It is often difficult to get a designation of and recognition for new addictions. The psychiatry and therapy communities as well as the wider public can be slow to admit to the reality of certain problems. However, it is tough to ignore the fact that people can become obsessed with and even addicted to the internet.
Official recognition of a disorder means being included in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Internet addiction disorder was recently shut out of the manual. The Association cited the lack of sufficient evidence for inclusion. Experts often find that there is a thin line between true addiction and compulsion, obsession, or self-medicating behaviors. It is likely that eventually Internet addiction will be recognized as a true disorder and will be included in the manual.
Signs of Addiction to the Internet
If you know someone who exhibits extremely compulsive and obsessive behaviors in terms of their Internet usage, then you know that a disorder does not have to be officially recognized in order to exist. When using the Internet takes over someone’s life, that person has a problem, officially or not. Online addiction could be a generalized compulsion, but it can also be more specific. Someone can become addicted to online pornography, social networking, online games, online gambling, or getting information via the Internet.
Regardless of the exact details of the addiction, there are signs to watch for in yourself and others that indicate some type of unhealthy and compulsive computer use:
- Time. If you lose track of time and find yourself surprised that you just spent several hours online, you could have a problem. Overall, spending hours a day online is a concern. If your time online is interrupted and you get cranky and irritable as a result, you should be worried.
- Ignoring other tasks. When you can’t get your other tasks done because you are spending too much time online, you could have a problem. Using the Internet should not interfere with work, housework, or caring for children.
- Isolation. Another worrying sign of Internet addiction is a sense of isolation. When the use of the Internet takes up so much time that you stop spending time with people in the real world, you have cause for concern.
- Emotional attachment. You may have a problem if you use the Internet to de-stress, deal with depression, or if it gives you a sense of euphoria.
- Physical signs. An Internet addiction can also be manifested in physical symptoms like strained vision or dry eyes, carpal tunnel syndrome, back and neck pain, headaches, changes in weight, and lack of sleep.
Therapy and Treatment
The good news is that as more people seem to fall prey to Internet addictions and compulsions, therapists and psychiatrists become more aware of the problem and come up with new ways to help you recover and get back to normal.
- Traditional therapy. A therapist does not necessarily need to be trained in Internet addictions to help you gain perspective. Traditional therapy sessions can help you get to the root of your problem to determine what led to your addiction in the first place. With further counseling, you can learn to beat your compulsions.
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy. With techniques for changing your thinking and behavior, you can beat an Internet addiction. A therapist trained in cognitive and behavioral therapy can give you the step-by-step guidance you need to get off the Internet.
- Group therapy. Getting support from a group of like-minded people has long been used successfully for treating alcohol, drug and other addictions. It can work for Internet addiction too. With a therapist-led group meeting, you can confide in others who understand what you are going through and you can lean on them for support and encouragement.
- Family therapy. Attending therapy sessions with the rest of your family can also be immensely helpful. Often there are many reasons why a person develops an addiction. Having insights from family members can help both you and your therapist gauge your compulsions and dig down to the roots of your behaviors.
- Residential treatment. For very severe cases, a residential program can help. While there may not be many residential programs specifically targeted at Internet addictions, general programs are designed to treat any kind of addiction. The guidance and around-the-clock care that a residential center provides can be very helpful for those with very serious addictions.
However you decide to deal with an Internet addiction, know that you are not alone. If you are supporting someone else in this struggle, be sure that they understand this. Obsession with Internet usage is a growing problem and one that can be treated and supported as any type of addiction can.