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Impact of internet addiction on mental health: potential impact and therapies

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Impact of internet addiction on mental health

Internet addiction (IA), also known as internet addiction disorder (IAD), refers to a condition where individuals develop excessive and uncontrollable patterns of internet use that negatively impact their mental health and daily lives. It involves a dependency on the internet that encompasses various forms, including social media, online gaming, streaming, shopping, and compulsive browsing. This continuous dependency results in neglecting other essential activities, such as work, school, relationships, and self-care.

The impact of internet addiction on mental health refers to the adverse and often debilitating effects that excessive and compulsive internet use can have on an individual’s psychological well-being. It encompasses a range of negative outcomes, including disrupted social interactions, diminished emotional regulation, heightened susceptibility to mood disorders such as anxiety and depression, impaired cognitive functioning, reduced academic and occupational performance, and an overall compromised quality of life. 

The signs of internet addiction in mental health are diverse and encompass neglect of responsibilities, withdrawal symptoms, loss of control, escapism, disrupted sleep patterns, social isolation, negative mood shifts, diminished academic performance, preoccupation, and loss of time.

Treatments for mental health issues stemming from internet addiction are provided through a number of methods, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), group therapy, inpatient treatment programs, and, in severe cases, medication.

What is internet addiction?

Internet addiction is characterized by excessive or poorly controlled preoccupations, urges, or behaviors regarding computer use and internet access that lead to impairment or distress, according to the article “Internet addiction: definition, assessment, epidemiology, and clinical management”, authored by Martha Shaw and Donald Black, published in CNS Drugs in 2008. 

In 1995, a New York-based psychiatrist, Dr. Ivan Goldberg, coined the term “internet addiction” for pathologically obsessive browsing on the internet. Personally, he did not believe that “computer addiction” existed, but rather excessive or pathological use of it.

In the same year, Ms. Kimberly Young, a clinical psychology student in Rochester, United States, became interested in the psychological causes of internet addiction and independently came up with internet addiction as a pathological condition.

Currently, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) by the American Psychiatric Association does not include any acknowledged criteria for diagnosing or labeling internet addiction.

It is essential to observe that the term “internet addiction” has many competing synonyms, including pathological Internet use, problematic Internet use (PIU), compulsive Internet use, Internet use disorder (IUD), and pathological use of electronic media. The term pathological Internet use (PIU) is quite common for describing this disorder; however, internet addiction is more popular on social media as well as in medical and psychological scientific research papers.

Why is internet addiction associated with mental health?

laptop on the table

Internet addiction is associated with mental health because excessive internet use causes an elevated state of psychological arousal. This, in turn, gives rise to sleep disturbances, extended periods of not eating, and reduced physical activity. These consequences can contribute to a range of physical and mental health challenges, including conditions like depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), strained familial relationships, and heightened anxiety, as defined in the article “The effect of psychiatric symptoms on the internet addiction disorder in Isfahan’s University students”, published in the Journal of Research in Medical Sciences, 2011.

Numerous scholarly articles on technology dependence, such as Kumar M. et al.’s “A study on the prevalence of internet addiction and its association with psychopathology in Indian adolescents”, The Indian Journal of Psychiatry, 2013; Frangos CC et al., “Internet addiction among Greek university students: Demographic associations with the phenomenon, using the Greek version of Young’s Internet Addiction Test. International Journal of Economic Science and Applied Research, 2010; Polyxeni Mangoulia et al., “Internet addiction and psychopathological symptoms in Greek University students”. The Journal of Addictive Behaviors,Therapy & Rehabilitation 2014, etc. have investigated the link between psychiatric symptoms and IA in adolescents. Depression, anxiety, and poor self-esteem were identified as psychological and psychiatric disorders linked to IA. Personality characteristics like shyness and lack of control have also been linked to IA.

Close to 90% of the American population uses the internet, a significant increase from roughly 50% in the early 2000s, according to Aaron Smith, “Record shares of Americans now own smartphones, have home broadband.” Pew Research Center, 2017. According to the same research center’s estimates, roughly three-quarters of Americans (77%) own a smartphone, and nearly seven-in-ten Americans (69% of adults and 86% of teens) use social media. As a result, a huge percentage of the American population is at greater risk of developing health problems related to internet and social media addiction.

Experts in the field, Elhai et al., in the 2017 study “Problematic smartphone use: A conceptual overview and systematic review of relations with anxiety and depression psychopathology” of the Journal of Affective Disorders, highlighted that adolescents with IA tend to experience significant declines in their quality of life, including a higher prevalence of mood and anxiety disorders. Anxiety exhibited a consistent link with such usage, although the effect sizes were smaller. The intensity of depression showed a permanent connection with problematic smartphone usage, displaying moderate impacts. Stress demonstrated a relatively steady association, featuring small to moderate effects. Self-esteem demonstrated an irregular connection, displaying small to moderate effects when observed. 

The 2020 issue of the Journal of Education and Health Promotion, titled “A study of internet addiction and its effects on mental health: A study based on Iranian University Students” explored the impact of excessive internet usage on the mental health of Kermanshah University students. Negative correlations were found between internet addiction and mental health. Multiple regression analysis identified significant predictors of vulnerability to internet addiction, including reasons for internet use, depression levels, primary locations for internet use, and somatic symptoms. The results of the study emphasize that excessive internet usage among students can lead to anxiety, depression, and adverse effects on mental health, subsequently affecting academic performance. 

The facts and numerous studies suggest a strong connection between the internet and mental health issues. However, some medical professionals find the impacts of excessive internet use on an addict’s mental health inconclusive. Nevertheless, the general health of internet addicts is more at risk than that of normal users.

How does internet addiction affect mental health?

Internet addiction affects mental health in the ways listed below.

  • Social isolation: Excessive internet use leads to reduced face-to-face interactions. Such interactions are the main indicators of a person’s social isolation, as stated in the International Journal of Education and Development using Information and Communication Technology (IJEDICT), 2022, Vol. 18, Issue 2. prolonged isolation can exacerbate feelings of loneliness and depression, contributing to the development or worsening of mental health problems.
  • Comparison and self-esteem issues: Constantly comparing oneself to idealized images on social media and seeking validation online can lead to negative self-esteem. when failing to meet unrealistic online standards. In large-scale research made by Andreassen et al. in 2017 on “The relationship between addictive use of social media, narcissism, and self-esteem”, the experts revealed links between addiction to social networking sites (SNSs), narcissism, and low self-esteem. They acknowledge that SNSs are used for coping with low self-esteem and for an ego boost, which makes those websites addictive for vulnerable people.
  • Disrupted sleep patterns: Late-night internet use and excessive screen time before bed disrupt sleep patterns. According to Martin Reed’s article in the January 2021 edition, titled “How Internet Addiction Harms Your Brain, Health, and Sleep”, the electromagnetic radiation linked to mobile devices delays the secretion of melatonin, and the excessive exposure to blue light emitted by screens on internet-connected devices. This can interfere with the natural sleep-wake cycle, leading to increased difficulty in falling asleep and subsequent negative impacts on mental health. Over time, this can contribute to symptoms of anxiety, depression, mood disturbances, impaired concentration, and reduced resilience to stress. Getting 8-hours of sleep is essential, as it plays a crucial role in maintaining emotional balance, cognitive function, and overall mental health.
  • Dopamine-driven reward cycles: Engaging in internet activities, such as gaming or social media, triggers dopamine release, creating a rewarding sensation. This dopamine-driven cycle can create a compulsion to continue internet use, leading to addictive behaviors. In June 2015, a study titled “Relationship between peripheral blood dopamine level and internet addiction disorder in adolescents” in the International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Medicine, was conducted by professors of Gannan Medical University. This study provided supporting evidence for the hypothesis that dopamine plays a significant role in internet addiction. Notably, both the quantity of dopamine and the weekly duration of online engagement emerged as noteworthy factors in a binary logistic regression analysis investigating internet addiction.
  • Negative online experiences: Cyberbullying, online harassment, and exposure to disturbing content result in traumatic experiences that contribute to anxiety, depression, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). A study published in 2013 by Subin Park et al., titled “The association between problematic Internet use and depression, suicidal ideation and bipolar disorder symptoms in Korean adolescents,” explored the relationship between IA and mental health issues in adolescents. The study found that those with IA were more likely to experience negative online experiences, which were significantly associated with higher levels of depression, suicidal ideation, and bipolar disorder symptoms.
  • Attention deficits: Constant distractions and multitasking online lead to attention deficits, making it hard to focus on tasks and exacerbating mental health conditions. In a systematic review and meta-analysis titled “The association between attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder and internet addiction” published in BMC Psychiatry. July, 2017, positive correlations were confirmed after controlling for factors that influenced them. This study revealed that adolescents with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) were more likely to be addicted to the internet than those with other psychiatric symptoms such as hostility and social phobia.
  • Withdrawal effects: Inability to access the internet or preferred online activities results in withdrawal symptoms like irritability, anxiety, and restlessness. According to the article titled “A case of withdrawal psychosis from internet addiction disorder” from the April 2014 issue of Psychiatry Investigation journal, internet addicts can exhibit withdrawal symptoms akin to those seen in individuals coming off addictive substances. These symptoms commonly include feelings of irritability, heightened anxiety, and restlessness, underscoring the psychological and physiological impact of internet withdrawal.

Can excessive internet use lead to anxiety and depression?

boy watching laptop

Yes, excessive internet use has been consistently linked to an increased risk of anxiety and depression. Spending excessive amounts of time online, especially on social media platforms, can lead to feelings of comparison, inadequacy, and social isolation.

The idealized versions of people’s lives presented on the internet often contribute to unrealistic expectations and a negative self-perception, both of which are associated with anxiety and depression.

Does internet addiction impact sleep patterns and quality?

Yes, internet addiction impacts sleep patterns and quality because late-night internet use and excessive screen time disrupt sleep patterns.  This can be explained in the following way: the blue light emitted by screens can interfere with the production of the sleep hormone melatonin, making it harder to fall asleep. Additionally, engaging in stimulating or emotionally charged online activities can increase psychological arousal, making it difficult to wind down and relax before sleep. 

Internet addiction can lead to staying up late into the night, sacrificing sleep time to continue online activities. This sleep deprivation can result in a range of negative effects on sleep quality, including reduced deep sleep and Rapid eye movement (REM) phases, leading to daytime sleepiness, difficulty concentrating, and overall impaired cognitive functioning. In turn, poor sleep quality and insufficient sleep can contribute to a host of mental health issues, including depression, anxiety, and mood disturbances.

What are the warning signs of internet addiction?

The warning signs of internet addiction can be both physical and psychological. The most common warning signs and symptoms of internet addiction are listed below:

  • Eyestrain: Spending long periods staring at screens can cause eye discomfort, dryness, irritation, and blurry vision.
  • Headaches: Eye strain and poor posture are common causes of tension headaches, which can result from frequent screen time.
  • Carpal Tunnel Syndrome: Repetitive movements while typing or using a mouse can lead to wrist and hand discomfort.
  • Back and neck pain: Poor posture during extended online sessions can contribute to back and neck pain.
  • Sleep disturbances: Excessive internet use, especially close to bedtime, can disrupt sleep patterns, leading to sleep deprivation and poor sleep quality.
  • Weight gain: Sedentary behavior associated with prolonged internet use can contribute to weight gain and obesity.
  • Fatigue: Spending too much time online can lead to physical and mental fatigue due to reduced physical activity and disrupted sleep.
  • Muscle tension: Prolonged sitting can cause muscle stiffness and tension, especially in the neck, shoulders, and back.
  • Digestive issues: Neglecting meals or eating unhealthy foods while engrossed in online activities can lead to digestive problems.
  • Reduced physical activity: Internet addiction can lead to a decrease in physical activity, which in turn can contribute to various health issues.
  • Loss of control: Being unable to control the amount of time spent online, often spending more time online than intended.
  • Anxiety: Feeling anxious when not online or when unable to access the internet.
  • Neglect of responsibilities: Neglecting work, school, family, or personal responsibilities in favor of spending time online.
  • Withdrawal symptoms: Feeling anxious, irritable, or restless when attempting to reduce or stop internet use.
  • Isolation: Withdrawing from real-life social interactions and preferring online interactions instead.
  • Mood swings: Experiencing mood swings, irritability, or depression related to internet use.
  • Negative impact on relationships: Strained relationships with family and friends due to neglect or avoidance caused by excessive internet use.
  • Impaired concentration: Difficulty concentrating on tasks that require sustained attention due to frequent online distractions.
  • Depersonalization: Feeling detached from oneself or one’s surroundings due to excessive online engagement.
  • Poor self-esteem: Comparing oneself unfavorably to others online, leads to lowered self-esteem and self-worth.

What are the potential impacts of internet addiction on mental health?

laptop and hands

The potential impacts of internet addiction on mental health are listed below:

  • Depression and anxiety
  • Financial and occupational consequences
  • Sleep disorders
  • Cyberbullying and online harassment
  • Stress and overwhelm
  • Body dysmorphia and eating disorders
  • Substance abuse
  • Negative self-Image
  • Attention and concentration issues
  • Escapism and avoidance

1. Depression and anxiety

Depression (major depressive disorder) is a common and serious medical illness that negatively affects one’s emotions, cognitive processes, and behaviors. Depression is characterized by a low mood and a lack of interest in formerly pleasurable activities. It may cause mental and physical health issues as well as impairment in daily activities.

Anxiety is an emotional state that includes tension-like sensations, worry-filled thoughts, and physical reactions like increased blood pressure. Anxiety disorders can lead to excessive nervousness, fear, apprehension, and worry. 

Depression and anxiety become potential impacts of internet addiction because the constant exposure to negative online experiences, social isolation, disrupted sleep patterns, and dopamine-driven reward cycles associated with excessive internet use can all contribute to the development and exacerbation of these mental health conditions.

2. Financial and occupational consequences

Financial and occupational consequences of internet addiction are defined as the adverse outcomes and losses individuals experience in terms of their financial stability, job performance, and career prospects due to their compulsive and excessive internet use. 

Financial and occupational consequences become potential impacts of internet addiction because excessive online behavior can lead to neglect of work responsibilities and professional commitments, resulting in decreased productivity and performance. This neglect can trigger conflicts with colleagues and employers, jeopardize career advancement, and even lead to job loss. Moreover, compulsive internet use might drive individuals to spend substantial amounts of money on online purchases, subscriptions, or gambling, contributing to financial strain and debt accumulation. Such negative effects on both work and finances underscore the significant impact of internet addiction on various aspects of an individual’s life.

3. Sleep disorders

Sleep disorders, also referred to as sleep-wake disorders, encompass difficulties related to the quality, timing, and quantity of sleep. These issues lead to distress during the daytime and hinder overall functioning.

Sleep disorders have potential impacts on internet addiction because excessive internet use, especially during late hours, disrupts the natural sleep-wake cycle. The exposure to blue light emitted by screens interferes with the secretion of melatonin, a hormone that regulates sleep. This disruption leads to difficulties falling asleep and maintaining a consistent sleep schedule, ultimately resulting in sleep disorders such as insomnia and poor sleep quality. Over time, the cumulative effects of internet addiction on sleep deprivation exacerbate negative consequences on mental, emotional, and physical well-being of individuals.

Internet addiction can significantly impact sleep patterns, as highlighted in the 2016 issue of the Iranian Journal of Public Health titled “Some Facts on Problematic Internet Use and Sleep Disturbance among Adolescents“. The research suggests that problematic internet use can lead to sleeplessness and various sleep disorders. Inadequate or poor-quality sleep has wide-ranging consequences for mental well-being, including fatigue, reduced energy, irritability, and difficulties in concentration. Moreover, the ability to make decisions and mood regulation can be negatively affected. Sleep disorders and symptoms of depression and anxiety often coexist, as each condition exacerbates the other’s effects on sleep patterns.

4. Cyberbullying and online harassment

girl sitting in a darkness watching laptop

Cyberbullying is the use of digital technologies to engage in bullying behaviors. It serves as an umbrella term encompassing a range of online abuses that extend beyond mere harassment. Instances of cyberbullying occur across various online platforms, such as social media, messaging apps, gaming environments, and smartphones. Its purpose is to harass, stalk, or inflict harm upon individuals, often involving organized online hate campaigns.

Cyberbullying and online harassment are potential impacts of internet addiction because excessive internet use often exposes individuals to prolonged interactions on social media platforms, creating more opportunities for negative and hurtful behaviors. As internet addiction leads individuals to spend extended periods online, they become more susceptible to encountering or engaging in cyberbullying and online harassment incidents, which can further contribute to their deteriorating mental health and emotional well-being.

According to the analysis “Internet addiction mediates the association between cyber victimization and psychological and physical symptoms: moderation by physical exercise” from the April 2020 issue of BMC Psychiatry by Lin L. et al., internet addiction was significantly associated with cyber victimization. Engaging on the internet for over two hours each day was found to be associated with an increased likelihood of experiencing cyberbullying. Negative effects on mental health, such as an increased risk of depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts, were also associated with excessive Internet use.

5. Stress and overwhelm

Stress is characterized as a condition of mental tension or unease triggered by challenging circumstances. It is a natural human reaction that serves to motivate us to confront challenges and potential threats in our lives.

In the article from the April 2022 issue of Hive.com, Brené Brown, a researcher and expert in vulnerability and courage, highlighted that the distinction between feeling overwhelmed and stressed hinges on one’s capacity to manage pressure and respond proactively. Stress involves effectively managing pressure through actions, while overwhelm denotes an intense level of pressure that impedes functioning. To put it in simpler words, individuals can function in stress, but they really can’t function in overwhelm.

Stress and overwhelm have potential impacts on internet addiction because they contribute to a heightened susceptibility to seeking refuge in online activities as a coping mechanism. Individuals experiencing stress might turn to the internet for temporary relief, engaging in activities that distract them from their stressors. On the other hand, those overwhelmed by pressure may resort to the internet as an escape from their overwhelming reality, using it to numb their emotions or find a sense of control. This reliance on the internet as a coping mechanism can exacerbate the cycle of addiction, further impacting mental well-being and perpetuating the struggle to manage stress and overwhelm effectively.

6. Body dysmorphia and eating disorders

Body dysmorphic disorder, also known as BDD, is excessive concern with imagined or minor flaws in one’s physical appearance. People with BDD believe that their imaginary defects are obviously noticeable and appear bizarre to others. This preoccupation with appearance causes significant emotional distress (e.g., sorrow, humiliation, or anxiety) and/or impairment in daily functioning (e.g., avoidance of social situations or difficulties at work or school). 

The primary distinction between eating disorders and BDD lies in the focus of concern. Individuals with eating disorders typically worry about their body weight and shape, often leading to behaviors aimed at weight loss or control. In contrast, BDD typically does not revolve around concerns related to being overweight or the number on the scale.

In the article titled “Eating Disorders” from the March 2023 issue of Mayo Clinic Press, experts claim that eating disorders are serious health conditions that affect both physical and mental health. These conditions encompass challenges related to individuals’ thoughts about food, consumption, weight, and body shape, as well as their eating behaviors.

Body dysmorphia and eating disorders are potential impacts of internet addiction through exposure to unrealistic body standards and negative body image reinforcement perpetuated by online platforms and social media.

7. Substance abuse

glass of whiskey and a woman sleeping behind it

Substance abuse refers to the persistent and excessive use of any addictive substance, both legal and illegal. Alcohol, drugs, or other substances can temporarily alleviate anxiety or provide a sense of control, leading to a cycle of self-medication. 

Mental health problems and substance abuse often occur together. Certain substances can trigger symptoms of mental health problems in individuals with addiction, as outlined in the article titled “Mental Health and Substance Use Co-Occurring Disorders,” published by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) in April 2023. 

Internet addiction impacts substance abuse because excessive online engagement can lead to emotional distress, social isolation, and decreased coping skills. All these factors play a role in driving individuals to turn to substances as a way to escape, numb their emotions, or alleviate the negative effects of internet on mental health.

8. Negative self-image

Negative self-image refers to a perception of oneself where the emphasis is placed on personal flaws and weaknesses, often leading to a distorted view of one’s failures and imperfections. It involves a cognitive perspective that can impact emotions, interpersonal interactions, and one’s overall outlook on oneself and the external environment.

Negative self-image can significantly impact internet addiction by creating a cycle of behavior that seeks validation, distraction, and coping mechanisms online. Individuals with low self-esteem often turn to the internet as a way to escape their negative feelings about themselves and to seek affirmation from others. This can lead to excessive time spent on social media platforms, seeking likes, comments, and approval to boost their self-worth.

9. Attention and concentration issues

Attention and concentration issues refer to difficulties in maintaining focus and sustaining attention on tasks or activities, as well as difficulties in remaining engaged in conversations or events. These issues also involve struggles with following straightforward instructions and experiencing episodes of daydreaming. 

Individuals with these problems often struggle to direct their cognitive resources towards a specific task, leading to reduced productivity, impaired learning, and challenges in completing activities that require sustained attention. These issues can arise due to various factors, including medical conditions, psychological factors, and external distractions, and can have a significant impact on an individual’s daily functioning and overall performance.

Attention and concentration issues impact internet addiction because excessive and fragmented online activities lead to cognitive overload and a diminished ability to sustain focused attention on tasks.

10. Escapism and avoidance

Escapism refers to the consistent diversion of one’s thoughts as a way to elude reality or routine. Stenseng F. et al., in the issue from January 2023 of Frontiers in Psychology, titled “Running to get “lost”? Two types of escapism in recreational running and their relations to exercise dependence and subjective well-being”, define escapism as an engagement in activities or types of entertainment that help individuals avoid or ignore the unenjoyable or repetitive aspects of their lives. The tendency to avoid is generally recognized as a maladaptive behavioral reaction to intense fear and anxiety.

Escapism and avoidance impact internet addiction through their tendency to provide individuals with a means to evade or divert their attention from real-life challenges, leading them to seek refuge in online activities. This behavior can create a cycle where the internet becomes a preferred escape route, reinforcing addictive patterns and exacerbating the underlying issues.

How does excessive internet use contribute to anxiety and stress levels?

woman watching her laptop screen

Excessive internet use contributes to heightened anxiety and stress levels by overwhelming individuals with information, triggering the fear of missing out (FOMO), exposing users to online harassment, encouraging escapism, and disrupting sleep patterns. Additionally, internet addiction  causes anxiety during digital detachment, facilitating negative social interactions and diminishing face-to-face interactions. 

Constant exposure to a barrage of information, news, and social media updates can overwhelm individuals, leading to heightened anxiety and stress as they struggle to keep up with the influx of content. In a 2018 study by Kumar M. et al. titled “Internet addiction and its relationship to psychopathology and self-esteem among college students,” the researchers discovered a significant impact of internet usage on college students. The study highlighted that internet usage had a particularly robust impact on areas such as anxiety and depression. Additionally, the study revealed instances where excessive internet usage negatively affected students’ social lives and their relationships with their families.

What are the treatments for internet addiction?

The common treatments for internet addiction are listed below:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): CBT is a common therapeutic approach for internet addiction, focusing on altering negative thought patterns that trigger anxiety and addictive behaviors. It can be used alongside pharmacotherapy for better results. CBT helps individuals identify triggers and develop healthier coping mechanisms to manage anxiety and reduce addictive behaviors related to excessive internet use. Cognitive-behavioral therapy for internet addiction (CBT-IA) is a specific version of CBT designed to help people overcome their addiction to the internet and other forms of technology.

In December 2013, a study titled “Treatment outcomes using CBT-IA with Internet-addicted patients” was carried out by Young KS to measure treatment outcomes using CBT-IA. The findings indicated that CBT-IA exhibited effectiveness in alleviating symptoms linked to internet addiction. This improvement was observed across a span of twelve weekly sessions and sustained consistently for three and six months after the therapy.

  • Online support groups: Online support groups for internet addiction treatment refer to organized online gatherings of individuals who are struggling with excessive or compulsive internet use and seek assistance in managing and overcoming this behavior. These groups provide a safe and supportive environment where participants can share their experiences, challenges, and strategies for dealing with their internet addiction. Support groups typically include individuals who are at various stages of recovery from internet addiction, ranging from those who are just beginning to recognize their problem to those who have made significant progress in managing their internet use. The main goals of these groups are to provide emotional support, foster a sense of community, and share practical advice and coping mechanisms to help participants regain control over their internet usage. According to Alrobai A et al.’s article titled “COPE.er Method: Combating Digital Addiction via Online Peer Support Groups”, in the March 2019 issue of the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, shared mediums support the impact of peer group techniques, such as self-monitoring, social surveillance, and personalized feedback, with a greater degree of interactivity, continuity, and real-time communication
  • Inpatient or residential treatments: Residential or inpatient internet addiction treatment centers are designed to address the symptoms of IA and facilitate the healing process within a caring, medically overseen setting. In some countries, such as China and South Korea, inpatient programs to treat internet addiction are common, but there is little scientific evidence that they are effective.
  • Medication: Given that addictions can be individualized and may coincide with other conditions like anxiety and depression, antianxiety and antidepressant drugs may be considered as treatment for internet addiction. In the research article by Yuan K. et al., published in November2011 within the journal “Communicative & Integrative Biology” under the title “Internet addiction: Neuroimaging findings,” the specialists emphasized that there is a common neurobiological mechanism between substance addiction and internet addiction. As a result, experts in the field propose that medications targeting addictive behaviors could potentially offer assistance for both conditions. It’s worth noting that, currently, there are no over-the-counter medications known to directly aid in treating internet addiction.

What are common therapies for internet addiction?

Common therapies for internet addiction include cognitive behavioral therapies, self-help treatment therapies, and group or family therapies. It has been demonstrated that these therapies are all effective treatments for internet addiction. 

In a case study published in the September 2019 article “Internet Addiction” on GoodTherapy,   a teenager faced challenges related to excessive internet use. A 16-year-old girl struggled with excessive internet use and initially showed reluctance towards therapy. The teenager’s parents voiced concerns about her isolation, disrupted sleep, and weight loss stemming from her intense online engagement. Through one-on-one sessions, the patient disclosed her school-related challenges, including mild bullying. She revealed that her primary support came from online friends who understood her. While acknowledging her need for connection, the therapist emphasized the importance of striking a balance between online interactions and real-life activities. Over time, therapy aided the teenager in effectively managing her internet usage, experiencing mood improvement, and nurturing in-person friendships, ultimately contributing to her overall well-being.

These therapies can be used individually or in combination, tailored to each person’s unique needs and circumstances, to effectively address internet addiction.

How effective are cognitive-behavioral therapies?

girl sitting on a couch with hands on her head

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapies (CBT) have demonstrated effectiveness in treating internet addiction because they have a structured approach that aims to modify negative thought patterns and behaviors associated with addiction. 

In the March 2016 issue of Journal of Medical Internet Research Protocols, a study called “Treatment of Internet Addiction with Anxiety Disorders: Treatment Protocol and Preliminary Before-After Results Involving Pharmacotherapy and Modified Cognitive Behavioral Therapy” showed that patients who got both CBT and pharmacotherapy did much better, showing how effective CBT works when combined with other treatments. Overall, the evidence suggests that CBT can be a valuable therapeutic tool for addressing internet addiction by targeting underlying cognitive and behavioral aspects. The findings of this study were remarkable and effective due to the high level of patient involvement and active participation in the therapy process. This deep engagement played a pivotal role in the treatment’s effectiveness from a behavioral standpoint. Moreover, this heightened involvement instilled patients with the necessary confidence to persistently regulate and control their internet usage in their day-to-day lives.

Do medications help manage internet addiction?

No, medications are not generally considered the primary treatment for managing internet addiction. While medications like antianxiety and antidepressants might be beneficial for individuals with coexisting mental health conditions contributing to their internet addiction, they are not directly targeted at addressing the addictive behaviors associated with excessive internet use. The focus of treatment for internet addiction usually involves therapies, behavior modification techniques, and developing healthier coping strategies to manage online behaviors and restore balance in daily life.