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Internet Addiction Symptoms and Treatment Options

By November 10, 2018 June 15th, 2023 No Comments
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In recent years, as social media, online gaming and other online activities have become increasingly popular, internet addiction has become a serious concern for many people.

While we often associate the issue with younger people, it impacts people of all ages.

Internet addiction is an acute dependence on the internet which impacts other areas of a person’s life. They may neglect other commitments in order to spend time online. They may find that they only feel comfortable or content while using the internet. This can lead to a range of serious and damaging consequences.

As with many forms of addiction which have come to prominence relatively recently, there is some remaining skepticism as to the legitimacy of internet addiction. However, it is a real and serious condition that affects many people. Over time, it alters the structure of the brain, negatively impacting neuropathways and reducing response to other stimuli. This makes it very difficult to reduce dependence.

Countries such as South Korea have implemented policies in response to internet addiction as it has become such a severe problem. They have also documented many cases of people becoming seriously ill or dying as a result of neglecting their health during marathon online gaming sessions. While gaming is the most common focus of internet addiction, people can become dependent on many different forms of internet activity. This article details the signs and symptoms of internet addiction. It also discusses some of the methods that have proven effective in treating it.

Effects of Internet Addiction

Internet addiction can have a range of damaging effects. The inability to control the amount of time spent online, or the activities performed online, can impact every aspect of a person’s life. Over time, it can severely affect a person’s physical health. If someone spends much of their time online, they may not get sufficient exercise or fresh air. This can become a serious issue if the condition continues over a sustained period. Someone may also lose sleep because they are online until late at night. Spending too much time staring at screens can also damage optical health.

Many people struggling with internet addiction also neglect important family, social or professional commitments to continue their online activities. They may also be unable to adjust their behaviour even after it has resulted in negative consequences, such as the loss of a job or the breakdown of personal relationships. This can have extremely serious consequences. If an addicted person’s internet use involves shopping or gambling online, the condition can also have a disastrous financial impact.

Effect On Brain Structure

As mentioned previously, internet addiction alters neuropathways in the brain, affecting a person’s moods and responses to ordinary stimuli. The brain develops to expect and depend upon the increased dopamine levels created by online activity. Someone addicted to the internet may only feel happy, comfortable or excited while online. They may feel frustrated, anxious, lethargic or depressed when they are unable to be online for a sustained period. The inability to take pleasure or excitement from other things is a common result of addiction. This makes it very difficult to end dependence. Someone with an internet addiction may compulsively check devices, or become increasingly agitated if they cannot. These negative responses are essentially mental withdrawal symptoms of internet addiction.

Denying the Problem

A common sign of any addiction is denying or attempting to normalize the behaviour. If you find yourself downplaying your internet use, to yourself or to others, this may be a sign of addiction. If others ask you about it, they may have identified a potential dependence and become concerned.

Many addicted people also persuade themselves that their behaviour is ordinary. This is particularly common among people who are addicted to substances or behaviours which many people use, which we do not see as inherently dangerous. This applies to internet addiction. As most people regularly use the internet, someone addicted to it can use this fact to rationalize their own excessive use. If someone can argue that the time they spend on the internet is essential for their work or social life, and is in fact providing benefit, this can strengthen their denial of the problem.

Signs of Internet Addiction

Someone experiencing internet addiction may also find that, even when they are not online, a substantial amount of their mental energy is consumed by their internet use. They may be distracted by recalling previous online sessions or anticipating their next one. This level of mental fixation is a strong indicator of dependence. An addicted person may also go to extreme lengths in order to continue playing for longer periods. They may cancel or avoid important engagements or use drugs to stay awake longer.

Unsuccessfully attempting to reduce or fully stop your internet use is another sign of addiction. If you allocate a certain number of hours per week for online activity, but ultimately significantly exceed it, this suggests that you are not fully in control of your internet use. Sitting down to a device with the intention of only using it for a short time, before spending hours on it, is a similar indicator. If you find that internet use has moved beyond your control and has taken up much of your life, you may require professional help to reduce or end your use.

Internet Addiction and Concurrent Disorders

Many people struggling with addiction use the substance or behaviour in question to escape or cope with other problems. This is a problematic pattern which can quickly lead to dependence. This is a particularly complex issue when concurrent mental health disorders are involved. In instances when someone is dealing with symptoms of conditions such as depression or anxiety by spending excessive time and energy on the internet, all involved conditions should be treated as separate but interacting issues. If someone uses stimulants such as adderall or cocaine partially as a way of continuing to game, use social media or otherwise use the internet, these issues must also be treated as interacting conditions.

Treatment for Internet Addiction

A number of methods have proven effective in treating internet addiction. At Trafalgar Addiction Treatment Centres’ residential and outpatient centres, we use evidence-based methods including cognitive behavioural therapy, individual therapy, and group counselling. These methods help the client to identify the underlying causes and consequences of their addiction. Cognitive behavioural therapy is particularly beneficial. It helps to identify and alter patterns of behaviour in order to move beyond dependence and to identify relapse triggers. Group counselling also provides clients with a support network of people who understand addiction. These treatment methods give clients the strongest possible foundation for recovery.

As recovery is a lifelong process, treatment should not stop at the end of a program. At Trafalgar, we offer dedicated, ongoing aftercare support through our Aftercare, ContinUcare and Continuation of Care counselling. Aftercare functions through group addiction counselling sessions and is available to clients on an ongoing basis after completing treatment. ContinUcare involves sets of questions periodically sent to clients which they can use to monitor their progress and which our clinical staff can use to identify any potential issues. Clinical staff can offer assistance if any problems emerge. Continuation of Care counselling involves weekly, 45-minutes calls with our program manager each week for two months after treatment is completed. These calls form a crucial part of clients’ support networks in the early stages of recovery.

If you are concerned about your own or a loves one’s internet use, contact Trafalgar Addiction Treatment Centre’s today.

Trafalgar Addiction Treatment Centres

Trafalgar Addiction Treatment Centres

We offer residential and outpatient rehab treatment programs for addiction and co-occurring mental health disorders.

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