Is it Real? How Can You Tell If You or a Loved One Suffers from Internet Addiction?
Have you ever wondered if you were addicted to the internet? Do you have a loved one who spends all their time on the computer, talking to others online but not to you? Read this article to learn some of the warning signs of internet addiction.
The internet can be a fun place, with a lot of things to do, information, resources, chat, messaging, forums and groups-you can find something that suits your fancy, no matter what your fancy might be. The internet has also provided a bit of anonymity to people who might want to purchase things they normally would not be willing to purchase from a store in person. You can research for school or work. You can make money, blog, buy and trade and sell things, and start an eBusiness. You can even view pornography, if that’s what suits you. In fact, there’s not a lot you can’t do nowadays on the internet.
That all being said, how can you tell if your or a loved one’s fascination with the internet has become less of a tool and more of an obsession?
Internet addiction disorder, IAD, is relatively new in the field of psychotherapy, but recently, many therapists and counselors have seen an increase in cases where their clients, or family members and loved ones of clients, are claiming to have issues with how much time is spent online. Interestingly enough, there is a huge dispute in the psychological field over whether or not internet addiction is a real disorder afflicting people.
One argument against internet addiction as its own disorder is that internet addiction really only falls into the same category as ‘addictive behavior’ or compulsive behavior and is simply another means that people use to exhibit addictive tendencies. However, drug addiction is a different disorder than sexual addiction, so the proponents for internet addiction use this differentiation and argue that internet addiction should be classified as a separate disorder altogether.
It is also difficult to diagnose internet addiction in instances where, perhaps, a person’s work is solely or mostly online or on the computer. Can a person who is just very dedicated to their job actually be accused as being an internet addict, when in reality, perhaps they are merely a work-a-holic?
That’s why establishing clear criteria for what internet addiction disorder really is will be crucial in determining whether or not this disorder is given the attention in the psychological community that many feel it deserves. As with any addictive disorder, one of the main criteria that must be met in order to be considered addictive behavior is that there must be a significant impairment or dis-function in normal ‘life’ activities.
Some of these ‘life’ activities include things such as: maintaining gainful employment; taking care of financial responsibilities; maintaining healthy relationships with friends and family; taking care of family responsibilities such as children, pets and house cleaning; and personal health and hygiene properly maintained, to name a few. When any of these basic life skills are neglected, and they are neglected because of an individual’s time on the computer online, then internet addiction may pose a real concern.
Where the psychological community seems to miss the mark is that, in the end, it doesn’t matter whether or not a person is suffering from something called internet addiction disorder or is simply exhibiting compulsive or addictive behavior through the use of the internet. If a person’s internet use, regardless of the reason or cause, is causing impairment in their functioning, then the issue needs to be addressed.
Do you worry that you or a loved one suffers from internet addiction, regardless of the cause? How can you tell for sure? Below is a list of some commons signs that the internet has become a compulsive and even addictive problem in your or a loved one’s life:
- Time online has increased significantly, while real life relationships have suffered.
- Work or school has suffered due to internet usage, including being habitually late, missing meetings or tests in order to be online, using sick leave or vacation days in order to stay at home on the computer, getting in trouble at work or school for unauthorized web surfing for non work or school related activities.
- Preoccupation or constant thoughts about being on the internet when away from the computer.
- Anxiety over missing an email or an instant message or forum posting while away from the computer.
- Staying up late or losing sleep in order to be online
- A sense of well being or relief when returning to the computer after a period of time away, often followed by a feeling of guilt.
- Lying about, hiding the amount of time spent online, or sneaking around to use the internet when no one knows.
- Creating fake names or user accounts online so that others will not know who you are or how much time you spend on the computer online.
- Financial problems due to money spent compulsively while online, gaming online, or gambling (also a sign of other addiction problems).
- Cyber relationships that begin to take the place of real life relationships.
- Feeling anxious, depressed or angry when internet time is interrupted or cut short.
- Losing track of time while on the computer.
- Continually staying online longer than expected. For example, saying, “I’m only going to check my email really quick,” and then spending an hour or more online afterward.
- Missing appointments or get-togethers with family and friends, or being habitually late to such things, because of online computer time.
- Using the computer and online activities to hide from emotional problems, or using online activities to change moods, such as being sad and then using the computer to cheer you up or make you happy.
While we all may sometimes exhibit some of these behaviors, for the internet addicted individual, these behaviors will increase in severity over time, and the problems this will cause will become more frequent. Often, individuals with internet addiction that is left unchecked will find relationships diminished, may alienate themselves from real life friends and family, and may end up with no real life contacts, or limited ones, outside of those found online. This can become a dangerous situation on an emotional level.
However, there are real physical problems associated with internet addiction as well. With the increase in computer usage, both at home and in the office, a crop of physical ailments, while they are not new, are increasing in frequency. Repetitive stress disorders, carpal tunnel syndrome, back problems, slumping and shoulder and neck tension, eye strain, headaches, and swollen legs and ankles are all potential health hazards of spending too much time online. In addition, poor physical hygiene, poor health, reduced activity due to time spent online, skipping meals or overeating, loss of sleep, and poor circulation are all problems that can result from spending too much time on the computer.
The problem has become so widespread, whether it is an actual disorder in and of itself or not, that groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous have even considered starting groups specifically focused on internet addiction. Statistics do show that people who suffer from internet addiction are more likely to have other emotional disorders, such as depression and anxiety. It is unclear and untested as of yet whether internet addiction is the causal effect of these disorders or vice versa. However, it is clear that depression and anxiety are increased by over use of the internet, so people who suffer from these conditions should be extra careful to observe their own behavior to avoid any potential problems with slipping into internet addictive cycles.
If you think you might have a problem or be addictive to the internet, chances are, you probably do have some internet addiction problems. If a loved one is constantly complaining about how much time you spend online, or if you find that friends and family comment a lot about your internet usage, then you may have a problem with internet addiction. If you find yourself becoming defensive of the amount of time you spend online, you may have an internet addiction problem. As with any addiction, the first step is identifying and admitted that there is a problem.
If you feel that internet addiction is a problem in your life, whether it’s yourself or a loved one, consult a counselor or therapist with your concerns.
Because internet addiction is a relatively new phenomenon, effective treatment of internet addiction is still an ongoing learning curve. The main thing a good therapist will do is try to determine what the root cause of the problem is, that is, whether or not the internet addiction is the problem, or if internet addiction is merely a symptom of another problem. If you or a loved one has any physical problems, such as the ones listed above, due to computer usage, a reputable physician should be consulted in addition to a counselor or therapist.
Like any addiction, internet addiction can be controlled. There is help available. If you feel you or a loved one suffers from internet addiction, seek that help immediately by consulting a licensed counselor, physician or therapist in your area.