Internet Addiction Disorder and Its Treatment Options
Internet addiction disorder, or IAD, is a growing worldwide phenomenon described as an impulse control disorder.
00:07 10 March 2023
Internet addiction disorder, or IAD, is a growing worldwide phenomenon described as an impulse control disorder. People suffering from internet addiction are characterised by spending excessive time playing online games, scrolling through social media, watching videos, surfing on dating sites, and chatting in chat rooms. It is also characterised by hard-to-control, excessive use of or difficult-to-withstand urges to use computers, smartphones and the internet. And when the user loses access to online activities or tries to reduce their screen time, they are most likely to experience withdrawal symptoms.
The problem of internet addiction is rapidly increasing because of the easy accessibility to smartphones, tablets, and computers, creating dependence on online technology. As to the UK government, 91% of adults were regular internet users in 2019, up from 90% in 2018.
In addition, multiple debates in psychiatry revolve around internet addiction disorder being an actual disorder, but it isn’t included in the list of addictions yet. However, behavioural addiction like IAD is somewhat similar to other substance use disorders because it impacts dopamine levels and an individual’s family life, work responsibilities, and health, like alcohol or drug abuse. Also, while avoiding the internet entirely is unrealistic, recovery is possible by developing healthy boundaries.
Signs of Internet Addiction
If you are concerned about your or someone else’s internet usage, there are certain signs that you can look for, such as:
- They routinely remain online than planned
- They find themselves using the internet for longer to gain satisfaction
- They have made unsuccessful attempts to cut off or stop internet use
- They become restless, irritable, and generally moody when trying to cut down
- They are consumed with ongoing thoughts about the internet
In addition to this criterion, there are chances that an individual might have one of these other conditions, which are:
- Family, work, or school has been jeopardized by internet use
- Internet use is sometimes propelled to escape uncomfortable feelings, such as anxiety, depression, guilt, etc.
- Lies have been told to family, friends, and therapists about their daily internet usage.
Also, physical symptoms or signs of internet addiction are:
- Back strain or problems
- Weakened immune system
- Sleep changes
- Carpal tunnel syndrome
- The overall decline in physical health from lack of exercise
- Eye strain or issues
Also, these signs can be determined either by observing an individual’s behaviour or using assessment tools specific to internet addiction.
Risks Associated with Internet Addiction
Like any form of technology, internet addiction also has a few benefits and risks. While social media allow teenagers to connect with resources and socialise with peers online, the downside is that it exposes teens to sexting, cyberbullying, inappropriate content, and predators. Even in the UK, the Office of Communications reported that 83% of teenagers have smartphones, and 99% of them go online for nearly 21 hours a week. This increasing amount of time is a cause of worry among parents and guardians as it also increases the chances of developing mental health complications. Hence, parents should monitor their adolescent’s social media use and prevent them from engaging in risky behaviour.
In addition, the causes of internet addiction are still under research but many people believe they are similar to substance use disorders. It is suggested that people with internet addiction cause the same brain changes as drug or alcohol addiction. For example, IAD affects the brain’s reward centre and triggers a dopamine release, leaving a person feeling relaxed, euphoric, and happy. And overtime, rigorous internet usage is needed to induce the same pleasurable effects, leading to tolerance and dependence, developing into an addiction. As a result, people continue using the internet to avoid withdrawal symptoms, such as depression and moodiness.
Treatment for Internet Addiction
Luckily, effective interventions and treatment options are available to provide internet addiction help to people. Similar to substance use disorders, behavioural addictions like internet addiction often respond positively to the same psychological and pharmacological treatments. And some of the common interventions that have been used for the treatment of internet addiction include:
- Motivational enhancement
- Self-help support groups
- 12-step approaches
- Cognitive-behavioural therapy
Also, no medications are approved yet for treating internet addiction, but naltrexone, a drug used to ease opioid dependence, has shown promising results. Patients should enrol in formal treatment programs, such as inpatient rehab if internet addiction is severe. Inpatient or residential rehab is a 24/7 care facility for addicts that offers the most intensive and structured form of treatment available. This treatment lasts anywhere from 30 days to several months. For more flexibility, patients can also opt for outpatient treatment programs where they can live at home and attend addiction counselling sessions during the day. Whatever a patient chooses, inpatient and outpatient treatment for internet addiction include:
- Cognitive-behavioural therapy: Assess patients’ behaviours and actions and prepare them to recognise, avoid, and cope with the triggering situations in which they are most likely to relapse.
- Family group therapy: It is specially developed for adolescents and their families. This therapy addresses internet issues among teenagers and involves their families for more fruitful interaction.
- Holistic treatment methods: Many people choose yoga, creative arts, and music therapies to deal with abstinence. These natural interventions are highly beneficial in treating internet addiction.
- Motivational interviewing: Encourage people to change their behaviour, accept that they have a problem, and enter treatment.
Social media or other forms of the internet can cause internet addiction in adolescents and adults. And like alcohol and drug addiction affect a person's physical and mental well-being, internet addiction affects their life, work, and relationships. However, recovery is possible by maintaining a healthy balance between life and internet usage. Therefore, if you notice worrisome signs of internet addiction in someone close to you, it is time to seek internet addiction help from rehab centres. Multiple specialised treatment programs are available at rehabs where behavioural therapies and medications are provided to help people overcome addiction. Contact today!