In late June of 2017, the International Telecommunication Union found that 51% of the world’s population had access to the internet. Most internet usage occurs in developed countries, with 3.2 billion people logging in every day, while 89 million people from developing countries have recently gained online access.
The same regions of the brain that light up when a cocaine user takes a hit are the same regions that are activated when someone with a digital addiction views computer-generated images. Estimates show that the prevalence of internet addiction in the plugged-in population of the United States is
anywhere between 1.5% and 8%. While thecurrent manual of the DSM-V does not include a section devoted to the phenomena of internet addiction, China, and South Korea have identified it as a significant threat to public health. So, what exactly constitutes internet addiction, and what is the cure? The following article will explore the issue of internet addiction and the current treatment options available for sufferers.
Americans spend, on average, 20 hours a week online. This statistic does not include people who work online but accounts for internet gaming, gambling, shopping, browsing, and social media use. Symptoms of an internet addiction include the following:
- Obsession or preoccupation with internet-based activities.
- Attempts to limit use are unsuccessful.
- Social withdrawal, and loss of interest in other activities.
- Lying about the amount of time spent online.
- Internet usage causes problems in school, work, or personal relationships.
People with an internet addiction show similar signs of withdrawal typically seen in drug and alcohol abusers. Internet addicts will also exhibit symptoms of building up a tolerance, in which case they feel the need to spend more and more time online.
In 2016, a study was conducted on adults who play online games. The study concluded that close to 14% of adults were at-risk of having an internet use disorder. The majority of at-risk individuals were men between the ages of 20 and 30. Most had full-time jobs, and over half of them played games between 2-4 hours per day, while 15% played more than 4 hours per day.
Teenage boys are also more likely to suffer from internet addiction than girls. Teen boys are at particularly high risk of becoming addicted to online games. 60% of parents believe their teens are addicted to the internet. Teen boys spend, on average, one hour per day playing online games, whereas teen girls only spend an average of 7 minutes per day playing games.
Since the internet and internet addictions are relatively new concepts and internet addiction is not officially recognized in the DSM-V, current studies on co-morbidity have been inconclusive. But, researchers have found that people with internet addiction develop higher levels of depression, anxiety, hostility, interpersonal sensitivity, and psychoticism as a direct consequence of online addictive behavior.
Excessive time spent on the internet causes people to withdraw, and withdrawing can cause interpersonal strife, cost the person their job, or interfere with their schooling. These negative consequences can trigger depression or anxiety. Furthermore, the person with internet addiction and comorbid mental health issue may self-medicate with alcohol or illicit drugs.
Research also suggests people with ADHD, anxiety, and depression will use the internet as a form of self-medication. So, the internet is being used in the place of a drug or alcohol to treat an untreated mental health disorder. Because internet use with comorbidity is such a complicated and new issue, medical professionals and researchers are still in the process of teasing out the variables.
Primary care physicians are equipped to make an initial diagnosis and refer a patient for treatment. Social workers, psychologists, psychiatrists, nurse practitioners and trained therapists can help treat people with internet addiction and any comorbid mental health or addiction issues.
Internet addiction is a complicated issue, and current treatment methodologies suggest internet addicts require a multidisciplinary approach. This approach includes caseworkers, family counseling, therapy, and medication. Individuals who participate in group cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) significantly improved their symptoms. CBT helped strengthen their emotional regulation, behavior, and self-management style.
Since internet addicts tend to suffer from anxiety and depression, SSRIs have been found to help alleviate these symptoms and offer a bit of breathing room for the individual to address their addictive habits in group CBT therapy and family counseling. For patients with ADHD and anxiety, medication use has also been proven effective for treating underlying internet use problems.
While the study of internet addiction is still in its infancy, addictive online habits are currently disrupting the lives of millions of people, especially the young and those of working age. Many report dropping out of school, quitting their jobs, and socially withdrawing because of internet addiction, in turn, costing the United States economy in lost wages and productivity.
Usually, the person with internet addiction is either masking a more profound mental health issue, such as depression or becomes depressed because of their excessive online time. The overlapping layers of illness and problems with everyday functioning can severely affect a person’s overall health and well-being. Fortunately, there are rehabilitation centers available that can help people beat their internet addiction and treat any comorbid mental health or addiction issues.