It is generally considered that addiction is a compulsive, uncontrollable dependence of a substance, habit, or practice with cessation (stopping it) causing emotional, mental, or physiological reactions that are distressing to the person. The question is whether this definition can realistically applied to the use of modern technologies such as the internet.
The American Psychiatric Association has refused to find a place for addiction to the internet or the new term Internet Addiction Disorder (IAD) in its forthcoming DSM V classification, stating that further research needs to be conducted, before the diagnosis can be considered valid.
Experts who have argued that IAD should be classified in DSM V have divided the condition into subtypes such as excessive social networking, pornography use, online gaming, blogging, email, or e-commerce.
Recent studies have shown that people who are “addicted to the internet” may show addictive behaviors in other areas such as alcohol, nicotine, and gambling. However, there is also evidence that excessive internet use is more akin to obsessive compulsive disorder. A further study has shown changes in the brain in teenagers who excessively use the internet.
What are the most common symptoms of Internet Addiction?
Here are some of the most important psychological symptoms to watch out for in people addicted to the Internet. In one large study, of 2114 college students (1204 male and 910 female) were asked about their symptoms as a result of problematic internet use.
One word of caution, these symptoms are not necessarily caused by overuse of the internet, but may predispose a person to forms of addictive behavior on the Internet.
ADHD symptoms include poor attention, hyperactivity and impulsive behaviors. Modern use of the internet can encourage ADHD type behaviors even in people who do not previously have symptoms of ADHD. This because of the huge range of different information sources, and the multitude of ways to access this information rangoing from mouse clicks to browser switching.
Depression is typically characterized by low mood, pessimistic thoughts, lack of motivation, poor energy levels, failure to enjoy previously enjoyable activities and a range of other cognitive and biological changes ranging from poor memory to loss of appetite and sex drive. Depression can cause you to withdraw from normal activities and seek solitary activities such as excessive use of the Internet.
Social phobia is an extreme form of shyness, where sufferers find social interaction anxiety provoking and unpleasant. It is difficult to say whether people who spend lots of time on the internet become socially phobic, or whether they are predisposed to spend more time on the internet because they do not like social interaction. In either case, your friend, child or loved one may show evidence of social phobia if they are addicted to the Internet.
Hostility is anger or irritability expressed towards family, friends and peers. Hostility is often a symptom found in other addictive behaviors as the addictive behavior becomes the focus of that person’s life. Affected people become angry if they are distracted or prevented from accessing their PC, smartphone or gaming console.
What do brain imaging studies tell us about Internet Addiction?
A review of recent studies looking at the effects of problematic internet use have revealed some interesting findings. Internet addiction is usually defined as the inability to control use of the Internet, eventually causing psychological, social, and work difficulties. It is commonly associated with depression, anger problems, and anxiety. But what other effects have studies of the brain revealed?
Positron emission tomography (PET)
The brain regions identified are typically related to impulse control disorders such as gambling and drug addiction. Other areas of the brains such as reward processing have frequently been found to be affected in these studies. It appears that Internet Addiction shares many of the psychological and neural mechanisms of drug addiction.
These studies showed less efficiency in information processing and lower cognitive control with evidence of longer reaction time and impaired executive control. This means that the parts of the brain associated with planning, goal completion and organization have been affected.
Magnetic Resonance Imaging
Craving is defined as state or a strong desire that is produced by stimuli associated with reward effects of substance or a behavior. For instance, when Pavlov’s dog heard a bell ringing, it began to salivate because it had been “conditioned” to expect food.
The same experience has been noted individuals who play excessive amounts of internet games – so-called casual gaming sites – as users are “conditioned” to expect rewards for achieving certain tasks. When exposure to the game is removed, the craving remains and can cause “internet seeking” behavior. Craving is considered one of the most important features of substance dependence.
3 High Profile Celebrity Internet Addicts
Juicier than any reality show, people find watching actors cycle through addiction, rehabilitation and relapsing endlessly fascinating. It should be no surprise when celebrities reveal their online addiction.
It really is no wonder that we watch with such rapt attention when our own lives mirror the very problems that plague our stars. Our own chances of becoming an Internet addict are high, especially if we are unlucky enough to have the additional risk factors of depression, anxiety or loneliness.
Look at some Internet addiction statistics:
- Upwards of ten million Americans use the Internet on a daily basis.
- As many as five to ten percent of Americans may be addicted to Internet games, social media, pornography or shopping.
- Fifteen percent of MMORPG players get positive scores on Internet addiction tests. Out of this group, less than one percent attempt to find Internet addiction therapy.
Online addiction, like any other obsessive behavior, may not be more frequently found in wealthy or famous populations. However, dysfunctional behavior requiring Internet addiction therapy is more likely to be addressed properly when the addict is able to afford to pay for therapy out of pocket.
The most high profile example of internet addiction is Donald Trump’s obsession to Twitter. Time will tell if Trump allows his predilection to Twitter rants to be his downfall.
Another example of a famous Internet addict is Russell Brand. Russell’s behavior involved repeatedly searching for his own name on search engines. He ended up addicted to the Internet, compulsively Googling himself to see what people were saying about him.
Jennifer Aniston has supposedly dumped John Mayer for becoming addicted to the Internet. John Mayer compulsively used Twitter, an online microblogging service. Their relationship began to suffer when he was unable to make time to spend with her, but was still able to update Twitter frequently through the day. Internet addiction statistics show that this couple is not alone with this trouble. As many as six percent of couples report that Internet abuse is causing problems with their relationship.
Is it time to stop rubbernecking when we learn about celebrities’ weaknesses. Taking the time to focus inwardly will give us the opportunity to seriously address the potential problems that online addiction can cause. Internet addiction therapy can help salvage marriages and careers before the damage is too serious.