Could You Be Suffering from Screen & Internet Addiction Disorder?
By Dr Becky Spelman
As we move further into the age of information and have access to an expanding number of ways in which we can interact with technology, so too does the chance of our misuse of it increase as well. The dependency on our devices is nothing new. It’s become something of a cliché that many us like to laugh off or dismiss as insignificant. But the fact is we’re spending more time than ever fixated on our screens and tapped into the internet.
What is Internet Addiction Disorder?
As the name suggests, it implies an overuse of the internet. But more specifically, it involves the use of sites and apps that create a ‘reward system’ that keeps the user hooked into an artificial environment. In actuality, no one is addicted to the internet per se. But instead are addicted to the apps that use on the internet. These include all the popular social media platform, gaming in all its various genres and also gambling sites.
What is Screen Addiction Disorder?
Screen Dependency Disorder is closely linked with internet addiction, as the main use of our devices – specifically mobiles and tablets – approximately 90% of the time is to consume content on the internet. There are instances in which it is possible for screen addiction to present itself as a standalone condition. But given the way we predominantly use our devices, both the overuse of internet and screen time go hand in glove with one another.
Major Symptoms of Internet Addiction Disorder
Although internet addiction is still in its infancy as a condition, there are some clear red flags that can indicate someone may be a potential case. As internet addiction disorder (IAD) is an addition-based mental health condition, a lot of parallels can be drawn with other addiction disorders that share the same pattern. It’s currently accepted that all forms of internet addiction contain the following for elements:
Excessive Use of the Internet
This may seem like an arbitrary point to make and an almost unnecessary one. But it’s worth mentioning as although excessive internet use is most definitely a key symptom, there is actually no general consensus on what constitutes as being ‘excessive.’ While there are guidelines that state there should be no more than 2 hours of screen time per day for under 18-year olds, there are no official guidelines for adults. Added to that, 2 hours can be incredibly unrealistic for people who have heavy workloads and work predominantly online.
Traditionally, withdrawal symptoms are thought of to be more physical symptoms that we associate with hard drugs and alcohol. But withdrawal symptoms can equally involve behavioural changes, as well. Some of the most commonly observed symptoms when there is no access to the internet can include but are not limited to: anger, tension, irritability, apathy, listlessness, and moodiness.
The Need for Greater Use (Development of Tolerance)
Again, this is a facet that is normally associated with physical dependency. But it’s something that is very applicable to internet addiction. However, in this case, instead of needing more of a given substance to seek a greater high, the individual in question will find themselves dissociating further from reality as a form of escapism. And in the case of gaming and social media-based addiction will find themselves becoming trapped in the rewards mechanics of notifications and in-game achievements, respectively.
Negative Consequences in Personal Health and Social Life
The main issue at play with the internet is that it can limit your ability to spend time on other areas of your life. If there were no repercussions of spending all day on the internet, it wouldn’t cause anywhere near the same amount of concern as it does. Spending so much time in a solitary pursuit can be damaging for personal relationships, it can see grades in school suffer, and over time the mechanics that are so prevalent can drastically alter your perspective. If the only exposure you have is to fictional realities governed by a certain set of rules, there is a danger they will subconsciously become the reference point for future interactions and how you develop your problem-solving skills.
How is Internet Addiction Diagnosed?
Again, it’s important to note here, as the condition is still in its fledgeling state as far as being officially accepted, the following signs are only rough guidelines. But these markers should provide an accurate enough picture of what a typical internet addiction scenario might look like.
The individual is completely preoccupied with the internet
The individual needs to use to the internet with increasing regularity
There have been significant efforts made to cut back unsuccessfully
The person in question is moody, restless, depressed or irritable without the internet
The person always stays online longer than originally intended.
Has risked and/or lost their relationships, education, job because their internet usage
Has lied to friends and family about their internet usage
Use the internet as a form of escapism
What Treatment Options are Available?
As with all mental health issues, there first needs to be an admission that there is in fact, a problem that needs to be addressed. People who don’t believe they need help rarely if ever respond well to treatment. In addition, there is still dome debate over whether IAD is actually a condition that warrants any kind of treatment at all with it being dismissed in some circle as a “fad illness” that will work itself out in its own time.
On the other side of this debate, there are some psychologists who believe that medication may even be a viable option in some instances. The thinking here being that internet addiction isn’t the issue itself. But rather, it’s the result of a much deeper-seated issue that could be related to one of either anxiety or depression to name a few more commonly known issues. Medications have proven to be highly effective in reducing time spent online from 35+ hours per week to just 16 hours per week – quite a drastic improvement.
But medication isn’t for everyone. And no one should have to be on a lifetime prescription to control their habits when there are other less invasive ways of approaching the issue.
Some of the more common therapies for treating internet addiction include:
These are just some of the avenues that you could/might want to explore. As the condition is taken more seriously, further options will undoubtedly become available as possible treatment options.
About the author:
Dr Becky Spelman is a leading UK Psychologist who’s had great success helping her clients manage and overcome a multitude of mental illnesses.
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