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How many times have you used the internet today? A better question may be, how long have you used the internet today? It is quite an understatement to say the internet is a vital tool for many of us today. Even if we do not use it for social media, news, or communication purposes, our job probably makes use of the internet in some shape or form. The internet has given us countless benefits and entertainment, but there has been a growing problem with internet use to the point some would describe as addiction.

How do we understand Internet Addiction?

Currently there is no official diagnostic framework for Internet Addiction (IA), but the mental health professional community has been trying to figure out a way to conceptualize and understand this phenomenon. So far, IA has been likened to impulse-control, substance use, and obsessive-compulsive disorders. It is similar to impulse-control disorders because people experience a surge of anxiety and an urge to perform an act that is pleasurable in the moment but ultimately results in long-term distress.

What is IA like?

It is similar to substance abuse disorder because people can develop a tolerance to the stimulus, meaning they need to increase the amount of time they use the internet to get a similar euphoric feeling. There is also a parallel to withdrawal, in the sense that enforcing reduced internet usage may cause unpleasant symptoms. It is similar to obsessive-compulsive disorder because people may feel compelled to check their email account/social media/etc every 10 minutes.

Signs for Greater Concern

Here may be some signs that internet use may be becoming problematic in your life:

  1. Excessive Internet use, often associated with a loss of sense of time or a neglect of basic drives
  2. Withdrawal, including feelings of anger, tension, and/or depression when the computer is inaccessible or Internet access is restricted
  3. Tolerance, including the need for better computer equipment, more software, a faster Internet connection, or more hours of use
  4. Adverse consequences, including arguments, lying, poor school or work performance, social isolation, diminished personal hygiene, and fatigue

CREATING AN ESCAPE: The Why Behind Overuse

So for many people, their internet use will not be a cause for alarm. However, studies have noticed that a usual catalyst to increased internet use was self-medication. People began to use the internet to meet needs they could not find anywhere else. Whether it be social communication, perceived sexual intimacy, or an escape from painful circumstances, internet use became an ingrained pattern when it began to fill a void in their lives. If you notice your internet usage increasing or a reluctance to step away from the screen, reflect on what is holding you there. What is the activity you’re doing on the internet that satisfies a certain need?

If you or someone you know is wrestling with internet use or struggling to finding connection in life and depending more on the internet, take a step forward and reach out. Internet Addiction can be one of the most isolating issues because you can stay in the comfort of your home the entire time. I’d be happy to provide resource or guidance to anyone who feels their life is taken over by constant consumption of webpages and apps.

Written by therapist Daniel Pak

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