Internet and Computer Addiction
While time spent online can be hugely productive, compulsive Internet use can interfere with daily life, work, and relationships. When you feel more comfortable with your online friends than your real ones, or you can’t stop yourself from playing games, gambling, or compulsively checking your smartphone, tablet, or other mobile device—even when it has negative consequences in your life—then you may be using the Internet too much. Learn about the signs and symptoms of Internet addiction and how to balance your life online and off.
Internet addiction, otherwise known as computer addiction, online addiction, or Internet Addiction Disorder (IAD), 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, texting, 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 Mindsweeper, or obsessive computer programming.
The most common of these Internet addictions are cybersex, online gambling, and cyber-relationship addiction.
Healthy vs. Unhealthy Internet Use
The Internet provides a constant, ever-changing source of information and entertainment. It can be accessed from most smartphones as well as tablet, laptops, and desktop computers. E-mail, blogs, social networks, instant messaging, 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 our time, causing you to neglect your relationships, our work, school, or other important things in our life. If you keep repeating compulsive Internet behavior despite the negative consequences in you offline life, then it’s time to strike a new balance.
How do people become addicted to the Internet?
To relieve unpleasant and overwhelming feelings
Many people turn to the Internet in order to manage unpleasant feelings such as stress, loneliness, sadness, 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, sadness, 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, and practicing simple relaxation techniques.
For many people, an important aspect of overcoming Internet and computer addiction is to find alternated 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 addictions 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 e-mail checking and compulsive Internet use.
- You find yourself feeling sad for extended periods and start to withdraw from family and friends. The Internet can be an escape from feelings of sadness and loneliness, but too much time online can make things worse. Internet addiction further contributes to stress and isolation.
- 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 and feel left out. You might be wondering where you fit in and the Internet could feel more comfortable than real-life friends.
- You are socially less active than you once were. For example, you may be coping with a new disability that limits your ability to drive. You may be a new single-parent, which can make it more difficult 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 our stress levels will be.
Signs and symptoms of Internet addiction or computer addiction
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 there 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 into a few hours? Do you get irritated or cranky if your online time is interrupted?
- Having trouble completing your homework on time. Do you find assignments that you just “forgot” to do? Did you rush through an assignment just so you could go on Facebook or do some online gaming? Do you stay up later than you thought completing that homework assignment because you were on the Internet then were so tired the next day that you couldn’t concentrate in class?
- 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 understands you like your online friends?
- Feeling guilty or defensive about your Internet use. Are you sick of your friends nagging you to get off the computer or put your smartphone down and spend time with them? Do you hide your Internet use or lie to your family about the amount of time you spend on the computer or mobile devices 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 stress, 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
Internet addiction: Cybersex and pornography
While online pornography and cybersex addictions are type of sexual addiction, special challenges on the Internet include its relative anonymity and ease of access. It’s easy to send hours on the Internet in the privacy of your own home, and engage in fantasies impossible in real life.
Compulsively spending hours on the Internet viewing pornography or engaging in other cybersex activities can adversely affect real-life relationships, career, and emotional health.
What’s the difference between healthy and unhealthy sexuality?
For most adults, healthy sexuality is an integrated life experience. Sex with partners, with self, or as a part of exploring new relationships is usually a pleasurable act of choice. For sexual addicts however, sexual behavior can be most often defined by words such as driver, compulsive, and hidden. Unlike healthy sex that is integrated into relationships, sexual addicts use sex as a means to cope, to handle boredom, anxiety, and other powerful feelings or as a way to feel important, wanted, or powerful.
Internet addiction: Online gambling
While gambling has been a well-documented problem for years, the availability of Internet gambling has made gambling far more accessible. It has also made it harder for recovering addicts to avoid relapse. Online or virtual casinos are open all day, every day for anyone with Internet access. People who don’t live within close proximity of a traditional casino or betting track, for example or even those who are too young to gain access, now find it much easier to gamble online.
Internet addiction: Cyber-relationships
When used responsibly, the Internet can be a great place to interact socially, meet new people, and even start romantic relationships. However, online relationships can often be more intense than those in real life. Our fantasies are given free reign and the idea of being with your online love can exceed all realistic expectations. Because few real-life relationships can compete with these wild, fantasy relationships, the Internet addict will prefer to spend more and more time with their online friends.
Another problem is that about 50% of people online lie about their age, weight, job, marital status, or gender. When online friends meet and the real-life person fails to match the online persona, it can create profound emotional disappointment.
Self-help tips for breaking your Internet addiction
There are a number of steps you can take to get your Internet use under control. While you can initiate many of these yourself, it’s important you get some outside support as well. It can be all too easy to slip back into old patterns of uasage, especially if you use the Internet heavily for school or other important activities. Here are just a few steps that might help you:
- Recognize any underlying problems that may support your Internet addiction.
If you are struggling with sadness, anger problems, or anxiety, for example, Internet addiction might be a way to self-soothe rocky moods. Have you had problems with alcohol or drugs in the past? Does anything about your Internet use remind you of how you used to drink or use drugs to numb yourself? Recognize if you need to address treatment in these areas or return to group support meetings.
- Build your coping skills.
Perhaps blowing off steam on the Internet is your way of coping with stress or angry feelings. Maybe you have trouble relating to others, or are excessively shy with people in real life. Building skills in these areas will help you weather the stresses and strains of daily life without resorting to compulsive Internet use.
- Strengthen your support network.
The more relationships you have in real life, the less you will need the Internet for social interaction. Set aside dedicated time each week for friends and family. If you are shy, try finding common interest groups such as a sports team, education class, or book reading club. This allows you to interact with others and let relationships develop naturally.
Modify your Internet use step by step:
- To help you see problem areas, keep a log of how much you use the Internet for non-work or non-essential activities. Are there times of day that you use the Internet more? Are there triggers in your day that make you stay online for hours at a time when you only planned to stay for a few minutes?
- Set goals for when you can use the Internet. For example, you might try setting a timer, scheduling use for certain times of day, or making a commitment to turn off the computer, tablet, or smartphone at the same time each night. You could reward yourself with a certain amount of online time once you’ve completed a homework assignment or finished the laundry, for instance.
- Replace your Internet usage with healthy activities. If you are bored and lonely, resisting the urge to get back online can be very difficult. Have a plan for other ways to fill the time, such as going to lunch with a friend or classmate.
Adapted from HelpGuide.Org
Tips for dealing with Internet addiction:
- Ask yourself, “What am I missing out on when I spend so much time on the Internet? Write down these activities and decrease your Internet time to pursue some of them.
- Set reasonable Internet use goals and stick to them. Take frequent breaks, at 5 minutes each hour, and do some other activity.
- Alter you routine to break your usage patterns. If you spend evenings on the Internet, start limiting your use to mornings.
- Seek out friends and acquaintances who “couldn’t care less” about the Internet. Take time to appreciate the fact that all life is not yet online.
- Stay connected to the offline world. Visit newsstands, book and music stores, and participate in entertainment such as museums, music, and live theater. Novels and poetry readings are hard to experience online.
- Treat the Internet as a tool. Stay focused on the fact that the Internet is a means to an end. Plan your strategy—whether you’re looking for information or entertainment—with the end in mind and you’ll save valuable time.
Source of TIPS: University of California, San Francisco