The internet is an extremely useful tool that has reshaped our lives. We can gather a variety of information at lightening speed, establish new relationships and reestablish old social contacts, make purchases ranging from minor to significant, watch movies, peruse various educational videos, gamble and listen to music. Easy access to the internet world can be obtained from smart phones, computers, and tablets. The cyber universe is immense and is literally at our finger tips. For some, the internet allure encourages unhealthy use.
Unhealthy internet use is characterized by spending so much time on the internet that other important activities are neglected such as work, academic responsibilities, relationships or anything else that is important. Some people use the internet to deal with painful emotions such as depression, loneliness, anxiety and stress. Immersing oneself in the internet to avoid dealing with life’s problems can temporarily soothe the discomfort but does little to resolve the problem in the long run. Excessive internet use can worsen the experience of stress, loneliness and isolation. Physical symptoms associated with excessive internet use include: carpal tunnel syndrome, dry eyes or strained vision, sleep disturbances, severe headaches, back and neck aches.
There are a number of different types of internet addictions. They are:
Computer Addiction-using the computer excessively to play games or to do computer programming
Information Overload-obsessively searching the web such that work performance and relationships with family and friend are affected.
Net Compulsions-compulsive online use of gaming, gambling, trading stock, or use of auction sites
Cybersex Addiction-excessive use of internet pornography, adult chat rooms or sexual fantasy role play sites such that real life relationships are affected.
Cyber-Relationship Addiction-excessive use of social networking, chat rooms etc. where real life relationships take a back seat.
The warning signs that internet use is a problem are not the same for everyone. There is no set number of minutes or hours that define internet addiction. However, there are some common warning signs:
* loosing track of time while online
* isolation from family and friends
* not getting done and completing responsibilities at work or home
* feeling guilty or acting defensively about internet use
* feeling euphoric when engaged in internet activities
If you recognize that your or a family member’s internet use is a problem, there are several things that can be done to address the problem. First, if there is an underlying problem, like depression or anxiety, for which internet use is attempting to soothe, treatment dealing directly with the problem is needed. Second, if the internet is a way to de-stress or is used as a way to connect to people due to shyness, then additional coping resources must be established i.e. relaxation strategies or social skills practice. Third, the more activities and social relationships that engage one’s time, the less will be the urge to turn to the internet. Finally, cognitive-behavioral therapy, provided by a mental health professional, can help teach the skills necessary to cope with internet addiction and healthier ways to handle distressing emotions.
Submitted by Holly O. Houston, Ph.D. Licensed Clinical Psychologist
Adapted from Internet & Computer Addiction at HelpGuide.org