Internet addiction might not sound real, but it’s a real addiction that many people struggle with daily. While it may seem like everyone must be addicted, simply using the Internet for work, school, or staying connected with loved ones isn’t quite the same. However, recognizing Internet addiction is the first step in getting the treatment you or a loved one may need.
What Is Internet Addiction
Internet Addiction Disorder, or IAD, is a recognized condition. It’s a disorder that results in “neurological complications, psychological disturbances, and social problems.” The study defining IAD was used to determine whether the addiction qualified for inclusion in an upcoming edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. While the study was done in 2012, IAD has since been included in the manual.
Internet addiction is considered a compulsion to use the Internet in some form. It actually creates a type of high, much like a chemical drug, by releasing dopamine during use. The need to maintain that high pushes a person to continue using the Internet even when it may cause harm to their mental and social health.
Compared to Other Addictions
Often, Internet addiction isn’t seen as a real addiction since people use the Internet all the time. We use computers, phones, and tablets on a daily basis for everything from work to proving to a friend that we do indeed know that random bit of trivia.
However, it’s a compulsive disorder that doesn’t differ that much from other addictions. The addiction is the experience when it comes to Internet addiction. This is different than taking a chemical drug. For instance, you may compare it to gambling. Walking away is easy if you’re not addicted. If you’re addicted, you keep gambling, even when the risks are too high and you’re out of money.
NetAddiction.com compares it to a relationship. Whenever someone forms an addiction to anything, they form a relationship to their drug of choice. In this case, a drug can be an actual drug or an activity. If an addict doesn’t have access to their drug, they don’t feel normal and have trouble functioning. Internet addicts have to have access, or they may feel depressed, angry, or out of control.
Types of Internet Addiction
Generally, there are five main types of Internet addiction, though there are sub-versions of each. The top recognized types include:
- Adult content
- Financial addictions, such as gambling, shopping, and auctions
- Compulsive information seeking
- Cyber relationships, both romantic and platonic
- Online gaming
People may also be addicted to specific types of online activity, such as social media or searching for specific types of information.
Internet Addiction Prevalence
A 2019 study found the average person worldwide spends nearly seven hours online a day. On the higher end of the scale, people may spend over ten hours daily online. Another study found Americans spend around 11 hours daily interacting with screens. This shouldn’t be surprising when you think of how much time you spend online at work, only to come home and get online to watch TV or play with apps on your phone.
In fact, a connected life is the norm for many. According to NetAddiction, around 12 percent of Americans suffer from Internet addiction. However, the number could be as high as 30 percent in other countries, such as China and Taiwan.
The criteria to establish addiction isn’t always clear from one study to the next. Different countries also have different ways to determine addiction. The 2012 study referenced earlier stated rates between less than 1 percent to 38 percent.
Signs of Addiction
When you start thinking about everything you do online and how often you typically pick up your phone each day, you may think you’re definitely addicted. But it’s not that black and white.
Regular Internet use doesn’t equal addiction. For most people, using the Internet is a necessity and habit. For instance, you have to use it at work or school. As a habit, you may use it to shop more conveniently or play games to have fun after a hard day.
The distinction here is between a habit and an addiction. A habit is healthy use, and you could stop easily. For example, you may check out Feedly each morning for curated news but only read while eating breakfast. An addict can’t put their phone down and may even continue reading while driving to work, while walking in, and while they should be working.
Some of the main symptoms include:
- Staying online more just to feel better
- Mood swings
- Incessant fear of missing out beyond the usual FOMO
- Easily losing time while online
- Inability to stop, even when you know you should
- Negatively affects relationships and offline social activity
- Negatively impacts work and school, such as using the Internet versus paying attention or getting work finished
- Withdrawal symptoms when you can’t get access
People already dealing with depression and anxiety are more at risk, as they may turn to the Internet as a way to feel better and connect. People diagnosed with fewer dopamine receptors or a mental chemical imbalance are also at a higher risk. However, it can happen to anyone.
Dealing with Internet Addiction
Listen to your friends and family if they express concerns. Talk to them, too, about any worries you may have. Also, try taking time away to see how it makes you feel. Taking time away from the Internet can help prevent addiction. Also, set timers to limit your usage.
Remember, if you feel you’re addicted, seek professional help. Therapy is often the best way to conquer Internet addiction to help you use the Internet in a safer, more productive way.