A decade of exceptional care

Perhaps it’s Internet Addiction?

Learn about Internet addiction (IAD), Internet gaming disorder (IGD), problematic Internet  use, surfing, screen time addiction, digital media addiction and electronics addiction and how to help

What does the Research say?

The World Health Organization (WHO) classified Internet gaming disorder a problem in 2018. Includes condition in 11th International Classification of Diseases (ICD). 

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Internet Addiction

Is it possible to be addicted to the Internet?

The short answer? Yes. 

In a perfect world, the Internet and its use by children, youth and adults would be studied, and researched prior to being adopted by people around the world. You know, we’d look at the science, make recommendations for its use, and provide people with the necessary tools to ensure healthy sustainable Internet use.

Of course, this didn’t happen. Instead, humans raced to embrace the Internet with its associated risks and benefits in a big way, and its use is expanding faster than behavioral scientists can reasonable be expected to disseminate its findings and provide the guidance needed.

Over the past decade, our team of behavioral scientists has contributed to and helped advance treatment options for Internet gaming disorder and Internet addiction.

What is Internet Addiction?

Internet addiction is a term used by people and behavioral scientists to describe a person whose compulsive use, excessive, or problematic use of the Internet leads to a variety of associated problems. Despite the problems faced, the person continues to use or engage with their activity of choice.

What type of activities are associated with Internet addiction?

While some activities are more highly associated with addictive use, like endless video game play using Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games (MMORPGs) like World of Warcraft; Multiplayer Online Battle Arena (MOBA) games like League of Legends, Dota 2; Massively Multiplayer Online Action Role Playing Games (MMOARPG) like Blade 2;  or First Person Shooter (FPS) games like Overwatch. As you can see, the terms, games, and expansion packs are endless. And therein lies the problem. Humans enjoy a challenge, and the brain seeks to replicate actions which are rewarding. The games mentioned above offer endless game play experiences, and are highly rewarding to those playing these games.

Is video gaming categorized as an Internet addiction?

Internet addiction or compulsive Internet use is not just limited to video games. People may struggle with any of the the following Internet activities or combination of online activities:

  • smartphone use, apps, games, texting scrolling
  • online virtual reality (VR) use
  • online augmented reality (AR) use
  • excessive newsfeed viewing
  • eSports or video channel viewing
  • endless blog viewing, posting or surfing
  • social media use (e.g., snapchat, twitter, facebook, etc)
  • surfing, streaming, chatrooms, forums

Basically, the Internet is designed to serve up the activities which are most rewarding to the individual. One person may have no problems with social media addiction, while another person can’t go a few minutes without checking their feed and friend lists. Another person might spend 17 hours a day watching eSports, while another person has zero interest in watching others play.

In reality, the Internet is the perfect delivery method as it generates experiences tailored to  individual preferences.

How do I know if I have a problem with Internet or screen time use?

Humans are susceptible to activities that reward our brains and encourage continued, compulsive, or impulsive use. However, use of the Internet doesn’t indicate a person has a problem. Internet use which continues despite adverse consequences may indicate problematic Internet or screen use. Digital distractions may lead to academic or school performance issues, failing grades, employment difficulties, relationship conflicts, and general health and wellness conditions like diabetes, weight gain or loss, sleep disorders, and poor nutritional health. If you suspect you or someone you care about has a problem with Internet addiction or screen-time use, help is available.

How do I discuss problematic Internet use or obsessive use with others?

It is quite common for a person who is actively using digital media, virtual reality or augmented reality device, or devices in unhealthy ways to deny their use is a problem. In fact, an outside observer is generally the first to notice when use is becoming a problem. That said, a person using in addictive ways often understands that problems are starting to occur, but they often attribute it to another co-occurring mental health condition like depression, anxiety, attention deficit (ADD/ADHD), autism spectrum (ASD), or experienced traumas (PTSD).

What percentage of people develop an Internet addiction?

Rates of severe Internet addiction differ from study to study worldwide. Research suggests rates between 6% (Chang, 2014) and 25% of individuals may suffer with severe Internet addiction (Xin, et al., 2018).

Prevelance rates differ by gender, with males showing higer rates of Internet addiction.

While there are risks and benefits associated with Internet and online activities, it is clear that for some youth and adults, Internet use is a significant problem. Thus, the World Health Organization made the decision to include Internet gaming disorder in the International Classification of Diseases (ICD) in 2018.

Studies indicate that Internet video game play (VGP) changes the brain. VGP has been associated with delayed development in brain areas associated with development and verbal intelligence. Other studies suggest that Internet gaming may cue the brain in similar ways to pathological gambling or substance use disorder.

When to seek help

Excessive Internet use and game play may lead to a variety of problems. Some people use the Internet excessively occasionally, but live healthy sustainable lives otherwise. They exercise, show up for work, go out with friends, do well in school and spend time engaging in offline activities with people they care about. Others use the Internet impulsively. Many online users find it difficult to stop on their own without professional help.

Taking the first step

If you are concerned that you or someone you care about may be experiencing symptoms of Internet addiction, help is available. Lasting change is possible with treatment, and it starts with taking that first step towards a healthier sustainable lifestyle.

How to talk about the issue

Be honest and direct with someone who is in denial about their Internet use. Do not dismiss, ignore, or minimize what you know to be true around problematic use. Discuss your concerns openly and honestly. 

Those who care about an excessive user may feel unsure about whether use has reached problematic levels. Trust your intuition. Educate yourself. Mild Internet addiction may lead to a worsening of symptoms over time if left untreated.

Outpatient care

When choosing an outpatient healthcare provider, it’s important to select an experienced professional who understands addiction and knows when to refer a client to a higher level of care such as inpatient or residential services. Few clinicians know when to refer out for more intensive work. Instead, clients spend months or even years in treatment only to discover they are not getting better.

People may over indulge in Internet use between sessions, making little progress. In the absence of measurable change, people quit attending counseling sessions altogether. If this is happening to you, or someone you love,  residential care may be the next best option. Having a knowledgeable outpatient therapist to return to for supportive aftercare treatment increases the likelihood of long term success. 

How do I select a residential treatment facility

Today there are many different resources online that offer referrals to programs or rehabs that say they treat Internet use and video game addiction. Some rograms are offered by people who played video games and quit, but don’t have the clinical expertise to address underlying issues. Others are run by people who have clinical mental health background, but don’t have much experience in the way of video games or technology in general. 

We not only understand how to treat Internet addiction and co-occurring mental health conditions, we contibuted to the body of science leading the way in effective treatment methods. 

We are here to provide support and guidance as you explore the right treatment options for you.

Coping with threats of self-harm

All threats of harm should be taken seriously. A user may make threaten to engage in self-harming behaviors when discussions involving limits or needing help are brought up. Do not take these lightly. Be direct and ask if they have a plan to harm themselves or others.

If you suspect a person may intentional harm themselves, contact your local crisis line or your local police department and ask for someone who may be able to conduct a mental health safety check. As you take the appropriate actions, a desparate user may realize that idle threats are inneffective. Idle threats will often cease if the real intent is to keep you at a distance so they can keep using, video gaming or spending time online.

 

Signs and Symptoms

Internet Addiction (IA)

  • Persistent or compulsive Internet use, video game play, surfing, streaming, app use, social media or smartphone use
  • Ever-increasing pursuit of online related activities
  • Denial of problem (yet others recognize it)
  • Attempts to reduce use often fail
  • Would rather play than engage elsewhere
  • Irritable and angry when restricted
  • Lies to self and others about use
  • Use interferes with offline activities
  • May be depressed, anxious, or avoidant
  • Uses gaming as a way to escape problems
  • Multiple areas of concern exist (family, academic, employment, health, relationships)

Risk Factors

  • Family history of addiction
  • Experienced trauma
  • Being bullied, ostracized, rejected socially
  • Social problems
  • Poor sense of self

Look for these common problems

Family and peer relationships

  • Spending less time with family, spouse or and/or friends
  • Prefers gaming over spending time with others
  • Conflicts arise when requests to limit or change gaming behavior occur
  • Doesn’t return phone calls (especially if recent discussions about gaming have taken place)
  • Neglecting partner or others to surf, game, or play
  • Poor parent-child relationships
  • Negative peer relationships

Academics

  • Poor performance academically (although highly capable)
  • Performance differs from capabilities
  • School refusal or truancy

Employment and Work Problems

  • Missed work days
  • Chronic late arrival
  • Spends time online rather than doing job
  • Online pursuits interfere with job search or employment

Mental and Emotional Health

  • Depressed or anxious
  • Socially avoidant
  • Uses tech as primary tool to socialize
  • Family conflict
  • Threatens suicide when use is restricted

Physical Health

  • Deconditioned; lack of exercise/movement
  • Poor eating habits
  • Overweight/underweight
  • Uncontrolled diabetes
  • Seizures (in people with epilepsy)

Searching for more info?

We’re happy to answer your questions about Internet addiction by phone, chat or email. Reach out today.

reSTART is the national leader in residential care for Internet addiction

We consistently contribute to scientific research on Internet addiction (IAD), Internet gaming disoder (IGD), screen addiction, smartphone addiction, and digital distractions.

For additional info, see Internet addiction: A brief summary of research and practice

Here when you need us

Talk to an Internet addiction specialist at 800.682.6934

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