The Internet has made it easier than ever to shop, connect, and access information. Many use it as a way to maintain relationships with others and stay up-to-date on what is happening in the world around them. The Internet’s reach is so vast that in many cases, it is not necessary to even step outside in order to perform everyday tasks. Food can be delivered, shopping can be completed, and conversations can be held all through a screen without ever leaving your home. Many people everywhere are succumbing to internet addiction and allowing it to take part in all areas of their lives.
This ease of access has simplified our lives in many ways, but it can also lead to the development of mental health problems. The Internet’s convenience, combined with its vast array of offerings, can make Internet use compulsive to the point that it interferes with relationships, work, and daily life. While the Internet can be used for virtually anything, Internet addiction generally falls into any of the following three categories: sexual preoccupation, gaming, and email/text messaging. While they may vary in some ways, they are generally comprised of excessive use, withdrawal, tolerance, and negative repercussions.
Identifying Internet Addiction
Internet addiction may develop for a variety of reasons. For some, it is a means of alleviating social discomfort. The Internet provides people with an escape and a way to become any person they can imagine. It also serves as a tool to access virtually anything a person may want or need. This can enable compulsive behaviors and make it easier to disassociate from the negative repercussions that may accompany them.
Regardless of the type of Internet addiction a person struggles with, it affects users in the same way. Internet addiction works similarly to drug addiction, activating various areas of the brain linked to pleasure. Increased production of dopamine and other neurochemicals can produce feelings of happiness, which further encourages a person to continue engaging in the behavior. Over time, a person may begin to require more Internet time in order to achieve the same effects, resulting in increased screen time and more reclusive behavior.
Signs of Internet addiction may include:
- Losing track of time spent online
- Difficulty completing tasks at home or work
- Isolating oneself from friends or family
- Becoming defensive or feeling guilty about Internet use
- Feeling a sense of euphoria from online activities
Over time, Internet addiction can cause a person to experience physical symptoms. This may include:
- Strained vision
- Carpal tunnel syndrome
- Sleep problems
- Severe headaches
- Weight loss or gain
Treating Internet Addiction
Internet addiction can be difficult to identify. With so many people glued to their screens, it can be difficult to distinguish between normal use and excessive use. If it is suspected that a person is struggling with Internet addiction, there are therapies available. While it is unreasonable to expect a person to stop using the Internet altogether, there are ways to help people establish balance and a healthy relationship with technology.
Treatment for Internet addiction largely revolves around cognitive-behavioral therapies and other alternative treatments. One of the most important aspects of treatment is identifying usage patterns and determining influences on use. Generally, treating the underlying cause of excessive Internet usage can help a person better manage their relationship with technology while simultaneously addressing other needs. In some cases, excessive Internet usage may be a means of coping with a mental health issue, while for others it could be a means of compensating for a lack of social support. By identifying these links, cognitive behavioral therapies can focus on specific issues that affect the individual and provide meaningful treatment. Some methods of addressing Internet addiction may include changing a person’s schedule and introducing new activities that force a person to refrain from using the Internet.
In most cases, Internet addiction treatment includes treatment for co-occurring mental health disorders. Most commonly, depression and anxiety go hand-in-hand with this form of addiction. Additionally, it is not uncommon for a person to concurrently engage in substance abuse. Identifying whether or not a substance abuse disorder exists can also determine the course of treatment a person may need.
The Internet has made it possible for people around the world to network and experience things they may not have otherwise. But the convenience of the Internet has made it easier for people to develop dependencies and compulsive behaviors, making it critical to identify symptoms of addiction as early as possible. With professional help, those who struggle with Internet addiction can find a way to reintroduce balance in their lives.
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