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What is Internet Addiction?

“Internet addiction is a subtle thief that steals our time, attention, and focus.” 

 — Tony O’Driscoll

What is internet addiction? 

Internet addiction is characterised by compulsively and obsessively using the internet to the extent that other areas of life are neglected or seriously compromised. The internet has impacted our lives profoundly, perhaps as markedly as watershed events such as the discovery of fire or the industrial revolution did. For most of us there’s no avoiding the internet. From the way it has transformed the working environment for so many, to managing personal finances and enabling social interaction on a multitude of platforms, there’s no doubt that the internet has spawned a revolution of its own.Gaming and social media can be highly addictive and can affect the human brain in the same way gambling, shopping, and online porn addiction can, by hijacking the reward centre.

In a paper titled Internet Addiction: definition, assessment, epidemiology and clinical management, Martha Shaw and Donald W Black write: “Internet addiction is characterized by excessive or poorly controlled preoccupations, urges or behaviours regarding computer use and internet access that lead to impairment or distress. The condition has attracted increasing attention in the popular media and among researchers, and this attention has paralleled the growth in computer (and internet) access.” The authors continue: “Internet addiction has been associated with dimensionally measured depression and indicators of social isolation. Psychiatric co-morbidity is common, particularly mood, anxiety, impulse control, and substance use disorders. Aetiology is unknown, but probably involves psychological, neurobiological and cultural factors.”

Although internet addiction wasn’t included in the most recent Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), this may very well change as more data and case studies come to light. While some health professionals debate whether the internet can be addictive or cause compulsive behaviour, highly distressed individuals are increasingly seeking help. Many health professionals now recognise the problems associated with compulsive internet use (often called an impulse control disorder). Another sign that internet addiction is on the rise is the emergence of a relatively new support group called Internet and Technology Addicts Anonymous (founded in 2017), which has modelled itself on the twelve-step principles of Alcoholics Anonymous.

At Addcounsel, we have successfully treated individuals with gaming and online shopping addictions, and we know how hard it is to change or curtail compulsive use of the internet.

What are the signs of internet addiction?

If an individual uses the internet for the sole purpose of numbing uncomfortable emotions, or unwelcome sensations, whilst consequently neglecting other important obligations or relationships, this is a misuse and could lead to a dependency/addiction. Parents are increasingly concerned about the speed at which children and even infants are becoming ‘hooked’ on one form or another of online engagement.

Neglecting to eat, sleep, or wash in favour of internet use are sure signs that an individual may need help to curb their addictive behaviours. Symptoms of internet addiction usually cause a person to become extremely tense or irritable when away from a computer/digital device, and often leads to dishonesty with loved ones or secrecy about the extent of time spent online. Personal relationships will be impaired due to a lack of engagement and a breakdown in trust and intimacy. As with other online/behavioural addictions, changing a person’s relationship with the internet will be challenging and require the appropriate support. Here are some of the symptoms of internet addiction:

  • The user will spend ever-increasing amounts of time online to recapture the thrill of their early days of internet use or enjoy the same sense of satisfaction
  • An individual will compulsively think/obsess about using the internet to the point where everyday responsibilities are neglected, shelved, or ignored
  • Emotional withdrawal symptoms will intensify if the individual can’t get online for some reason. Such symptoms may include mood swings, anxiety, anger, and irritability. Accessing and using the internet will relieve these symptoms
  • Rather than processing emotions such as disappointment, sadness, guilt, depression, and loneliness, the internet addict will use the internet as a coping mechanism. While it’s true that there are online apps, chats, and websites which can be helpful for someone going through a difficult time, the internet addict will likely avoid in person human contact which could be more beneficial
  • Important responsibilities such as attending school, college, or work are neglected while internet use is prioritised

Behavioural addictions associated with the internet

Addcounsel’s world-class team of experts have identified compulsive addictive behaviours that spring from internet access.

Online porn addiction

The most recent stats show that 30% of all data transferred across the internet is pornography. Porn websites are among the most popular online: Instant access to live streaming, webcams, porn sites, and “hook-up dating” apps are taking up much internet bandwidth. Porn use can be highly addictive and has been proven to infiltrate the mesolimbic system (the human brain’s reward centre) like habitual crack cocaine use and sexual activity.

In an article published by Neuroscience News it reads: “Through evolutionary design, the brain is wired to respond to sexual stimulation with surges of dopamine. This neurotransmitter, most often associated with reward anticipation, also acts to program memories and information into the brain. This adaption means that when the body requires food or sex, the brain remembers where to return to experience the same pleasure.” The author continues: “Instead of turning to a romantic partner for sexual gratification or fulfilment, habituated porn users instinctively reach for their phones and laptops when the desire comes calling. Furthermore, unnaturally strong explosions of reward and pleasure evoke unnaturally strong degrees of habituation in the brain.”

Online gambling addiction

Online gambling addiction is increasingly recognised and understood in the health and social care sector. The term “gambling disorder” was placed in a new category of behavioural addictions in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). A frequent preoccupation with gambling characterises online gambling addiction, uncontrollable urges to gamble, gambling with more significant amounts of money to produce a sufficient rush of dopamine (an attempt to recapture the rush experienced in the early days of their gambling), unsuccessful attempts to stop, and experiencing a withdrawal when quitting gambling.

Online gaming addiction

Video game addiction (gaming addiction and/or gaming disorder) impacts every area of life, from mental and physical health to financial and social wellbeing. A gaming addict will compulsively and obsessively think about gaming and neglect everyday responsibilities and obligations. Gaming addicts report depression and anxiety disorders, primarily when not gaming.

In June 2018, The World Health Organization included gaming disorder in 11th Revision of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11). WHO writes: “Gaming disorder is defined in the 11th Revision of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11) as a pattern of gaming behavior (“digital-gaming” or “video-gaming”) characterized by impaired control over gaming, increasing priority given to gaming over other activities to the extent that gaming takes precedence over other interests and daily activities, and continuation or escalation of gaming despite the occurrence of negative consequences.” It concludes: “For gaming disorder to be diagnosed, the behaviour pattern must be of sufficient severity to result in significant impairment in personal, family, social, educational, occupational or other important areas of functioning and would normally have been evident for at least 12 months.”

Online shopping addiction

Online shopping addiction is also recognised as compulsive shopping disorder (CSD) and oniomania. Left untreated, it’ll severely impact mental, emotional, and financial wellbeing. A shopping addict will compulsively think about the items they’ve seen online and act out even when affordability is an issue, or as is the case for many, order items online simply to numb out. As with other online compulsive and addictive behaviours, online shopping addiction will interfere with the natural processes of the reward system in the brain, releasing surges of dopamine. This instant “fix” or “high” is a different experience from say, working on a project and completing it and then experiencing a sense of satisfaction. An addictive behaviour will skip this process and go immediately to instant gratification. An emotional and psychological withdrawal will likely follow if a person has impaired their reward system through compulsive and addictive shopping.

Addcounsel’s approach to internet addiction

At Addcounsel, we understand the impact of internet addiction and how it impacts everyday life. Without the appropriate treatment, internet addiction will compromise interpersonal relations and eventually severely impact mental health. Many individuals addicted to the internet report experiencing chronic stress, anxiety, depression, insomnia, mood swings, and suicidal ideation. 

When you check in to one of our private and discreet rehabilitation clinics, you’ll embark upon a personalised internet addiction treatment programme tailored to your needs. We offer luxury private accommodation for the duration of your stay, with 24/7 access to a team of world-class experts headed by one of the UK’s leading psychiatrists and a compassionate and understanding approach to finding the solution which works for you.

Your treatment occurs in an intimate, one-to-one setting – no groups or other patients. Your comfort, safety and privacy are our priority. Our dedicated team will guide you through the entire internet addiction treatment process from start to finish, in the comfort and anonymity of your private, utterly discreet, luxury rehabilitation accommodations in Mayfair, Chelsea, or Notting Hill, London.

Contact us today to start your recovery.

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