As the internet becomes more dominant and integrated into most aspects of our daily lives, a new form of addiction has also become more widely known in today's society – internet addiction.
With so much of our routine, businesses and personal communications relying on the internet, the concern over addiction to the internet is growing. Much of the discussion surrounds time spent on the internet and the harmful effects on behaviour that the internet may have influenced. But there is also an increasingly interesting discussion surrounding internet addiction existing at all. Let's take a look.
What is internet addiction?
Internet Addiction (or referred to as compulsive internet use) can be defined as the compulsive need to spend an excessive amount of time on the internet, to the point where our relationships, health and work begin to suffer.
Individuals usually find it challenging to balance their time online and offline, which can severely affect their mental health. Often these individuals can experience negative (and sometimes violent) emotions when their access to the internet is restricted.
There's no doubt that many of us spend an excessive amount of time on the internet. In fact, a 2019 digital report by Hootsuite and We Are Social found that the average internet user spends more than a quarter of their life on the internet. Additionally, it was found that the daily world average of internet use a day is 6h 42m (with Hong Kong coming in at 6h 23m). The internet has become an integral part of our work and personal life, helping us access content, communicate around the world and act as a library of resources. But the difference between just excessive internet use and internet addiction essentially becomes balancing your time and dependance on the internet.
Some similar conditions, such as technology addiction and smartphone addiction, are closely linked to internet addiction, as they all refer to the excessive use of devices and the internet.
Is internet addiction real?
While widely talked about online, internet addiction is still being intensely debated between psychologists on whether it's classified as an addiction. In many ways, there's a sort of 'chicken and egg' controversy around it. Some people believe it's merely an expression of an existing mental disorder or behavioural problem, while others believe it's the cause of many behavioural issues.
Real or not, excessive amounts of time on the internet could indicate a deeper issue, and getting help for it can be beneficial to your mental health. The best option is to seek help to develop healthy coping mechanisms.
Spending too much time on the internet can negatively affect your mental health, but what are the signs that you may need a detox? Here are some symptoms to look out for:
- Spending more and more time on the internet (a common scenario is a person going from site to site for a sense of satisfaction, or staying on social media for a whole day)
- Suffering from anxiety and moodiness when they cannot access the internet
- Turning to the internet to cope with negative feelings (method of escapism)
- Neglecting other aspects of life such as work and personal hobbies
- Readiness to lose valuable relationships due to internet use
Some other symptoms can also be physical and include:
- Body aches (more specifically back pain)
- Weight gain or loss
- Dry eyes or problems with vision
Some of these symptoms can also be attributed to other issues such as depression, isolation & anxiety. That may be fuelled by use of the internet.
Theories behind internet overuse
To date, there is no known or officially recognised cause of internet addiction, in fact the American Psychological Association doesn't recognise it, but some possible reasons can be attributed to:
- Personality issues. Some personality issues can make individuals dependent on things that make them feel good about themselves; such as drugs, alcohol, gambling, and the internet.
- Instant gratification. The internet enables users to find what they need in a matter of seconds, and this includes addictive platforms like pornography and gambling.
- Escapism. It is commonplace for people to run to the internet to escape from their problems. Since it makes them feel good, they have a reason to go back.
Treating 'internet addiction' doesn't necessarily mean you would quit using the internet; it could just mean using the internet more positively and treating destructive emotions. One way to help yourself is to take note of the symptoms listed above and check yourself for them whenever you are staying online for too long.
If you have symptoms of social anxiety, depression or isolation, treatment is usually recommended in the form of therapy or counselling. Sometimes, your therapist and psychiatrist may recommend medication as a form of treatment. Psychotherapy can help teach individuals to identify these negative thought patterns and develop positive coping mechanisms to combat them. This form of therapy is helpful for social anxiety and depression.
Seeking professional help
If you're aware of yourself or anyone showing signs of the above symptoms you should encourage them to get help as early as possible, whether they seem to be addicted to the internet or not. Often, seeking professional help is beneficial to help individuals talk through and confidentially discuss their issues.
At OT&P, our dedicated mental wellness clinic MindWorX has the resources and professionals to help deal with a range of mental health issues. Book an appointment with us today if you would like to explore your counselling options.