Are You Addicted to the Internet?

July 26, 2022

4 mins

Dane O'Leary


We're spending more time than ever staring at screens. What if we're using the internet to such a degree that it's negatively affecting other aspects of our lives? Can you become addicted to the internet?

People tend to see addiction as an issue of substance abuse alone, but its true nature is far more complex. It can actually take multiple forms, with internet addiction being just one of them. Although research is ongoing, there is plenty of information with which to gain a better understanding of addiction to the internet, including how to recognize signs of internet addiction in yourself.

If you have an addiction to the internet, then you have options. With the right information, you can move forward and achieve agency over your habits. Internet addiction can be distressing, but recognizing the addiction is the first step in taking back autonomy and control of your life.

If you find yourself in need of assistance with internet addiction, organizations such as Never Alone Recovery offer essential help.

What is Internet Addiction?

Internet addiction is currently understood to be when someone suffers from addiction to being connected to information, entertainment, and other people via the internet. We are very much still learning about this relatively new topic, which doesn't appear in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or DSM-5. (This doesn’t mean internet addiction isn't real. Whenever a new disorder is formally identified, there’s a regrettably long period, often years, until it finally shows up in the DSM.)

Mental health professionals have continued studying what we widely understand to be internet addiction. On the other side, there are researchers who see internet addiction more as an impulse control disorder or perhaps a symptom of multiple underlying (and overlapping) emotional disorders. Then there are researchers at the American Society of Addiction Medicine who define addiction as a chronic brain disorder, which is how much of the community surrounding the assessment and treatment of addiction sees it. So how can we determine whether internet addiction represents a symptom or a disorder?

According to this view, addiction is characterized more as a series of behaviors, both observed and unobservable, including prominence of alcohol or drug use in one's thoughts, and usage of alcohol or drugs as a means of controlling an otherwise unpredictable mood. Meanwhile, a tolerance builds as the individual begins to experience symptoms of withdrawal when he or she is without the substance. In spite of this (and so many other negative consequences), the alcohol or drug consumption continues.

Using the behavior-focused view of addiction as a blueprint, internet addiction begins to make more sense as a disorder than as a symptom of another. In either case, harmful internet use must be recognized and addressed.

Signs and Symptoms of Internet Addiction

Understanding the signs of internet addiction is essential if you want to be able to recognize internet addiction in yourself or others. After all, internet addiction can take many forms. According to the American Psychiatric Association, you may have internet addiction if you meet the following criteria:

  • Frequently thinks about online activity, whether past or future
  • Frequently needs to use the Internet for increasing amounts of time
  • Has made unsuccessful attempts to reduce internet use
  • Frequently stays online longer than planned and intended
  • Relationships, jobs, educational programs, and/or career opportunities have been negatively affected by internet usage
  • Frequently lies about the extent of his/her internet usage
  • Frequently tries to use the internet to escape from negative or distressing feelings

The internet provides an unpredictable reward structure similar to gambling.

Computer applications and, more specifically, mobile games give players the ability to earn different levels of rewards at random varying intervals. The internet could be seen as having an unpredictable reward structure quite similar to that of gaming. Combined with content that stimulates your mood, it starts to make sense how one could become addicted to the internet. 

Moreover, proponents of internet addiction have separated it into several different categories based on behavior. It includes addiction to sex, meaning using the internet to engage in pornography or casual cybersex. The internet can also facilitate meaningful online relationships, which can become a problem when these online relationships become more important than real-life connections.

Like gambling and shopping, gaming is an activity that often has a high financial expense. As well, it can also take the form of addiction to information. Social networking addiction could branch from internet addiction. More importantly, social networking addiction just proves we're still unsure of the consequences that the Digital Age has had on our minds.

How Do You Overcome Internet Addiction?

Recognizing that you may be addicted to the internet can be troubling, but it's only the first step toward treatment and recovery. However, internet addiction is unique in that, while the goal would usually be total abstinence, being completely abstinent from the internet isn't really possible anymore. This means that overcoming an addiction to the internet is going to focus primarily on moderation and self-control.

Strategies to Treat Internet Addiction

Many therapies teach healthy coping mechanisms that can be used with triggers for internet addiction. Additionally, there's software available to monitor and control time spent on the internet and to help mitigate the exacerbating factors. Further, there are many strategies you could try on your own, including:

  • Disrupt your usual patterns of internet use with new schedules.
  • Use external stoppers, such as real events or activities, to log off.
  • Set time goals and stick to them.
  • Avoid problematic apps that you can't control.
  • Use cards to remind yourself of the costs of internet addiction.
  • Keep track of activities you enjoyed before your internet addiction.
  • Find a support group.
  • Engage in family therapy if/when needed.
  • Seek medical treatment for symptoms of any relevant disorders, such as anxiety disorder or depression.
  • Engage in dopamine-boosting exercise regularly.

Turn Away from Addiction with Never Alone Recovery

While internet addiction is still being studied, there’s enough data for us to know it can be overcome. Understanding the strategies available to overcome your addiction is one way to begin the path to recovery. As well, organizations such as Never Alone Recovery offer resources to help you take back your life.

You may be wondering how to choose a drug rehab that could help you mitigate your internet addiction. Offering alcohol rehabs in Indiana, Never Alone Recovery is available to help. Call our toll-free number to learn more about our helpful resources, and take back your life from addiction.

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