A psychologist named Kimberly Young suggested in the mid ’90s that a new breed of addicts, those who had “internet addiction disorder,” could be emerging. Her research started a debate, which is still ongoing today, in the psychotherapy community.
Inpatient/outpatient programs for treatment of internet addiction have been booming in recent years. Other countries, like Korea, have a plan for prevention of internet addiction and smartphone treatment. Yet, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) still does not recognize “internet addiction” as a disorder in the most recent (2013) revision of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders (DSM-5). Instead, the APA only added “internet gaming disorder” as a topic for further study.
As for me, I’m a believer in the concept of internet addiction.
The reason? I’ve had coaching clients whose internet usage was so severe that they couldn’t kick the habit. Actually, you can kick almost any habit, including a habit that has become an addiction. But once a habit has become an addiction, it’s tougher to kick.
I’ve had young adult coaching clients who failed every single subject and got kicked out of college because of internet addiction. Some of them even got kicked out of their parents’ houses. I know others who lost their jobs, couldn’t pay back debt (because of excessive online shopping), and even destroyed their marriages – all because of internet addiction.
What Causes Internet Addiction?
Dr. David Greenfield, the author of Virtual Addiction, first recognized internet addiction as a powerful issue in the ’90s. Addiction can be just substance-related or just behavior-related. Regardless, Greenfield describes addiction as a disruption of reward and motivation that involves unpredictability.
The unpredictability of the reward is part of what makes it so hard for addicts to stop. David Greenfield
Greenfield says that the variability in reward is what creates what he calls “the slot machine effect” of getting addicted to something like social media. Social media constantly drives you back to your social media pages. You learn to savor likes, shares, and comments from friends or others. If the effect were the same every single time, it wouldn’t be addictive.
Greenfield runs the Center for Internet and Technology Addiction in West Hartford, Connecticut. He estimates that he’s treated about 1,000 internet addicts in the last couple of decades. Most clients in internet addiction programs are young gamers. They make up 60 to 70 percent of Greenfield’s client list. Most of these young clients engage in role-playing games that keep them playing for long stretches of time. And these games keep the players coming back. In fact, game designers craft the games with this explicit purpose in mind.
What Are the Signs of Internet Addiction?
Perhaps you’ve wondered if your teenager, young adult child, a friend, or a co-worker is an internet addict. They spend a lot of time on social media and YouTube. And possibly video gaming. Or obsessively checking their smartphone! Or some combination of these or other internet activities.
But, is this internet addiction or internet attraction?
The difference in addiction and attraction is that addiction causes your life to become unmanageable in some way.
On his website, Dr. Greenfield has Internet and Technology Abuse Addiction Tests (all free) that give instant results. You can also find a list of the 13 Warning Signs of Internet Addiction on the Addiction Tests drop-down menu.
In response to the question, “Chatting or Cheating?” Greenfield says, ” If these warning signs of internet addiction sound similar to the signs of having an affair, that’s because they are. Internet addiction is a lot like having an affair; an affair with a computer, along with the relationships they have formed online. It’s the same process whenever a person withdraws from their main source of support (spouse, friends, family) and finds it elsewhere (in this case on the Internet).”
Young Adults Are Especially Vulnerable
We know, from coaching college students and other young adults with ADHD, Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), and other mental health conditions, that these young people are especially vulnerable to internet addiction. I mentioned one of these college students in a previous article: Attention Deficit Trait: A Mental Traffic Jam.
There’s an update on this very bright and talented college student – who happened to be majoring in computer engineering! After he dropped down to two courses his first semester in college, I stopped coaching him. But, instead of getting treatment for his internet addiction, he returned to college the next semester and failed all four or five of his courses.
Fortunately, this former client did not return to college for a third semester. When I talked to him recently, he was working two jobs and spending a lot less time on the internet. He has also been attending 12-step programs and may enter an intensive in-patient or outpatient internet addiction program. I imagine he will return to college some day. But no matter what he does in the future, I have no doubt that he will be successful once he has developed the tools and habits to live a more manageable life.
Overcoming Internet Addiction
If internet addiction is keeping you from being successful, we may be able to help. Click here to contact us for a pro bono consultation regarding our coaching services. We’ve coached lots of young adults and other adults who have made significant strides in not only overcoming self-defeating internet habits, but living happier and more manageable lives.