What Is Internet Addiction?
Jul 5, 2023 by Vreny Blanco · 9 min read
In today’s digital age, the Internet has become an integral part of our lives, shaping how we interact with and experience the world. Although it is a source of recreation and generates many educational benefits, as well as facilitates communication between people in various locations around the world, its excessive use can be detrimental.
Among other consequences, it can be addictive. Because of this, the issue of Internet addiction has gained significant attention, raising questions about our relationship with technology. This phenomenon refers to the excessive and compulsive use of the web, generating negative consequences in various aspects of life. It affects people of all ages, with younger generations being particularly vulnerable.
Consequently, knowing the causes, effects, and available treatments for Internet addiction is essential. This article aims to raise awareness of the issue and help readers develop a healthy and balanced relationship with technology.
What is Internet addiction?
Internet addiction refers to the excessive and compulsive use of the Internet. It is a behavioral addiction, meaning the person is addicted to the feelings associated with their impulsive behavior. Many can relate to the experience of losing track of time while online. For some, this habit becomes an addiction.
Internet addiction is a problem that negatively impacts daily life because people can access the online world anytime, anywhere. It is also known as computer addiction, compulsive internet use, problematic internet use, internet dependence, internet addiction disorder, or pathological internet use. Approximately 6% of the world’s population is addicted to the Internet.
People who suffer from Internet addiction may become dependent on the pleasurable sensations associated with impulsive online behavior. This can take many forms, including addiction to video games, social media, cybersex, shopping, chat rooms or online dating, pornography, or excessive Internet use to search for information.
According to various studies, including the Gitnux Technology Addiction Statistics 2023: Facts & Numbers, on average, people spend more time in front of screens than they sleep (8 hours and 41 minutes). They also spend an average of 2 hours and 24 minutes daily on social media.
Another serious problem is gaming addiction. Approximately 1.6 billion people worldwide are addicted to gaming, with the majority being male and aged between 18 and 30.
What causes Internet addiction?
Studies suggest that Internet addiction may be caused by structural differences in the brain’s reward center. When this part of the brain is activated, it releases chemicals that produce pleasure, such as dopamine. Some people may have less sensitive receptors in this area, making it harder for them to feel pleasure. As a result, they seek more stimulation to experience pleasurable sensations.
Childhood trauma can also increase the risk of developing an Internet addiction. Negative childhood experiences can affect brain development and make impulse control more difficult. Family dynamics also influence the development of problematic Internet use. Children and teens with strong relationships with their parents are less likely to develop an Internet addiction. On the other hand, high levels of conflict between young people and their parents can increase the risk of addiction.
When it comes to digital media use, low self-control leads to impulsive actions and increased risk-taking, which increases the likelihood of developing an addiction. People with low self-control are more prone to mobile addiction.
Several factors contribute to the attractiveness of the Internet, especially for vulnerable individuals. For example, adolescents may turn to the online world to meet their social needs when they lack real-life relationships, leading to excessive Internet use.
Dopamine and Instant Gratification
The instant gratification produced by Internet use has led many people to develop an addiction similar to drug addiction and other compulsive behaviors.
Drugs and the Internet can stimulate the production of dopamine. This hormone is a neurotransmitter that helps control the reward and pleasure centers of the brain. It also helps us experience positive emotions, make decisions, and learn from associations.
Studies have confirmed the strong link between dopamine and Internet addiction. When we use the Internet, we receive small rewards, such as messages from friends or exciting content, which trigger the release of dopamine. This creates a cycle where we crave more Internet use to get more dopamine.
The Internet provides constant entertainment to combat boredom, but research suggests that boredom is essential for creative thinking. Without the ability to daydream and engage when bored, we become addicted to constantly checking our phones and surfing the Web. Over time, some people find it difficult to entertain themselves when they don’t have access to the Web or become anxious if their cell phone suddenly doesn’t work.
Health Risks of Compulsive Internet Use
- Emotional and withdrawal symptoms when access is restricted.
- Cognitive problems, such as impaired decision-making.
- Cyber relationship addiction. In which online relationships become more important than real-life connections.
- Defensiveness when confronted with the addiction. Often justifying online activities as work or socializing.
- Sleep disturbances: insomnia, sleep apnea, nightmares, and excessive daytime sleepiness.
- Reduced physical activity and related health problems.
- Eye fatigue, back pain, and eating disorders.
- Replacement of real social interactions with virtual relationships.
- Difficulty limiting or avoiding Internet use, requiring more time online as addiction worsens.
- Reduced family communication.
- Loss of friendships or romantic relationships due to excessive preoccupation with Internet use.
- Use of the Internet as an escape from loneliness, depression, or sadness.
- Individuals prone to hedonism will spend more time online seeking instant gratification after experiencing negative emotions.
- People with social phobia may feel the need to overuse the Internet because they find “virtual” relationships more rewarding and convenient. Internet relationships are characterized by anonymity, disinhibition, and instant gratification, which encourage dysfunctional social habits.
Treatment for internet addiction includes:
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
This treatment helps to detect the irrational thoughts suffered by the addicted person. The therapy focuses on changing harmful thoughts and behaviors related to Internet use, controlling compulsive behaviors, and addressing underlying mental health issues.
Group or Family Therapy
Group or family therapy provides support and allows people to learn from others with similar difficulties. Group therapy can also create positive pressure, encouraging members to follow their recovery plan more strictly.
In some cases, medication may be necessary to complement Internet addiction treatment. This decision should be made exclusively by a healthcare professional and is determined by each patient’s pathology.
Incorporating regular exercise into treatment can help reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety associated with Internet addiction.
You can limit access to specific websites or track Internet usage patterns with specific software or applications. You can use a website/app blocker like 1Focus on your Mac to block social media and other potentially addictive content such as YouTube, Netflix, Twitter, gaming, texting, and email, among others.
Support From Friends and Family
Family and friends provide support and encourage professional treatment.
Recovery from internet addiction is possible with proper treatment and the development of healthy boundaries regarding internet use. Setting boundaries and scheduling breaks from the internet can help reduce overall use.
It is important to note that this article is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice. If you suspect that you or a loved one may be suffering from internet addiction or any other mental health condition, it is strongly recommended that you seek the advice of a qualified medical professional. They can properly diagnose and develop an appropriate treatment plan tailored to individual needs.
Tips for Parents
The Internet can offer endless educational and entertainment opportunities. However, it’s essential to strike a balance and be aware of the potential risks associated with overuse.
Teens spend an average of 7 hours and 22 minutes a day on their phones, while children ages 8 to 12 spend 4 hours and 44 minutes a day. Proactively monitoring your child’s screen time can ensure their well-being and foster a healthy relationship with technology.
Here are some tips to help prevent excessive Internet use in children:
- Talk to your children about the benefits and risks of technology.
- Monitor your child’s use of social media and pay attention to the types of websites they visit and the games they play online.
- Make sure your children participate in social activities.
- Encourage them to interact with friends.
- Set parental controls on your child’s computer to block inappropriate websites and applications.
- Use apps or protection software on your children’s cell phones and computers to block harmful content.
- Establish a daily sleep routine.
- Turn off or put away all electronic devices at least one hour before bedtime.
- Children under age 2 should not spend any time in front of a screen.
- No more than one hour of screen time per day for children ages 2 to 5.
- For children ages 6 and older, set limits on the time and types of media they use.
- If you notice irregular sleep patterns or a significant change in your child’s grades or behavior, don’t hesitate to contact your child’s pediatrician.
Internet addiction is a real and growing problem that affects people all over the world. The instant gratification and constant stimulation provided by the Internet can lead to addictive behaviors and negative effects on mental, emotional, and physical well-being. However, with awareness and proactive measures, Internet addiction can be prevented and overcome. By promoting healthy Internet use, seeking professional help, and maintaining a balanced lifestyle, we can ensure that technology remains useful and not harmful.