Take a moment to consider just how much time you spend on the internet each day. A few emails, a couple Facebook and Twitter updates, maybe some online shopping or gaming to pass the time? With an ever-expanding wealth of information and entertainment just a few clicks away, it’s no wonder that so many of us get caught up in the world of cyberspace. But if online compulsions are interfering with your daily life, you may be among the estimated 1 in 8 Americans who are addicted to the internet.
What Defines Internet Addiction?
An internet addiction, while not currently recognized as an official disorder by the American Psychiatric Association, is gaining more and more credibility among mental health professionals, who generally define the affliction as a specific online compulsion, such as pornography, gambling, social/romantic networking, or gaming that interferes with a person’s daily life. Like other addictions, it offers a temporary escape from reality, and often provides a coping mechanism for emotional issues such as depression, anxiety, and loneliness.
What are the Symptoms of an Internet Addiction?
Some internet addicts have admitted to devoting 16 or 17 hours a day to playing online “role-playing” games, while others find themselves in a financial hole after only an hour’s worth of compulsive online shopping or gambling. While there are no set behaviors that define an internet addiction, there are some general signs and symptoms to look for, including:
Difficulty managing time spent online Lying or feeling guilty about online activity Using the internet as an escape or to mask negative feelings Trouble managing money on online gambling or auction sites Negative impacts on work, family, or friends Interference with everyday activities Physical symptoms such as trouble sleeping, vision problems, carpal tunnel syndrome, and muscle aches
Coping with an Internet Addiction
In 2009, the first “internet addiction detox program” in the United States opened its doors in Seattle, Washington. The retreat, called reSTART, offers a 45-day cold turkey detox from the internet, along with group counseling and psychotherapy, all for a hefty sum of $14,500. Sound bogus? Not to people in countries like China and Taiwan, where such treatment facilities have existed for years.
While detox may be the way to go for some, there are more conventional, and less expensive, options to consider if you think your cyber-life is negatively impacting your “real” life. Addictive behavior often stems from underlying emotional problems, such as depression, anxiety, or relationship issues. Cognitive behavioral therapy is one of the most highly regarded methods of changing negative perceptions and thought patterns related to the root issue. Here are some other solutions for dealing with a suspected internet addiction:
Look for patterns that define your online addiction, such as certain situations or times of day that you find yourself logging on more, as these may help reveal any underlying issues. Focus on other activities, especially ones offering physical or mental benefits, like exercise, yoga, and meditation. Make a point to re-connect with friends and family in person, instead of through email or online chat. Seek help from an internet addiction support group (but not an online one, which do in fact exist!)
Fifteen years ago, if someone said you were standing in a “wi-fi hotspot,” you probably would have called radiation control. Today, we can’t go fifteen minutes without fiddling with our smart-phones. With such a rapidly expanding portal into the vast world of cyberspace, it’s no surprise that so many of us have begun to cross that fine line, moving from “normal” internet use to addiction.