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Internet Addiction – America’s Dirty Secret

Also known as Compulsive Internet Use (CIU) and Problematic Internet Use (PIU), internet addiction covers many behaviors. They can range from compulsive online shopping to gaming addiction. It can be the inability to stop yourself from checking Twitter or posting excessively in hopes of getting likes or comments. Any chronic use of the internet that interferes with your relationships and responsibilities can mean you’re addicted to the internet Internet addiction seems like a strong label for those who spend an unhealthy amount of time online. When we look at what addiction is by definition, the signs of addiction to the internet are obvious.

Online Addiction Problems

Being addicted to the internet can cause problems in the brain, social problems in an individual, and psychological disturbances. In the U.S., there up to 8% of the population who have this impulsive control disorder. Normally, we think of an addiction as dependency of drugs and alcohol. It turns out the internet can be just as damaging. It can have very similar effects to that of the alcoholic throwing their life away one negative behavior at a time.

Rapid Increase of Internet Addiction

Having a computer addiction has become common. This has caused researchers, people within the addiction industry, and doctors to take it as a serious disorder. There are addiction treatment programs for those with disorders that have to do with technology. Online addiction hasn’t been put into a disorder category but its presence in the U.S and worldwide can’t be ignored. Some reports suspect that from 8% – 38% of people are affected by internet addiction in some way. There is no true standardized criteria when it comes to addiction to the internet. This is why it’s difficult to determine the research strategy to get the true numbers.

Online Addiction and Effects on the Brain

Computer addiction consists of many factors. Evidence has found similarities of the brains reaction to internet addiction disorder and substance abuse. Some studies have linked internet addiction to changing the brain’s structure in the prefrontal brain. This is the part of the brain responsible for remembering things, being able to pay attention, and prioritizing your life.

Online Addictions and how it Relates to Dopamine and Serotonin Levels

Online addictions shares similar characteristics to other dependency disorders. It also affects the pleasure center of the brain. When you use the internet in an addictive way, you seek out ways to boost serotonin and dopamine levels. Every time you purchase a product online, get past a level with online gaming, or gain a “like”, dopamine is released. As time goes on, you need more activity to get the same pleasure response. This is where dependency is created and gaming addiction develops. You will shop more, play more games, and spend more time on social media to get the boost. This is when it can take over your life and turn into online addiction.

Predispositions to Internet Addiction

Some people are more susceptible to becoming dependent on the internet. Whether it’s a gaming addiction or online shopping, there are some people that are more at risk of online addiction. It’s possible to have a predisposition to online addiction due to low levels of dopamine and serotonin. This deficiency can cause you to be more reliant on the pleasures from the rewards you get from the internet. If you have anxiety or depression, you may naturally look to the internet to boost you up. Anxiety has been shown to put you at risk to all types of addictions. Also, if someone is shy or socially awkward, they may feel more comfortable socializing solely online. They are able to talk to people and get the reward without really having to put themselves out there.

Reward Factor May Be Contributing to Online Addictions

The Variable Ratio Reinforcement Schedule (VRRS) theory can be used to explain why the likes of internet addiction has become so prevalent. With addictions like online gaming, online shopping, or gambling, there are many layers of rewards. Surfing on the internet causes many rewards that are unpredictable. The repeated unexpected good news you experience online can cause the brain to rely on the stimulation. Getting a like, getting some positive news, and making a new friend all raise endorphin levels. When you feel down, you go online to try to get a boost. This can cause chronic and incessant checking of your Facebook page. You never know when you’re going to get that boost.

Symptoms that Occur in All Types of Online Addictions

Symptoms of Internet addiction cover the spectrum of activities you can do online. Video game addiction, social media, online shopping, online gambling, and porn are common types of online addictions.

  • Thinking about or anticipating your next session online.
  • An increased amount of internet usage to get the satisfaction you need. This falls under tolerance, a symptom of addiction.
  • You try to cut back on internet use but aren’t able to.
  • If you do stay away from the internet, you feel restless, moody, and even depressed.
  • You stay online for longer than you set out to.
  • Your relationships, job, education, and social life become jeopardized. Simon Sinek spoke of internet addiction and made a good point. If you wake up and check your phone for online messages before saying good morning to your partner, it’s a problem.
  • You lie to loved ones and therapists to cover up how much you’re using the internet.
  • You use the internet to try to escape your emotional problems.

Information Addiction

Internet users may develop unhealthy attachments to online friends or activities. They may have an unrealistic view of their social life online. Chat rooms, forums, and social networking sites all fall into this category. Online social media users may spend hours of their day blogging or communicating with others. They get a blast of dopamine whenever they receive good news or a message notification. Similar to other addictions, those suffering from an online addiction will use it to enhance their mood. They substitute real connection with the world around them for a fantasy world that plays on the pleasure receptors in the brain. Behaviors of information addiction include:

  • Checking emails constantly.
  • Checking Facebook.
  • Checking online news.
  • Checking social media notifications first thing in the morning and before going to bed.
  • Always using a mobile device when away from the home or office.
  • There’s less time spent outside getting exercise or spending time with friends.
  • Can’t accomplish work because messages take a priority.
  • A sense of anxiety if you can’t be on the computer.

Gaming Addiction

Massively multiplayer online roleplaying games that never end like World of Warcraft can lead to an internet gaming disorder. As the game never ends, there is no limit to when the play will stop. The more a person plays, the more involved they get. They invest their time to conquer levels, making it increasingly more difficult to abstain. The problem with video game addiction is that the person lives in an alternate reality. This is especially true for certain ages (8-18) whose patterns and thoughts can change from gaming too often. Video game addiction is defined by an excessive, compulsive need to play video games. It’s mostly kids that are considered to have internet gaming disorders. They spend too much time on the computer, missing out on physical, social, and emotional development. They will often play video games alone which can cause social isolation. Total family support may be necessary to help a child stop playing video games.

Internet Addiction Test Options

There are a variety of accepted assessments for internet addiction disorder. If you’re not sure if you or your loved one has some sort of dependency on the internet, the internet addiction test can help. Common assessment tool sort the various types of addictions related to the internet include:

Important criteria to help diagnose addiction to the internet includes:

  • Preoccupation with the internet. Is it constantly talked about and thought about?
  • The need to use the internet for longer periods of time in order to feel satisfied.
  • Has tried to stop or cut back internet use with no success.
  • If they’re not able to be on the internet, they become sad, irritable, or restless.

As well as the behaviors for internet use, there must be one of the following aspects present for a diagnosis of online addiction disorder:

  • They have put relationships and jobs at risk due to internet use.
  • They have lied to family members about their internet use.
  • They use the internet to escape reality or to relieve negative emotions.

Treatment for Those with an Online Addiction

When it comes to treatment, the lack of stigma and the fact we’re surrounded by the internet, makes it a challenge to recover. Some of the common ways of helping someone recover from an online addiction includes:

  • Group therapy.
  • Behavior modifications.
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy.
  • Art therapy.
  • Reality therapy.
  • Recreation therapy.

Like any addiction, letting go of the problematic behavior means filling up your life with positive replacements. One of the latest advancements have included a low voltage shock keyboard. When you use a site that’s problematic, you get a shock. There are internet addiction treatment programs for any type of online addiction.

Withdrawal Symptoms of Any Type of Online Addiction

People who are addicted to the internet can experience withdrawal symptoms such as:

  • Anger
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Fear
  • Loneliness
  • Procrastination
  • An upset stomach

Health wise, there are repercussions also. When you stay online for hours at a time, you become so focused, you don’t realize your reality. You may have your hand in an awkward position, eventually causing Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. Other health risks include:

  • Dry eyes.
  • Strained eyes.
  • Backaches.
  • Severe headaches.
  • Eating irregularities (you forget to eat or skip meals.)
  • Failure to tend to your hygiene.
  • Sleep disturbances.

Online Addiction Effects if They Go Untreated

A computer addiction can cause negative results in your personal, academic, financial, and occupational life. The problems that arise are all similar to effects of any type of addiction. Real life relationships don’t flourish the way they should. People with online addictions will often spend time in solitary seclusion. You spend less time with the people in your lives. You also create a rift in relationships because you’re prone to lying about your internet usage. Online addictions can alter your personality. You create an online persona or profile that allows you to build an identity you wish you had. You can be someone that you aren’t. This is characteristic in people who don’t have a good self-image and feel inadequate. Instead of dealing with those issues of “not good enough,” they spend their time being someone else. These actions can cause clinical depression or anxiety.