It can be oh-so-easy to stay fixated on our phones and computers, staying locked into our social networks from the moment that we wake up until the moment we go to bed. Sometimes, this isn’t even because we necessarily want to—the ways in which our lives are forcibly automated is the result of a society that is continually advancing, delegating things that we used to do on our own to machines and services.
However, the pervasiveness of technology in our culture does not mean it’s healthy. In fact, many symptoms associated with persistent internet use are considered serious consequences of addiction and should be taken seriously in response. When compared to other societal recognized illnesses such as drug addiction, being addicted to the internet is similarly harmful and is comprised of some recognizable symptoms: compulsiveness, tolerance, and withdrawal symptoms.
The details regarding Internet Addiction Disorder (IAD) covers a wide range of different conditions, but can be summarized to a few key categories:
- Computer addiction: Time spent on a physical computer, often involving compulsive programming or gaming specific to a computer.
- Information overload: Being on the lookout for new information isn’t necessarily unusual, but being consumed by the notion of seeking out information that you don’t need can be a result of addiction.
- Cybersex addiction: Those who can’t pry themselves away from online pornography are the victims of a compulsion, often experiencing symptoms of withdrawal when they avoid internet porn.
- Cyber-relationship addiction: We all have online friends, but being obsessed with the relationships you maintain online can be a symptom of serious internet addiction.
- Net-based compulsion: Those who spend their time impulsively shopping online or gambling are often associated with net-based compulsion, a type of IAC that can directly affect your real-life resources and relationships.
Regardless of the specific type of internet addiction, the hallmark symptoms and struggles are similar to those experienced by hard drug users. In fact, the withdrawal timeline for those with internet addiction is nearly identical to the opiate withdrawal timeline laid out by addiction therapy experts. While hard drugs are clearly more dangerous due to their lethality, the fact remains: an addiction is an addiction.
Like many types of addiction (including drug addiction), IAD can affect your future in many ways. This is because IAD affects many different aspects of your brain that communicate with each other, rewiring your brain’s overall makeup to instead be wrapped around your online activities. For example, if you are addicted to checking social media and similar types of applications, your serotonin receptors could be wired to get intense euphoria from your news feed, something that shows how your internet usage has altered your brain’s way of processing information.
It should be noted, though, that it is possible to treat and eventually reverse the symptoms of IAD with proper treatment.
How to Know if You or a Loved One are Addicted
One of the most difficult aspects of IAD is that it is difficult to diagnose. Many people who are not addicted to the internet can benefit from it and frequently use it, so how do you know where the cutoff line is between internet enthusiast and addict?
Ultimately, the most logical thing to do if you’re experiencing doubt is to reach out to a therapist or other similarly qualified medical professional for a diagnosis. Though it is possible to familiarize yourself with symptoms via the use of the internet, ultimately it is most practical to get the input of a medical professional to ensure that you are not only being diagnosed properly but also to make sure that you deal with the symptoms productively.