to another based on his or her specific situation. Forms of treatment may include self-help treatment groups, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), family therapy, and group therapy. Social skills training is also commonly used in the treatment of internet addiction.

In some cases, individuals with an internet addiction may also experience other mental health concerns, such as anxiety, depression, and stress. In fact, the individual may turn to internet usage as a way of relieving symptoms associated with an underlying mental health concern. When this is the case, the therapist may need to first address those mental health concerns before treating the addiction.

As part of therapy, the therapist may also work with the individual to identify certain triggers that could lead to periods of uncontrolled or excessive Internet use. It’s not uncommon for many people who are addicted to the Internet to believe that such episodes simply happen. As part of treatment, it’s important to understand the behavior and events that may prompt the individual to binge on Internet usage. In most cases, an Internet addict will seek out the online usage of their choice as a form of response to such triggers. During therapy, therapists will discuss these triggers with the addict so that he or she will become aware that such triggers exist, how to recognize those triggers, and how to respond appropriately. Addicts will also learn how to develop more functional, safer alternative behaviors they can choose when they realize they may be vulnerable to resorting to their addictive behavior.

If you or a loved one is spending too much time online and your internet usage has begun to interfere with relationships and work responsibilities, it may be time to seek help from a qualified therapist.

If you find you relate to the information in this article and would like some help, please contact Rita with Sioux Falls Wellness Counseling at (605) 610-9228.