Internet Addiction Signs and Symptoms
Internet addiction, which is more commonly referred to as: problematic Internet use (PIU) is a kind of impulse control disorder that that is different than what one might find in other forms of dependency, such as with drugs or alcohol. In many ways, PIU is similar to other process type addictions, like gambling or shopping.
At its core, if you have an Internet addiction, you struggle with your ability to control your online activities and have experienced negative consequences as a result. We will go into these consequences as we continue along the way.
The problem of Internet addiction is a challenge that faces many of our Chicago clients and does not discriminate based on the individual’s gender, age or generational typology (i.e. Gen Xers, Millennials and so forth). It’s an issue that is not often discussed and widely misunderstood. This concern has become compounded in recent years with the proliferation of smart-phones, tablets and other Internet capable devices.
Internet Addiction Overview
This article will explore the entire topic of Internet addiction and review 10 specific signs and symptoms as part of the presentation. Withdrawal and physical symptoms are shared as a way of helping you to generate greater insight.
An Internet addiction poll has been made available for you to vote in to bring about a sense of interaction. Resources are listed at the end for you to explore.
Here we go …
What is an Impulse Control Disorder?
Before we continue exploring Internet addiction, you may be wondering: what exactly is an impulse control disorder? While the term may sound highly clinical, this phrase is a 25-cent term used to describe a common set of behaviors where an individual has difficulty controlling actions, thoughts or emotions during the course of everyday living.
You commonly see impulse control disorders (ICDs) in people that have certain types of ADHD, struggle with issues like obsessive compulsive disorder (see OCD post) or who suffer from some kind of process addiction.
Generally speaking, there are five behavioral stages associated with ICDs. I have outlined these stages below, using the previously mentioned Internet addiction for the purposes of illustration.
5 Impulse Control Disorder Stages
1. The onset of the impulse (“I want to access Facebook”)
2. Growing tension and buildup (“I need to sign on to Facebook”)
3. Pleasure (“I feel better now that I am signed on”)
4. Sense of relief (“That felt good to check what was going on”)
5. Guilt/Shame (“I spent three hours online looking at friends”)
This is a rough example of an impulse disorder taking hold of the person who has an Internet addiction but you get the basic idea of how the process works.
Usually, impulse disorders are cyclical in nature, meaning they tend to repeat themselves in the same way over and over again – which for some can create a kind of “Ground Hogs” day effect.
Internet Addiction Behaviors
There is no escaping that the Internet is part of our daily lives. We use it to send and receive email, locate and retrieve information and to interact with friends and colleagues through social media.
The problem, however, happens when a person develops strong emotional attachments to online activities to the point that engagement consumes most of their day. As a result, other important tasks are left unattended.
Internet Addiction Consequences
In the world of counseling and psychotherapy, the above mentioned dynamic is commonly referred to as a behavior that interferes with “activities of daily living”.
One of the hallmarks of an addiction is the eventual negative consequences that occur through continued use or engagement in a substance or activity. In this case, we are talking about online behaviors.
Internet Addiction to Virtual Worlds
As a side note, Internet addiction is not confined to social media, such as Facebook or Instagram. Some individuals who have a PIU involve themselves in online (aka virtual) fantasy worlds, connecting with real individuals who use pseudo names and characters to interact.
While a healthy occasional escape from reality is healthy from time to time, many of these individuals can develop an eroded “time filter”, which has the effecting of sucking up entire swaths of their day. Some people have reported spending up to 15-hours a day.
Is Internet Addiction Real?
While there is large disagreement among many in the mental health field about having an addiction to the Internet (this diagnosis does not appear in DSM-5 for example), the truth is almost any activity can become addictive in nature if left unchecked.
For example, would anyone argue that some people don’t develop an addiction to video gaming? The body of research suggests that for some folks, engagement in “gaming” is a very real problem.
What is important that you ask yourself is this – “Does my Internet activities interfere with my ability to get important tasks completed on more days than not?” An additional question might be – “Have I experienced negative consequences as a result of my Internet activities?”
Identification of potential negative consequences will require you to think and reflect. The list presented below however, does contain some of the “biggies” you should be mindful of.
10 Signs of Internet Addiction
What follows are 10 tell-tale signs that you may have an Internet addiction. It is important to state here that the behaviors listed are for informational purposes and should not be used for diagnostic purposes.
Instead, consider this as a behavioral backdrop to meditate on as a way of understanding some of what may be going on with you or someone you love.
Generally speaking, if you meet four more characteristics on the list of 10 listed below, you may have a problem. These symptoms are adapted from Young’s symptom list appearing in the Journal of Cyber-Psychology.
Are you ready? Let’s jump right in!
1. You regularly feel preoccupied with the Internet
2. You spend increasing amounts of time on the Internet to achieve satisfaction
3. You struggle to control your Internet use
4. You feel irritable/sad when you try to cut back on Internet activities
5. You regularly use the Internet to escape life problems or improve mood
6. You lie about time spent online to family/friends because you are embarrassed
7. You risk the loss of a job or significant relationship because of Internet activities
8. You spend money you cannot afford on Internet activities
9. You experience feelings of sadness and withdraw when offline
10. You regularly stay online much longer than you had planned
Internet Addiction Withdraw Symptoms
If you are addicted to the Internet, you likely experience certain forms of withdrawal, which is a common feature among many who suffer from most forms of addiction. Some of the more common withdrawal symptoms include:
- Changes in mood (mood swings)
- Gastrointestinal discomfort (See IBS post)
Internet Addiction Physical Symptoms
Some people have reported physical symptoms as a result of their addiction to online activities. I will list some of the more common symptoms that have been reported however, it is important to state here that these issues can be caused by a myriad of other medical problems and therefore should be checked out by your medical doctor.
- Dry eyes
- Severe back aches (see back pain post)
- Problems with sleep (see sleep post)
- Struggles with eating regularly
- Hygiene challenges
- Carpel Tunnel Syndrome
Internet Addiction Treatment
There are a number of approaches that clinicians take to help a person work through an Internet addiction. Much of this is accomplished through the use of different forms of cognitive behavioral therapies, coupled with ancillary support in the form of groups (believe it or not – some are online).
The goal of therapy is to help the individual better understand what their addiction to the Internet is all about and then find new and healthy ways of channeling behaviors towards healthier activities. Some of this involves pulling in forms of motivational interviewing as part of the dynamic.
Sometimes a person has an underlying psychological issue, such as an anxiety disorder or OCD (see post on intrusive thoughts), which needs to be treated as part of a comprehensive plan for wellness.
I generally refer clients to their medical doctor to rule out any medical causes that may contribute to ritualistic behaviors. Believe it or not, some impulse control disorders can be exacerbated by a medical condition.
Internet Addiction Resource
If you think you are suffering from an Internet addiction, one of the best things you can do is to educate yourself more about the problem. An excellent book that I have recommended to clients by Jonathan Orden is: Internet Addiction: How To Stop Wasting Your Time In Front Of Your Computer And Start To Live A More Fulfilled Life The Real World.
What I like about this resource is the practical, no-sense approach the author takes in making the case for Internet addiction and then going about the business of helping readers understand their behaviors. Practical, step by step information is offered to help move away from time consuming online behaviors and go about the business of living a more productive life.
Internet Addiction Poll
Because I recognize this topic is of interest to many people, I have published a poll here that asks some very basic questions, based on the list of 10 that was previously mentioned. The results are not scientific in nature but can be used as a way of comparing what you have experienced against other visitors of the website.
Summing Things Up
For many people, Internet addiction is a very real problem. It has the potential to disrupt an individual’s personal life and wreak havoc on relationships with family and friends. It can also cause serious problems at the workplace.
If are concerned that you may have an Internet addiction or are worries about some of your online activities, it might be helpful to reach out for help. If you are in Chicago, you can contact 2nd Story Counseling via our confidential contact form by clicking here. You can also call us directly at 773.528.1777 to schedule an appointment with one of our helping professionals.
Should you be outside of the Chicago area, you might want to look for a therapist familiar with this issue on websites like Psychology Today. Make sure you choose someone who has familiarity with addictions and infuses some form of cognitive therapy (CBT) into the dynamic as research suggests CBT is one of the most effective ways to address addiction.