The Truth About Internet Addiction Disorder

Many people are familiar with the most common addictions, such as smoking, alcohol, and eating. One addiction some may not know about is Internet addiction. One out of every eight Americans suffers from Internet Addiction Disorder. Internet addiction has grown to a quick-rising disorder that can affect people physically, mentally, and socially. A 2012 survey by the Boston Consulting Group found that 73 percent of Americans would give up alcohol if it meant staying connected to the Internet for one year.

Common Causes of Internet Addiction

There are many ways to be addicted to the internet. Some of the most common include compulsive cyber-relationships, surfing compulsion, and gaming. Each of these issues is unique in its characteristics, but there is one common theme they all share; people use the internet as a form of escape from the real world. Teens are susceptible to excessive online use. In addition, compulsive tech use can eventually form an Internet Addiction Disorder. While the Internet can be a useful tool, it can also lead to overindulgence. Therefore, this can result in personal destruction.

The Path Towards Internet Addiction Disorder

Who among us hasn’t used it to research an article or school assignment, review a product, or download a new book or movie? The Internet has become an integral part of everyday lives. People can access everything with just a few clicks. Video chat with family and friends, play a game with someone across the globe, shop for new clothes, and even receive an education. It isn’t hard to see where problems arise on this solitary path.

How Someone Becomes an Internet Addict

The Internet can pull a teen into its grip. In contrast to feelings of anxiousness, loneliness, or stress, one finds comfort and escape online. Therefore, teens form emotional attachments with friends online, characters in a game, and other activities. In addition, another draw to the Internet is that users often feel emboldened. Consequently, anonymity allows them to be anyone they desire. Those who have trouble socializing or speaking in public often find their voice online. They are able to portray themselves as desired. Hence, nervousness is erased.

The same is true for online gaming. Online games provide a fantasy world that allows users to be who they want. This form of escape is perhaps the biggest draw when it comes to Internet addiction. Teens are the target demographic for most online activities. Now, with most teens, and even children, owning their own smartphone, they can be constantly connected. This allows them to do be online at school, riding in the car, or even at the dinner table.

Warning Signs of Internet Addiction Disorder

There are numerous warning signs to look for if you are concerned about Internet addiction with your teen. These include:

  • Increased time spent online.
  • Preoccupied with thoughts of the Internet. 
  • Failed attempts to cut back online usage.
  • Being online longer than planned. 
  • Risking damage/loss of education, relationships or physical health.
  • Lying to others about use of Internet or how the time is spent online.

If any of these signs are present in your teen’s life, they might have an addiction to the Internet.

Dangerous Side Effects of an Internet Addiction Disorder

The greatest effects of Internet addiction reflect those of any other addiction: damage to family, friends, education and extracurricular activities. While teens with an addiction may invest the bulk of their time online, the Center for Internet Addiction states that it is more about how that time is spent. Being online for six to eight hours while at school or doing homework, where one has definite proof of productivity, is completely different from one who will spends the same amount of time in an online chat room, massive multiplayer online (MMO) game, shopping or reading their 200-plus status updates from their friends.

Such activities take the teen’s attention and desire away from more important areas of life. Many practice their addiction while at work and school, whether via their computer or on their smartphone. Many will blow through their – or their parents’ – money not just shopping online, but also on online games, website memberships, pornography and other entertainment/video services, such as Amazon Prime movies. As computers and websites expand in technology, purchasing online is easier than ever. Sites will often save your purchase information to their site, enabling anyone who uses your computer to simply click the mouse to spend money.

Internet Addiction and Relationships

Relationships can quickly crumble as users focus their time and energy cultivating relationships created in chat rooms, gaming worlds and on social media sites such as Facebook. If a teen’s primary focus revolves around their online relationships, then their physically present connections will fall to the wayside. Friends from school will be ignored as well as family. Many peers will begin viewing a teen who spends all their time online as a loner and odd. Their ability to communicate in person will also decline.

Another study in the March 2012 Journal of Addiction Medicine found that teens who were addicted – or had increased use of – the Internet were more likely to fall into drug/substance abuse or other addictive behaviors such as self-mutilation, eating disorders or compulsive shopping.

Furthermore, studies have shown that it can actually change the makeup of the brain. The Forbes article states that, “Research has shown that people with Internet addiction have demonstrable changes in their brains – both in the connections between cells and in the brain areas that control attention, executive control, and emotion processing. Most intriguing is the fact that some of these changes are what you see happening in the brains of people addicted to cocaine, heroin, special K and other substances.”

Types of Internet Addiction

As previously stated, the Internet is like an umbrella housing many different forms addiction.

The following offers a breakdown on those that are most common:

  • Cybersex & online pornography. This area will include the viewing and/or downloading of pornographic videos and photographs. Teens may also engage in online sexual acts such as video chats, sharing sexual stories, exchanging risqué photos, fantasy role-playing, and self-pleasure.
  • Cyber relationships. This area involves addiction to chat rooms, message boards, instant messaging and social media sites, and it has the risk of leading the teen into a relationship with a stranger and/or adult.
  • Net compulsions. This area involves both online gaming and shopping. Online gamers often spend hours, if not days, in front of the computer as they are immersed in a fantasy world. Games like The Sims, World of Warcraft, and Minecraft allow users to create an entirely new persona on which they can mold an entire life (and in some cases, world). The Sims simply allows the player to manage their creation’s everyday life such as eating, showering, going to work, etc. One can pick a career and pursue new talents like painting or playing an instrument. Warcraft features a fantasy world with knights, kingdoms and ogres. You battle your way through the world with other online players. Regardless of a game’s content, the end result is the same: hours spent in front of a monitor instead of with family/friends, working or studying. Shopping is no different. Sites like Amazon and eBay allow users to purchase items for often lower prices than they can find elsewhere. Sites like this can have a huge negative impact on one’s finances.

Internet Addiction Treatment

While many are working feverishly to catch up with this newest disorder – in fact, many are still fighting to get this addiction recognized as a medical disorder – there are ways to help your teen. Defeating the addiction can be difficult since many must use the Internet in one form or another every day, but there is help. Some believe that cognitive behavior therapy can help those afflicted. This is a form of psychotherapy where one replaces the undesirable behavior (e.g., Internet addiction) with a more productive thought or action. This will look different for each person and would work best with an accountability partner, one who will check in and help track your progress.

Creating external limits or concrete guidelines can also help. Have a timer set up to indicate when your teen needs to log off the computer and move on to a new task.

Again, this will require assistance. Along these lines, setting goals can be a useful way to battle this addiction.

If the addiction involves pornography, install a program to monitor computer activity. Some of these programs will send an email with reports of sites visited and the duration spent there, emails sent, and even a log of chats and instant messages. You can view site history as well as the amount of time spent on each site. While this might seem extreme, knowing someone is looking over your teen’s shoulder can quickly curb unwanted behaviors.

Effective Internet Addiction Treatment at Newport Academy

Finally, there are also support groups, addiction treatment programs and therapists who specialize in Internet addiction. Newport Academy can help. We specialize in equipping teens with the tools and knowledge needed to beat their addictions, and we’re here to help you and your teen find the path to recovery. The most important thing to remember is that you are not alone in this, and neither is your teen. The addiction is beatable with help, patience and hard work. Call us today for more information.

Photo courtesy of Hannah Wei for unsplash.