It has been a while since I have had a chance to post on my blog. I apologize. Things have been hectic and crazy. I have been working with the Bradford Regional Medical Center to open the first inpatient hospital-based program on Internet Addiction Treatment and Recovery. I am very excited. The clinic is set to open September 1st, 2013. There is much to do to prepare. I will give you details as soon as I have them, for now, I can say it is the first inpatient treatment center for IA in the United States. We are excited to offer a program like this and I will serve as the Medical Director. I can hardly believe it.
As a refresher, I have been looking at several blog posts on Internet Addiction being included in the DSM-5. I think that there is much discussion still on what are the types of Internet addiction, what is healthy versus unhealthy signs of Internet use, what are the risk factors, and what are symptoms.
Since I have the new inpatient treatment center opening, I thought I would post a refresher that answers these frequent questions. Again, I will be sure to update you once the center is open!!
The first question, what are the type of Internet Addiction?
Internet Addiction covers a variety of impulse-control problems, including:
- Cybersex Addiction – compulsive use of Internet pornography, adult chat rooms, or adult fantasy role-play sites impacting negatively on real-life intimate relationships.
- Cyber-Relationship Addiction – addiction to social networking, chat rooms, and messaging to the point where virtual, online friends become more important than real-life relationships with family and friends.
- Net Compulsions – such as compulsive online gaming, gambling, stock trading, or compulsive use of online auction sites such as eBay, often resulting in financial and job-related problems.
- Information Overload – compulsive web surfing or database searching, leading to lower work productivity and less social interaction with family and friends.
- Computer Addiction – obsessive playing of off-line computer games, such as Solitaire or Minesweeper, or obsessive computer programming.
The most common of these Internet addictions are Internet gaming and Internet sex addiction.
Healthy vs. unhealthy Internet use
The Internet provides a constant, ever-changing source of information and entertainment, and can be accessed from most smart phones as well as tablets, laptops, and computers. Email, blogs, social networks, and message boards allow for both public and anonymous communication about any topic. But how much is too much Internet usage?
Each person’s Internet use is different. You might need to use the Internet extensively for your work, for example, or you might rely heavily on social networking sites to keep in touch with faraway family and friends. Spending a lot of time online only becomes a problem when it absorbs too much of your time, causing you to neglect your relationships, your work, school, or other important things in your life. If you keep repeating compulsive Internet behavior despite the negative consequences in your offline life, then it’s time to strike a new balance.
To relieve unpleasant and overwhelming feelings
Many people turn to the Internet in order to manage unpleasant feelings such as stress, loneliness, depression, and anxiety. When you have a bad day and are looking for a way to escape your problems or to quickly relieve stress or self-soothe, the Internet can be an easily accessible outlet. Losing yourself online can temporarily make feelings such as loneliness, stress, anxiety, depression, and boredom evaporate into thin air. As much comfort as the Internet can provide, though, it’s important to remember that there are healthier (and more effective) ways to keep difficult feelings in check. These may include exercising, meditating, using sensory relaxation strategies, and practicing simple breathing exercises.
For many people, an important aspect of overcoming Internet and computer addiction is to find alternate ways to handle these difficult feelings. Even when your Internet use is back to healthy levels, the painful and unpleasant feelings that may have prompted you to engage in unhealthy Internet use in the past will remain. So, it’s worth spending some time thinking about the different ways you intend to deal with stressful situations and the daily irritations that would normally have you logging on.
Risk factors for Internet addiction and computer addiction
You are at greater risk of Internet addiction if:
- You suffer from anxiety. You may use the Internet to distract yourself from your worries and fears. An anxiety disorder like obsessive-compulsive disorder may also contribute to excessive email checking and compulsive Internet use.
- You are depressed. The Internet can be an escape from feelings of depression, but too much time online can make things worse. Internet addiction further contributes to stress, isolation and loneliness.
- You have any other addictions. Many Internet addicts suffer from other addictions, such as drugs, alcohol, gambling, and sex.
- You lack social support. Internet addicts often use social networking sites, instant messaging, or online gaming as a safe way of establishing new relationships and more confidently relating to others.
- You’re an unhappy teenager. You might be wondering where you fit in and the Internet could feel more comfortable than real-life friends.
- You are less mobile or socially active than you once were. For example, you may be coping with a new disability that limits your ability to drive. Or you may be parenting very young children, which can make it hard to leave the house or connect with old friends.
- You are stressed. While some people use the Internet to relieve stress, it can have a counterproductive effect. The longer you spend online, the higher your stress levels will be.
Signs and symptoms of Internet addiction vary from person to person. For example, there are no set hours per day or number of messages sent that indicate Internet addiction. But here are some general warning signs that your Internet use may have become a problem:
- Losing track of time online. Do you frequently find yourself on the Internet longer than you intended? Does a few minutes turn in to a few hours? Do you get irritated or cranky if your online time is interrupted?
- Having trouble completing tasks at work or home. Do you find laundry piling up and little food in the house for dinner because you’ve been busy online? Perhaps you find yourself working late more often because you can’t complete your work on time — then staying even longer when everyone else has gone home so you can use the Internet freely.
- Isolation from family and friends. Is your social life suffering because of all the time you spend online? Are you neglecting your family and friends? Do you feel like no one in your “real” life — even your spouse — understands you like your online friends?
- Feeling guilty or defensive about your Internet use. Are you sick of your spouse nagging you to get off the computer and spend time together? Do you hide your Internet use or lie to your boss and family about the amount of time you spend on the computer and what you do while you're online?
- Feeling a sense of euphoria while involved in Internet activities. Do you use the Internet as an outlet when stressed, sad, or for sexual gratification or excitement? Have you tried to limit your Internet time but failed?
Physical symptoms of Internet addiction
Internet or computer addiction can also cause physical discomfort such as:
- Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (pain and numbness in hands and wrists)
- Dry eyes or strained vision
- Back aches and neck aches; severe headaches
- Sleep disturbances
- Pronounced weight gain or weight loss