What’s the first thing you do when you wake up? If you’re like many Americans, you reach for your cellphone and begin scrolling through your social media threads.
Perhaps your boss assigned you a research project, then you traveled down a Wiki-hole, and before you knew it, it was 5 p.m., and you still didn’t finish your work.
What is internet addiction? More importantly, when does the internet stop being a tool and begin to create problems? How can you evaluate whether you need to seek help?
What Is Internet Addiction and What Are the Signs?
Internet addiction is a bit of a sticky widget to define. Given the economy, many people spend long hours slaving away on their computers. Does that mean they have a problem? Aren’t they merely trying to earn enough to pay rent?
In some respects, internet addiction shares many similarities with compulsive overeating. You need to eat to live, and Mother Nature made it pleasurable to do so. Otherwise, you might starve to death.
It isn’t the act of eating itself that is the problem, but rather, doing so to excess. People who work long hours on the computer may have a perfectly acceptable social life, as limited as it may be by economic necessity. This behavior isn’t problematic — it’s survival.
Another way internet addiction parallels compulsive eating is that it activates the brain’s reward center when you participate in the activity.
When you click on a link that you find rewarding, levels of neurotransmitters in your brain stimulate regions associated with pleasure. The process works similarly to the way people play the lottery. There’s a low chance of getting a payoff when you click on a link, but when you do strike gold, you feel an exhilarating rush.
How do you know if your internet use is problematic or merely a side effect of your career choices? Ask yourself the following questions:
- Are you choosing the internet over legitimate social activities? It’s one thing if you have to work late to finish a critical presentation. It’s quite another if you spend the majority of your family’s trip to Disneyland staring at your cellphone. Even if your life is hectic, do you take time to relax and socialize?
- Are you neglecting your work or appearance? Some people with severe internet addiction spend hours looking at their screens without washing or eating. Likewise, if you always appear busy at work, but you accomplish little due to excessive scrolling, you could have a problem.
- Are you using the internet to escape? People turn to addiction to avoid coping with unpleasant feelings such as depression and anxiety. The problem is, internet addiction creates a vicious cycle. The more time you spend in a virtual fantasy world, the less you interact with humans. This avoidance makes you more depressed, so you retreat further into virtual reality.
What to Do if You Think You Need Help
Internet addiction can severely disrupt your life. It can create tension in your familial relationships when your children or spouse grow tired of begging for your attention. It can impede your career progress and lead to job loss. In extreme cases, internet addiction can cause other health woes, as you neglect a healthy diet and exercise in favor of going online.
The first step is admitting that you need help. Certified addiction counselors can evaluate your behavior to determine the extent of your issue and the best treatment protocol.
Often, professionals use a combination of therapies to treat the condition. They may employ strategies such as individual and group talk sessions. Some practice cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) or dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT). Others use art or yoga to reach the desired behavioral results.
Overcoming Internet Addiction
Now that you know what internet addiction is, as well as the signs to look for, you can evaluate your practices. If your behavior online troubles you, reaching out for help can restore you to balance. You can learn to use the internet as a tool and not a crutch.