Understanding Internet Addiction Disorder (IAD)
Internet Addiction Disorder (IAD) is a controversial subject among clinicians. While some people feel it is a genuine disorder that requires specific treatment, others feel it is a symptom of another underlying disorder like depression or agoraphobia. Currently, there is contentious debate about whether to include it in DSM-5, the next edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Eighty-four percent of college counselors, however, believe it is legitimate. The truth is that we can become dependent on pretty much anything, and ultimately, an addiction is harmful behavior that you are unable to stop even though it is negatively affecting your life. Judging by those criteria, internet addiction is real, and the following behaviors can signify that you or someone you love has a problem.
- Increasingly devoting time to the computer and internet activities. These days, it is pretty much impossible to avoid the internet completely. Our professional and personal lives revolve around forms of electronic communication and other online resources. That said, if the time you or your loved one is spending online has significantly or continually increased, internet dependency could be forming.
- Inability to refrain from using the internet. A common experiment these days is to see if someone can go 24 hours without using the internet, computers, or smart phones. Those who participate often use words and describe reactions that we associate with drug and alcohol addiction. In this technological age, the anxiety we may experience when we unplug is understandable. If you try to change your behavior however, and are unable to restrict the hours you spend online, then you may have a problem.
- Neglecting friends and family. Anytime you choose a recreational activity over your friends and family, you should be concerned. We are supposed to take care of our loved ones and want to spend time with them. If you are becoming immersed in games, social media, or other online activities to the point of neglecting your family and friends, you have a problem that needs to be addressed.
- Experiencing a heightened sense of euphoria. There is a distinct difference between experiencing normal, healthy feelings of pleasure and euphoria. It is a matter of intensity. If you are experiencing intense feelings of elation, excitement, and happiness while involved in computer and internet activities, that is a disproportionate and dysfunctional response.
- Craving, anticipating, and fantasizing about online activities. There is nothing wrong with looking forward to an activity, but craving is an intense, abnormal desire that often precludes everything else. Being unable to focus or enjoy other things because you are longing to be online is a strong indication of an internet addiction.
- Work or school performance is suffering. This is one of the most obvious signs of any type of addiction. If you are neglecting your professional or educational responsibilities in favor of spending time online, than your internet use is interfering with your responsibilities and compromising your future. Negative consequences can include missed deadlines, poor grades or evaluations, being demoted, fired, or failing out of school. Believe it or not, students have actually dropped out of school to devote time to gaming or other online activities. You should never be taking time off from work or school because you cannot pull yourself away from the computer screen.
- Lying about your behavior. We feel the need to conceal our activities when, on some level, we realize we are doing something wrong. Alcoholics lie about drinking, drug addicts hide their drug use, and internet addicts are dishonest about their online activity. If your behavior is normal and appropriate, there is no reason not to be completely honest about what you are doing.
- Undergoing physical changes. Excessive time online can cause backaches, headaches, eyestrain, carpal tunnel syndrome, and even fluctuations in weight. While these physical symptoms can be caused by a number of things, if you experience any of these symptoms, you should put the computer away. Continuing to use it while experiencing physical distress is akin to an athlete playing with an injury. It will not get better if you do not rest. If you cannot walk away from your computer, especially when suffering physically, you definitely have a problem. Somewhat related, changes in sleep patterns, namely choosing time online over sleep, is also indicative of addiction.
- Feeling guilty, ashamed, anxious, or depressed. This is fairly straightforward. If your time online incites feelings of shame, guilt, anxiety, and depression, it is time to make a change.
10. Withdrawing from pleasurable activities and the people you love. Addiction eclipses everything. When you find yourself withdrawing from the people and things that mattered to you and you enjoyed, you should always be concerned. If you are consistently choosing one thing over everything else, especially if it is negatively affecting your life, you should seek professional help. No one should be entirely consumed by anything. Balance truly is the key to a happy, healthy life.
As you can see, the signs of internet addiction closely resemble the signs of drug and alcohol addiction. If you or your loved one’s time online is interfering with daily life, has negative repercussions, and cannot be controlled, then it is time to see a professional about your behavior. Regardless of whether Internet Addiction Disorder is a bonafide clinical disorder or if someone’s time online is merely a symptom of a larger issue, if it is causing harm, it needs to be addressed sooner rather than later.