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Internet addiction symptoms, causes, and effects

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man in front of a laptop

Internet addiction is a range of behaviors that refers to the excessive use of the internet which ends up affecting many aspects of a person’s life. Excessive computer use becomes problematic when it interferes with one’s personal relationships, work, or school.

Signs that are indicative of internet addiction can be physical or emotional. The most common symptoms of internet addiction include unintended weight gain or loss, poor personal hygiene, backache, headaches, increased irritability, anxiety, and depression, among several others. Both physical and emotional symptoms of internet addiction are a result of remaining inactive for long periods of time and becoming dependent on the use of the internet.

Several factors play a role in the development of the condition. The causes of internet addiction are genetics, structural brain changes, environmental factors, and underlying mental health conditions. There is increasing evidence of biological and genetic predispositions to addictive behaviors around computers.

Excessive internet use can have negative repercussions for people of all ages. The effects of internet addiction can manifest in both physical and emotional ways, including bad posture, carpal tunnel syndrome, vision problems, damaged personal relationships, and mental health concerns such as anxiety and depression. The lack of interpersonal interactions can take a huge toll on an internet addict’s offline personal relationships.

What is Internet addiction?

Internet addiction is the excessive use of the internet to the point where many responsibilities in life are neglected. The condition encourages unhealthy behaviors similarly seen in other types of addiction, including the persistent need to achieve the same high and the neglect of relationships, finances, or jobs.

The addicted person spends a significant amount of time on the internet and becomes increasingly dependent on the use of the internet or other online devices.

What are the signs and symptoms of Internet addiction?

What are the signs and symptoms of Internet Addiction?The indicators of internet addiction can be physical or emotional. The most common signs and symptoms of internet addiction are listed below.

Physical symptoms of internet addiction include:

  • Back or shoulder pain
  • Headaches
  • Vision problems
  • Insomnia
  • Lack of proper hygiene
  • Poor nutrition
  • Unintended weight gain or loss

Emotional symptoms of internet addiction include:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Increased irritability
  • Isolation
  • Feelings of guilt
  • Avoidance of work
  • Feelings of euphoria when using the computer

What are the causes of Internet addiction?

Excessive internet use has multiple contributing factors. The causes of internet addiction are listed below.

  • Genetics:
    Some people are predisposed to internet addiction because of dopamine and serotonin deficiency. Internet addicts have lower levels of dopamine and serotonin compared to the general population and this could explain the engagement in risky addictive behaviors to achieve a pleasurable response.
  • Structural brain changes:
    Evidence exists that compulsive internet use can physically change the structure of the brain. Internet addiction affects the gray and white matter in areas of the prefrontal brain. The prefrontal regions are associated with remembering details, planning, attention span, and prioritizing tasks.
  • Environmental factors:
    Social environmental factors that contribute to the development of internet addiction include exposure to internet game advertisements and accessibility to PC cafés. The multiple levels of rewards that the internet offers also make it easier to be addicted to the activity.
  • Underlying mental health conditions:
    People who suffer from anxiety or depression are more likely to turn to the internet to find relief from symptoms. Similarly, shy people or those who suffer from social awkwardness are at an increased risk of having an addiction to the internet.

What are the effects of Internet addiction?

young female watching a laptop

The impact of internet addiction encompasses people of all ages. The effects of internet addiction are listed below.

  • Effects on a kid:
    Problematic internet use is a growing concern for kids. Children lack the ability to manage and limit computer use and have no idea about the dangers that the internet can bring. The effects of computer addiction on a kid include difficulty sleeping, altered attention span, increased risk of becoming obese, increased irritability, and higher chances of developing anxiety and depression, among others.
  • Effects on an adult:
    Young adults who engage in addictive behaviors around the internet are more likely to become depressed within months of excessive use. People who remain online for long periods of time may also start using one or more substances to remain awake and lengthen internet use.
  • Effects on working professionals:
    Too much screen time can lead to several problems for working professionals. Online addiction can negatively affect a person’s performance and productivity at work. Motivation at work can plummet and an internet addict may also avoid work altogether.

What are the treatments for Internet addiction?

An individual can benefit from different types of treatment for problematic internet use. The treatments for internet addiction are listed below.

  • Medication:
    The use of medications is beneficial for people who are suffering from underlying mental health conditions such as depression or anxiety and have developed internet addiction as a result. Antianxiety and antidepressant medications can be used to deal with the symptoms of depression or anxiety. Once the illnesses are dealt with, decreased internet use will follow.
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT):
    A common approach in treating internet addiction. CBT focuses on changing negative thought patterns that trigger anxiety and produce addictive behaviors.
  • Support groups:
    People who suffer from electronic addiction can find solace in support groups that provide a safe place while reducing shame or social isolation. Internet addiction support groups include Internet and Technology Addicts Anonymous, Online Gamers Anonymous, Computer Gaming Addicts Anonymous, and reSTART.
  • Inpatient treatment program:
    Residential or inpatient treatment programs involve staying in a professionally staffed facility. In a supportive environment that offers medical supervision, an internet addict can recover without worrying about internet usage.

How to overcome Internet addiction?

One effective way of overcoming internet addiction is by engaging in self-corrective behaviors. Aside from the internet addiction treatment options mentioned above, practicing self-control is also beneficial for internet addicts. Self-corrective behaviors involve limiting internet access and controlling internet usage. Making a list is helpful in both situations.

In limiting internet access, a person can block distracting websites for a certain amount of time. Since the internet is used for many purposes in everyday life, one can selectively decide which sites can be visited or prohibited for a set amount of time. It will be helpful to make a list of sites that keep you from focusing on other more important tasks like doing school- or work-related assignments while on the internet.

Cutting down on internet usage can also have a profound effect on the amount of time spent in front of the computer. A person can make a personal list of activities once enjoyed but cannot take on anymore because of internet addiction. This can provide increased motivation for controlling internet usage.

What are the different types of Internet addiction?

couple on a bed each looking at a laptop

The internet can be used in several ways that can be equally addictive. The different types of internet addiction are listed below.

  • Cybersex addiction: Using online pornography, adult chat rooms, and webcam services. An individual who suffers from cybersex addiction often struggles to form real-world, intimate relationships due to the unrealistic sexual fantasies seen in porn.
  • Cyber-relationship addiction: Turning to chat rooms or social networking sites to create relationships online. Cyber relationship addicts are obsessed with finding relationships on online platforms. As a result, addicted individuals may lose touch with the real world, leading to the destruction of offline personal relationships.
  • Net compulsions: Engaging in online interactive activities, including gambling, trading stocks, auctions, and online shopping. Excessive time spent in such activities may lead to overspending, ruining one’s financial stability and causing problems at work.
  • Gaming addiction: When playing a game, one can easily lose track of time. Unfortunately, for gaming addicts, this could mean avoidance of school or work to allot more time for playing games. As internet use became more prevalent, the answer to why is internet addictive became clearer.
  • Compulsive information seeking: The uncontrollable urge to look up data online. A certain degree of curiosity is normal. However, some people cannot resist the urge to gather information on the web to the point of developing severe anxiety issues.

What are the characteristics of Internet use disorder?

There are several defining features of internet addiction. The most common characteristics of internet use disorder are listed below.

  • Excessive use of the internet: How much screen time is too much may be subjective. However, internet use usually becomes the center of an internet addict’s daily life. Someone addicted to internet use often remains online longer than intended.
  • Preoccupation with thoughts about the internet: A person with internet addiction disorder has obsessive thoughts about the internet. An individual may constantly recall previous online activity or look forward to the next internet session. Someone with internet addiction may find it hard to stop thinking about the internet in the entirety of the day.
  • The need for a quick fix: Quick fix refers to a solution that is preferred not because of its effectiveness, but because it offers the quickest remedy. A person may use the internet as an escape to fix a bad mood.
  • Tolerance: a common symptom similarly seen in alcohol and drug addiction. Developing tolerance means wanting increased amounts of time on the computer to achieve satisfaction. This ultimately results in the neglect of other responsibilities in life due to internet use taking a large chunk of one’s time.
  • Withdrawal: The withdrawal symptoms of an internet addict include increased irritability, anger, or restlessness when trying to cut down on internet usage or when internet access is not available.
  • Impact on quality of life: Internet addiction has negative repercussions on one’s quality of life. From personal relationships to career and education, one may neglect responsibilities in such areas of life because of the internet.

What is the relation between Internet addiction and mental illness?

There is a strong correlation between internet addiction and a variety of psychological disorders, including anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, and bipolar disorder, among several others.

Internet addiction can be detrimental to one’s mental health. Evidence exists that several psychiatric disorders and internet addiction can coexist. There is an ongoing debate about which comes first for individuals – tech addiction or the coexisting mental health condition.

Either way, it is widely known that adults who are addicted to the internet are more likely to have other mental health problems such as depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), anger issues, alcohol and substance problems, and even suicidal ideations.

Who is the most vulnerable to Internet addiction?

The population that is most vulnerable to internet addiction is male adolescents between the age of 15 and 16 years old.

Adolescents are also more likely to use the internet as a coping mechanism. Teens turn to smartphones to ignore problems by escaping into another world. As a result, this escapism leads to dependency and then a full-scale addiction.

Studies show that adolescents who need internet addiction help are more likely to have lower-quality relationships with parents and other personal difficulties.

How do you deal with Internet addiction?

Dealing with an addiction to technology starts with moving out of the denial stage and admitting that the problem exists. Through the acceptance of the situation, a person shows honesty and brings clarity to the severity of the internet addiction being experienced.

Admitting the existence of the problem also makes a person become more open to the possibility of seeking treatment. Aside from self-help techniques like cutting out problematic apps and sites, effective time management, and tracking the time you are spending online, professional help in treating internet addiction can also be beneficial in many cases.

What are the symptoms of Internet addiction withdrawal?

man at a table on his laptop

Internet addiction can cause drug-like withdrawal symptoms. The most common symptoms of internet addiction withdrawal are listed below.

  • Increased anxiety: An individual who suffers from an addiction to the internet can have increased anxiety levels when access to the internet is blocked. Anxiety can also be experienced if the person is unable to spend as much time on the internet as desired.
  • Irritability: Inability to access the internet and staying away from it can cause increased irritability.
  • Shifts in the mood: A person may start excessively using the internet in an attempt to improve one’s mood. Contrastingly, shifts in mood can be observed when a person is trying to cut down on internet use.
  • Intense feelings of boredom: When one is taken away from the fast responses, immediate rewards, and different activities that the internet can offer, intense feelings of boredom may be experienced.
  • Increased urge to use the internet: Crave-related brain areas tend to activate in people trying to withdraw from intensive internet use. This is especially true in cases where gaming is involved.
  • Psychosis: In certain cases, psychotic symptoms during internet addiction withdrawal have been reported. Withdrawal psychosis may involve agitation, aggressiveness, delusion, and disorganized behaviors.

What are the symptoms of Internet addiction tolerance?

Internet addicts can develop tolerance to several stimuli. The most common symptoms of internet addiction tolerance are listed below.

  • The need for increasing time spent online:
    A person who is addicted to the internet may need increasing amounts of time spent on the computer to achieve the desired effect.
  • The need for better rewards:
    According to the Variable Ratio Reinforcement Schedule (VRRS) theory, internet addiction can result from multiple layers of rewards. For instance, receiving likes and comments on a photo is a form of reward that can make a person come back for more and look forward to better rewards.
  • A changed perception of goals:
    A person may have a changing perception of goals and standards while suffering from internet addiction. This is characterized by a diminished sense of satisfaction with the rewards provided by the internet that one is already familiar with.
  • Time loss while surfing the web:
    People who are immersed in the online world easily lose track of time. A related symptom is disconnection from reality or being clueless about what is happening in the surroundings.

How does internet and gaming addiction affect the youth?

Internet and gaming addiction affects the youth by causing social isolation that keeps a person from living a normal life. The long hours spent gaming may mean missing out on family events, outings with friends, or skipping school.

As a result, someone with digital addiction may suffer from a lack of social skills, poor mental health, and emotional difficulties. The social consequences of internet and gaming addiction can also lead to anxiety and depression as the condition hinders one’s ability to form and maintain healthy relationships.

This lack of skill to establish relationships will, unfortunately, feed the addiction, making the gaming addict return to the online world where relationships are formed without having to work for it.

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