The internet has become an essential utility in our lives. We use the internet to apply for jobs, do research, and connect with friends. However, when internet use becomes compulsive and causes problems in a person’s life, it can classify as an addiction.
There are several types of internet addiction depending on the online activities that the individual is addicted to: e-mail, social media use, gaming, and blogging addictions. The internet can be used to fuel other addictions if a person is not addicted to the internet itself. Shopping, stock trading, and pornography addictions can be related to internet addiction if the person frequently uses the internet for their addiction, but each of these has their own diagnoses. Likewise, gambling addiction can have an internet component, but gambling addiction has its own diagnosis in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Some experts argue that internet addicts already fall under other diagnoses such as gambling addiction, impulse control disorders, anxiety, or depression and that internet addiction is only a symptom of these disorders.
There are three factors that drive the increase in internet addiction today: accessibility, control, and excitement. As the internet has become more prevalent in our society – easily viewable from almost any cell phone, for instance – connecting to the internet and performing addicting activities is easier than ever. When an action is easy and doesn’t (at first) interfere with a daily routine, it is more likely to become an addiction. Some internet users and addicts are attracted to the control that they have over their internet use. They can go anywhere or be anyone, sometimes using the internet without anyone knowing, like using a laptop in class for the internet instead of notes. Studies have shown that internet use causes excitement or a small rush when a message comes through or winning an online game. Because it is so easy to continue this behavior without consequences, the “power user” might develop an addiction that causes problems down the line.
Internet addiction has been linked with depression and other mental health issues. Experts have theorized that social media use is a factor in depression due to the information that others choose to post about themselves. People often choose to post positive things about their lives, which the user then compares to their own life and begins to consider themselves not as successful or happy as others. Users with anxiety find the internet as a place that they can control and find relief in.
Internet addiction is particularly high among youths in the US, China, South Korea, but exact levels are difficult to determine as there is no official diagnosis for internet addiction.
The goal for treatment of internet addiction is to limit use and create a healthy relationship with the internet, rather than eliminating use altogether. Treatment involves cognitive behavioral therapy, counseling, and may include installing programs on electronic devices that limits internet use. There are a few add-on programs for certain internet browsers that limit time spent on any particular website in a day. Internet addiction may also require in-patient services in severe cases.