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The internet is a helpful and invaluable tool for most people but to those who are addicted to being online it can prove to be a horrible accessory that essentially wreaks havoc on their lives. When internet use interferes with relationships, priorities, and work/life balance, an internet addiction may be to blame.
What is Internet Addiction?
Although the internet is a regular stopping point for most people, being used for everything from work to communication to research to fun, those who are unable to control or manage their use of this powerful tool often suffer significant consequences in their lives. According to the Ohio State University Office of Student Life Counseling and Consultation Service, “like other forms of compulsive behaviors, such as gambling, exercise, eating, shopping, or drug and alcohol use, internet addiction can become a way to escape from difficult emotions and situations.”
Excessive, repeat use of the internet as a means of coping with emotions or escaping the stress of everyday life signifies a potential internet addiction. According to Texas State University, there are at least five distinct types of internet addiction which include:
- Cybersexual Addiction – being addicted to cybersex, adult chat rooms or pornography
- Cyber-Relationship Addiction – being addicted to making friends online and engaging in relationships online, taking part in cyberaffairs
- Net Compulsions – being involved in a compulsive behavior online such as gambling, shopping, or trading
- Information Overload – being generally compulsive about searching, web surfing or database queries
- Computer Addiction – obsessing over computer games, excessive programming
Internet Addiction Warning Signs
If you suspect that someone you know might be addicted to the internet, consider the following possible warning signs that may signify a need for help:
- Being preoccupied with the internet to a point in which it interferes with regular routines and responsibilities
- Feeling as if there is nothing better than to be online
- Feeling restless or anxious when unable to use the internet
- Feeling anxious, irritable or angry when internet use is interrupted
- Spending more time online than intended or than promised
- Allowing internet use to put relationships, work, education or other vital elements of your life at risk
- Telling lies to friends, family, loved ones or a counselor about the level of internet use or the tasks that you take part in while online
- Using the internet to escape fears, to overcome feelings of guilt or anxiety or to cope with depression
- Using the internet as a way to relieve stress
Who is At Risk of Becoming Addicted to the Internet?
While everyone who uses the internet is at a potential risk of becoming addicted, there are certain situations that tend to place an internet user at an increased risk. Certain trends in internet addiction have been found including a trend in the the types of people who are likely to become addicted to a particular type of online activity such as cybersex. Generally, men are more likely to become involved in pornographic sites whereas women are more likely to seek out cyber relationships as a means of feeling “loved” and “wanted.” Likewise, teens are often the victims of general computer addictions especially when it comes to playing games.
In a recent study by California State University, of more than 17 thousand people who use the internet, an estimated 30% report using the internet to escape negative feelings and emotions in their lives because they feel uninhibited when they are online. An estimated 6% of those who use the internet to escape their problems were said to have met the criteria to be considered addicts.
The average age for men who are addicted to the internet is 29 whereas the average age for women who are addicted to the internet is 43. The vocational background of those who are addicted to the internet vary significantly from having no schooling or vocational background to being white collar workers. This is proof once again that addiction is not prejudice and affects people regardless of their socioeconomic status or vocational level.
Dangers of Internet Addiction
Using the internet excessively can lead to an array of potential complications including relationship problems, financial struggles, health problems and behavioral problems. Physical pain and discomfort can arise from excessive computer use. Pay close attention to these possible symptoms that you’ve been spending too much time online:
- pain and numbness in the wrists or hands a sign of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
- pain in the back or neck from sitting at a computer for too long
- changes in weight such as gaining weight from a lack of exercise or losing weight as a result of avoiding food because it takes too much time away from the internet use
- blurry vision
- strained vision or dry eyes
- insomnia or other sleep pattern changes
- headaches that may be frequent and severe
- relationship problems as a result of spending too much time online and not enough time with your loved ones
- relationship problems arising from the activities that you are taking part in while on the internet such as cybersex or watching pornographic material
- losing your job because you are preoccupied with the internet
- spending money that you don’t have on things like internet gaming or gambling
More Signs of a Problem
Pay close attention to these additional signs that internet addiction may be a problem in your life:
- you cannot focus on homework, relationships, household chores, family or other important elements of your life because you are preoccupied with the internet
- you get online to work or perform a valid function and find yourself straying off and doing other things like shopping, chatting, gambling or surfing
- your friends or family members have voiced concern about your internet use
- you spend more time talking to people online than you do talking to people in “real life”
- you have replaced your sexual relationship with your partner with the use of internet cybersex and pornography
Preventing Internet Addiction
There are certain steps that you can take to limit your risk of internet addiction or to help reduce the effects that this behavioral disorder has on your life. The first step is to assess your time online and determine what you can do to limit such time or cut back the time. How much time do you spend:
- in chat rooms
- playing games online
- sending or reading email
- participating in newsgroups
- surfing and browsing
- on social media
- participating in other online activities
Now determine whether any of these activities can be cut out of your life completely or reduced significantly. If you cannot stop the activity or reduce the time you spend performing a particular activity online, be sure to set guidelines to restrict any additional use of the internet for such an activity. Internet addiction isn’t something that happens overnight, it is a progressive pattern of internet abuse that takes place over many weeks or months and which can be prevented with proper monitoring.
Support provides a foundation for you to cope with your internet addiction and with the emotions in your life that may have caused you to start spending excessive amounts of time online. It is very common for those who are addicted to the internet to, “have increasingly cut themselves off from their family, friends, social activities and hobby activities that they used to enjoy,” according to Texas State University. This behavior can lead to feelings of shame, guilt, depression and sadness—all of which must be appropriately addressed.
Finding a support group or a friend, family member or counselor who will provide emotional support to you during this difficult time can make a wold of difference in the success that you have in recovery. Social support groups can replace much of the interaction and support that internet addicts are accustomed to receive when they spend time online.
Do you generally use the internet to escape the stress of financial problems, relationship problems or some other element of your life? Do you regularly engage in online activity because you are otherwise shy and afraid to be around people in “real life?” Do you use the internet when you’re depressed, anxious, angry or sad?
Think about your reasons for using the internet and learn how you can recognize the things that trigger you to head to the computer and surf the web. If you can avoid situations that are likely to result in your excessive desire to be online, do so!
Learning how to recognize the triggers that cause internet use and then to avoid such triggers or to cope with them more effectively will help you to feel more in control with your internet use.
If you take the above actions, limit your time, learn your triggers and do what it takes to avoid them, and you still find yourself suffering from internet addiction, consider seeking treatment. Many methods of treatment are available including behavioral therapy and counseling which can help you to better understand and cope with your emotions. Throughout treatment, you will learn various techniques that will minimize your risk of relapse while restoring a sense of balance into your life.