They are everywhere. You are reading this on one right now. Devices that keep you connected to the internet. Tablets, smartphones, watches, everything these days seems connected to the internet or a smart device in some way. This leads to people spending days it seems like just staring at a screen. Looking at the latest post, newest video, or playing just one more minute of a favorite MMORPG. Internet or social media addiction is becoming a real phenomenon that addiction treatment centers have to face.
WHAT IS INTERNET ADDICTION?
It is really easy to picture what it is like to be addicted to drugs or alcohol, but internet addiction is a different thing to try and imagine. An internet or social media addiction is more a behavioral or process addiction. The person gets a high or reward feeling from completing a certain action. It’s sometimes referred to as a dopamine hit whenever a person sees their tweet has been liked.
First, here are some basic symptoms to watch out for to determine if you or a loved one are beginning to develop, or have an internet addiction.
- Withdrawing from normal social or family functions in favor of being online.
- Skipping out of important life responsibilities, like school or work, in order to be online
- Continue to stay connected to online experiences despite negative consequences, like damage done to relationships, declining grades, or poor work performance
- Trying to quit or get offline, but finding oneself unable to do so
- When offline, finding oneself anxious, agitated, depressed or otherwise upset
Now, when we talk about being online, what does that entail? Well, it means the breadth of what the internet has to offer. It could be staying on social media, posting wildly into the night. It could mean perusing websites and learning obscure facts. Or it could mean online gaming in an MMORPG or even just solitaire. It could also be an internet porn habit, which becomes part of the self-destructive addiction to sex and pornography. Then there is internet shopping, which feeds into spending addiction and has serious consequences for finances as well.
The instant gratification is part of the problem, yes. What else has been learned is how the brain responds to the instant feedback and reward from internet success. It has been shown that likes on social media, or seeing others agree with you online will cause a slight increase in dopamine levels in the brain, giving a pleasurable sensation. This pleasure becomes something that people will chase after, finding it easier and more gratifying than the hard work that comes with doing things in real life.
WHAT IS THE TREATMENT?
Internet and social media addiction are becoming a more recognized problem in the therapeutic community. It is looked at as a behavioral addiction in similar ways to a gambling problem, but it is more difficult since the internet is becoming more a necessary part of life. Some elementary schools give out laptops and tablets to students, for example, to help them learn, do homework and learn the basics of internet etiquette and safety.
With that in mind, internet or social media addiction treatment is about the safe and healthy use of the internet as a tool, and not having it come between yourself and others. Treatment facilities will work with you to provide an inpatient or outpatient experience, depending on your specific needs, to help you come to grips with the condition, and learn to spot the signs of relapse and learn skills to better cope with life, rather than using the internet as a tool to avoid it.
Like other addictions, internet addiction is often thought of as a way to cope with other problems. It is escapism in its purest form. The underlying condition could be an untreated mental illness, or social or family stressors, and using the internet constantly is a way to cope with the stress, anxiety or depression, for example. For those in treatment, learning what that underlying problem is, and treating it directly will also be imperative. This may include therapy for an untreated mental illness, medication, or family counseling or other support services. These will help the person overcome those issues, so they no longer need to rely on the internet as a way to cope.
WHAT SUPPORT IS AVAILABLE?
Ongoing treatment and continued support through professional counselling are also recommended for people with an internet or social media addiction. Professional support provides those with an addiction a way to find help from others who know what it is like, and who can offer suggestions or ways to manage when the urge to return to old, destructive behaviours is strong. Although internet addiction is a newer phenomenon, support groups are becoming available and can help people navigate life after treatment.
Internet and social media addiction can be a complicated problem in modern society. Many jobs are dependent on internet connectivity, and social media is close to mandatory in some circumstances. The internet, however, does not have to become your life. If you find yourself struggling to get offline, please reach out for help now. With help, the internet does not have to supplant real life.