Complaining about being a slave to the computer? Many of us need to spend hours in front of the screen for work, but at least once the day is done, we can move on to other things. Some people, though, just can’t close the machine and let it rest. Instead, they stay glued to the device—whether smart phone, tablet, or laptop— until the wee hours, night after night, cruising Facebook, shopping, watching porn, or researching arcane interests. A system crash catapults them into utter panic and desperation. When they do other activities, they feel anxious until they can check email or Facebook for the nth time that day.
Sound like addiction? The mental health community says yes. Internet Addiction Disorder (IAD) has finally reached the status of a mental health disorder listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of psychiatric conditions. When Jon Barron wrote about IAD back in 2009, there was still significant disagreement among experts about whether or not those who spent endless hours cruising the internet actually had an addiction. No longer. Now the problem is acknowledged, and the growing prevalence is causing some alarm.
Research has been conducted worldwide, particularly in Asia, to determine just how many people have become hooked on their devices to a deleterious degree. One of the most recent studies looked at college students in India and concluded that up to 34 percent had some form of IAD.1 Krishnamurthy, Sharmitha and Chetlapali, Satish Kumar. “Internet addiction: Prevalence and risk factors: A cross-sectional study of college students in Bengalaru, the Silicon Valley of India.” 2015, volume 59. Indian Journal of Public Health. 6 October 2016. http://www.ijph.in/article.asp?issn=0019-557X;year=2015;volume=59;issue=2;spage=115;epage=121;aulast=Krishnamurthy Finnish research found that 24 percent of students seriously overused computers.2 “Internet Addiction Statistics: Facts, Figures & Numbers.” Tech Addiction. 6 October 2016. http://www.techaddiction.ca/internet_addiction_statistics.html Studies in China in 2014 found a less significant six percent of IAD among teens, while a study in Spain found a 10 percent prevalence among students.
Although these numbers are all over the map, they all do point to the fact that there’s a tidal wave of addictive attachment to internet use affecting young users. Very little research seems to have been done on internet addiction among older adult users, but logic dictates that the disorder (and as noted above, it is considered a disorder) cuts across age groups. Some sources believe that the problem is far more widespread than the above-cited research indicates. A study out of Stanford University concluded that one out of every eight internet users has a problem with overuse.3 http://www.aboutaddictionfacts.com/addiction-statistics/internet-addiction-statistics Another study reported on the Addiction Facts website found that an astonishing 70 percent of those under age 24 were addicted and between 40-59 percent of those adults over the age of 25.
The problems ushered in by internet addiction are manifold. Jon Barron detailed the potential physical health impacts of computer overuse in his 2009 blog, including carpal tunnel syndrome, neck and back injuries, eye problems including developing glaucoma, and exposure to potentially cancer-causing EMFs. Now, new research out of McMaster University in Canada has concluded that among internet addicts, depression rates, anxiety, and impulsiveness are elevated, as is difficulty carrying out daily routines and managing time.4 Dallas, Mary Elizabeth. “Internet addiction could signal other problems.” 19 September 2016. Health Day. 6 October 2016. http://www.cbsnews.com/news/internet-addiction-could-signal-other-mental-health-problems/
Whether depression and anxiety drive internet addiction or rather, result from it, isn’t clear, but there certainly does seem to be a connection between excessive internet use and compromised mental health.
According to psychiatrist Dr. Jan Buitelaar of Radbound University in the Netherlands, “Excessive use of the internet is an understudied phenomenon that may disguise mild or severe psychopathology; excessive use of the internet may be strongly linked to compulsive behavior and addiction.”
What exactly is internet addiction and how can you judge if you might be afflicted? Here are five of the top symptoms of IAD:
- Excessive and Increasing Use. With any addiction, there’s a phenomenon called “tolerance.” This means that you need more of the substance or activity to get the same “high” that you experienced in the past. While there’s no clear-cut formula in terms of hours spent online that can indicate if you’ve passed the addiction threshold, you might be entering an addiction loop if you find that you’re spending much more time online now than you did last year—and it’s not because of inviolable work or school requirements.
- Inability to Stop Using. Another symptom common to all addictions is continuing the behavior even after resolving to cut back. Just as most alcoholics make multiple attempts at rehab, computer addicts tell themselves repeatedly that they’ll spend less time on Facebook or porn or online shopping or gaming, or whatever websites their particular behavior involves, but instead, they find themselves right back at it within days or weeks or even hours. Another aspect of the inability to quit is promising yourself that you’ll stop cruising at a certain time of day, and then finding yourself still online an hour or so later. If you find that you repeatedly slip into such a web time warp, you might have a problem.
- Minimizing or Lying About Using. Yet another behavior common to addicts is lying. A joke sometimes told in AA circles is this: “How do you know when an addict is lying? His lips are moving.” If you find yourself underestimating how much time you actually spent online (lying to yourself), shutting the computer down when you hear someone coming (hiding your use), discounting the number of times you returned to Facebook or other sites, or outright fibbing to your partner about what time you came to bed, you might want to think about getting help.
- Shirking Social and Work Commitments. Yet one more sign of any addiction is that as it ramps up, time spent on other important activities suffers. The substance (in this case, the internet) becomes more compelling even than being with friends and family, and so instead of making plans to go out to a show, addicts might choose to stay home cruising the web. They spend so much time on the internet at night, perhaps, that they’re too tired to do a good job at work, or, they spend work time indulging their internet addiction, surfing sites that have nothing to do with their employment. Tell-tale signs, for example, are if you’d rather watch porn than be with your partner, if you’d rather shop online than do your job, or if friends and/or family are complaining that you spend too much time online.
- Withdrawal. Addicts go through withdrawal when removed from their substance of choice, and it’s the same phenomenon for internet addicts. When out doing other things—including working and studying—thoughts about what might be online intrude. The user feels strong urges to check email, to go to Facebook, to return to shopping sites, even while sitting at a board meeting. The cell-phone or tablet goes on the table at restaurants and in some cases, goes to bed with the addict. The addict might wake up after going to bed to check the internet. A nervousness nags the person with IAD until the internet fix is delivered, and then the urge to look yet again returns within a short time.
Having one or two of these behaviors doesn’t necessarily mean you have full-blown IAD, but it certainly signals that you might want to review your relationship with your devices.
|↑1||Krishnamurthy, Sharmitha and Chetlapali, Satish Kumar. “Internet addiction: Prevalence and risk factors: A cross-sectional study of college students in Bengalaru, the Silicon Valley of India.” 2015, volume 59. Indian Journal of Public Health. 6 October 2016. http://www.ijph.in/article.asp?issn=0019-557X;year=2015;volume=59;issue=2;spage=115;epage=121;aulast=Krishnamurthy|
|↑2||“Internet Addiction Statistics: Facts, Figures & Numbers.” Tech Addiction. 6 October 2016. http://www.techaddiction.ca/internet_addiction_statistics.html|
|↑4|| Dallas, Mary Elizabeth. “Internet addiction could signal other problems.” 19 September 2016. Health Day. 6 October 2016. http://www.cbsnews.com/news/internet-addiction-could-signal-other-mental-health-problems/|