Whether by smartphone or PC: Internet addiction is a behavioral addiction that is becoming increasingly common. Young people in particular are quickly attracted to the virtual world. Friends, family and school are losing importance. The isolation from reality has far-reaching consequences for social and professional life as well as for health. Read all important information about internet addiction here.
Internet addiction: description
The internet has become an integral part of today’s world. Working, shopping, sharing with friends – almost every area of life is connected to the Internet. Especially children and adolescents are at risk of losing themselves in the virtual world. By smartphone, it accompanies you around the clock. As the real world takes a back seat, the Internet threatens both mental and physical health.
The phenomenon of morbid (pathological) computer, mobile phone and Internet use is still relatively young and has therefore only been researched for several years. The Internet addiction, also called cell phone addiction or online addiction, is one of the behavioral addictions. Unlike alcohol or drug addiction does not make the consumption of a substance dependent, but the behavior itself becomes an obsession. In an Internet addiction, the affected people use the Internet so excessively that they neglect other areas of life. Hobbies, friends and family, school and work do not pay much attention to Internet addicts anymore. Despite the huge impact of addictive behavior on life, those affected can no longer stop it. The addiction becomes independent, and the behavior becomes a compulsion.
An addiction with many faces
Online addiction, cell phone addiction, computer gambling addiction, computer-mediated communication addiction – there are many names for internet addiction and many forms of addictive behavior on the net. Above all, men are fascinated by online and computer games. In “World of Warcraft” players can fight monsters in a virtual parallel world and explore new worlds. The addictive means are rewards in terms of experience points or virtual items that make them stronger in the game.
Girls spend their time on the Internet, preferably on social networks such as Facebook. They spend hours exchanging information with friends, but also unknown people in the network. The Internet offers them the opportunity to present themselves the way they would like to be. For many it is tempting to change the personality and the look. And you’re never alone on the internet. Strangers become seemingly good friends, even if you have never met them in real life.
Other forms of Internet addiction are the morbid use of gambling and betting that occur on the Internet. The compulsive use of erotic chats is called cybersex addiction.
Who is affected by internet addiction?
Internet addiction has not been researched enough yet. Due to the inconsistent diagnostic criteria, one can only estimate the number of Internet addicts. The Federal Ministry of Health assumes that about one percent of 14- to 64-year-old indulge in a morbid Internet and computer game use. Internet addiction is most common among adolescents and young adults. Women are affected as often as men. Men, however, prefer computer games, while women spend most of their time on social networks.
Internet addiction seldom comes alone
Studies in recent years show that about 86 percent of Internet addicts have another mental disorder. Very often, depression, ADHD and also alcohol and tobacco addiction occur simultaneously with online addiction (comorbidity). Whether the mental disorders increase the risk for Internet addiction or are the result of Internet addiction, is not yet clear. Presumably, both are possible and different from person to person.
Internet addiction: symptoms
Internet addicts have a constant desire to be on the internet. This has a lot of negative consequences. The neglect of everyday tasks, friends and hobbies, but also physical and psychological difficulties, can be evidence of Internet addiction.
Researchers have found that Internet addicted teens perform worse at school. Excessive use of the Internet creates cognitive problems. This mainly affects the ability to concentrate and the attention. Another reason is, of course, that most of the time is spent on the addictive behavior and there is little time left for homework or other responsibilities.
Studies in adults also show that work performance is reduced due to Internet addiction and contact with colleagues is low. The more pronounced the addictive behavior, the higher the risk of termination. The financial consequences can lead to the existential threat.
The lack of time is also noticeable in the social sphere. Online addicts pay little or no attention to their friends and family. They often unite without realizing it. They live in the illusion of cultivating real friendships on the internet. Sometimes there are actually friendships on the internet, but usually there are no meetings in real life. The existing friendships in the real world are shattered when the person concerned is only on the Internet. For people who find it difficult to make contact, the Internet seems to be a good solution for now. Research shows, however, that their situation is even worse.
Because of their constant desire to be on the Internet and the fear of missing something, many sufferers suppress their need for sleep. Online role-playing games also generate an increased level of excitement, which makes it difficult to fall asleep. Internet addicts often complain of sleep disorders. The lack of sleep in turn affects the ability to concentrate and the mood. Those affected can develop depressive features as well as aggressiveness and irritability.
In addition to sleep, sufferers neglect other basic needs, such as their diet. Many feed on fast food or sweets because there is not much time left for eating. Some even forget whole meals. There are therefore Internet addicts who are more likely to be overweight and others who are normal to underweight. The risk of being overweight is compounded by the lack of exercise.
Constant sitting in front of the computer affects the posture. Joint pain, neck and headaches, as well as visual problems are other problems that brings the Internet addiction with it.
Even with behavioral cravings there are withdrawal symptoms. If those affected can not access the Internet, they will be depressed and impotent, irritated and in a bad mood. Some become very restless and even aggressive.
Internet addiction: causes and risk factors
The causes of Internet addiction have hardly been researched so far. As with other addictions, several factors probably also play a role in the emergence of Internet addiction. Many experts see the Internet or the computer not as a cause, but as a trigger of addiction. According to this, the true causes are to lie in underlying psychological conflicts. Another influencing factor is suspected to be a disruption of messenger substances in the brain. Whether the Internet addiction also has genetic causes, scientists could not yet clearly prove.
Search for contact
Researchers assume that social and family conflicts play an important role. Children and adolescents who struggle with social contacts and have a preference for the Internet are particularly at risk of developing Internet addiction. For those who do not find friends in the real world are looking for them online nowadays.
Low self esteem
People who withdraw socially often suffer from low self-esteem. On the Internet, the victims can not only give a new face, but also in computer games to courageous fighters. The virtual world thus rewards the player and enhances his self-image. To a certain extent, this is also possible in social networks, in which one can only present oneself from his chocolate side or even accept an invented identity. It becomes dangerous when the computer world becomes more attractive to the person concerned than real life.
Some studies indicate that family conflicts favor the withdrawal of children into the Internet. Adolescents who are addicted to the internet often live with only one parent. The exact connections are unclear. It is clear that in many cases there is a lack of social support.
Research shows that similar changes in the brain also occur in behavioral secrets, such as in alcohol addiction. Also in the Internet addiction plays most likely the increased release of the messenger dopamine in the brain a role. When dopamine is released while playing on the Internet, the feeling of happiness generates: The behavior is rewarded. Over time, the dopaminergic system becomes increasingly sensitized to behavior and reacts particularly strongly when the person is on the Internet. Other stimuli can not keep up with this feeling of happiness and are becoming less and less noticed. However, the internet is increasingly visited to relive the good feeling.
Internet addiction: examinations and diagnosis
If you notice signs of internet addiction on yourself or your loved ones or friends, you should contact a clinic or therapist as soon as possible. These can use questionnaires to determine in a conversation whether the behavior has an addictive character or not.
The first conversation
For Internet addiction is not only the time crucial, the person sitting in front of the computer or surfing with the smartphone. Decisive for the Internet dependence is also that the behavior is carried out out of an inner compulsion. The therapist could ask the following questions during an initial interview:
- Do you often spend less time on the internet, but you can not do it?
- Do you feel restless or irritated when you are not on the internet?
- Are your people complaining that you spend too much time on the internet?
- Are you neglecting your friends, hobbies or commitments to spend more time on the net?
- Do you often reflect on your activities on the internet when you are not online?
Apart from the specific questions about Internet addiction, the therapist will inquire about the family and professional situation. Especially with adolescents, it is necessary to involve the family. First, the family members can provide important information for the diagnosis. On the other hand, the family should also be informed about Internet addiction and learn how to support the affected person.
Diagnosis Internet addiction
Internet addiction is currently still attributed to impulse control disorders and is not an independent disorder in the classification systems. The question of whether Internet addiction can be counted among the addictions is still under discussion. Because in contrast to the substance-related addictions, such as the alcohol addiction, in the Internet addiction no physical dependence on a substance can arise. Many experts are in favor of defining internet dependency as a separate addiction, as internet addicts have a psychological addiction.
Since there are no uniform criteria for the diagnosis of Internet addiction, psychologists and doctors are based on the criteria of addiction. A commonly used test to diagnose internet dependency is Young’s Internet Addiction Test (IAT). This is based on the dependence criteria of the Diagnostic and Statistical Guide to Psychological Disorders (DSM).
Until the Internet addiction is recognized as a mental disorder of its own, the DSM-V offers the following indications as diagnostic criteria of Internet addiction:
- Strong desire for and constant occupation with the Internet
- Withdrawal symptoms when the internet access is taken away
- Tolerance development with increasing extent of Internet use
- Unsuccessful attempts to control internet usage
- Further use of the Internet, although the negative consequences are known
- Loss of other interests and hobbies apart from the internet
- Use of the Internet to reduce bad moods
- Family members and others are lied to in terms of the extent of Internet usage
- Endangering important relationships or employment through internet use
At least five of these criteria must occur over a period of twelve months.
A fairly new tool for diagnosing internet addiction is the AICA SKI: IBS. The abbreviation refers to a Structured Clinical Interview on Internet-Related Interference. It was developed by the trade association media dependence together with colleagues of the outpatient clinic for game addiction Mainz.
Internet addiction: treatment
Which treatments are particularly effective in Internet addiction, is still unclear due to limited scientific research on this topic. More and more therapists now offer help specifically for online addiction. Some clinics, such as in Mainz or Bochum, have set up their own outpatient clinic for internet addiction. For treatment, various forms of therapy such as single and group therapy are usually combined.
Outpatient or inpatient treatment of internet addiction?
Internet addiction can be treated both on an outpatient and inpatient basis. Which form is more effective depends on the severity of the online addiction. An inpatient stay is recommended if the person concerned hardly has any contact with the outside world. When the Internet has become more important than friends, family and job or school, often only treatment in a clinic helps. In the clinical environment, it is more difficult for the Internet addicts to fall back into old patterns. The day is being restructured and the internet is no longer the focus of life.
Cognitive behavioral therapy of internet addiction
An important part of treatment is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. The first step in the treatment is to inform the affected person and his relatives in detail about Internet addiction and its consequences (psychoeducation). The knowledge about the illness should strengthen the patient in his own responsibility.
In the context of cognitive behavioral therapy, the person concerned should learn to recognize problematic patterns of thinking and to change them. The Internet addicts are helped to unlearn the abnormal behavior and to achieve a controlled use or even complete abandonment.
Many people who fall into the virtual world feel better there than in real life. A common view of patients is that they have meaning on the internet and not in real life. In therapy, the person concerned learns to critically question his or her role on the Internet. In online games such as “World of Warcraft”, the person embodies a character (avatar) in the virtual world and builds friendships with other players. As part of the therapy, the patient learns to distance himself from his avatar and to deal intensively with his real ego. An important building block in addiction treatment is also the creation of social contacts in the real world.
Other treatments of internet addiction
In addition to single therapeutic sessions, group therapy plays an important role in the treatment of Internet addiction. The patient can talk with other people about his or her problems. The contact with real people and the cohesion in the group provide a substitute for the contacts on the Internet. For many patients, it is a relief to see that they are not alone with their problem. They also benefit from the experiences of other sufferers in dealing with the addiction.
Internet addiction: disease course and prognosis
Although Internet addiction is not yet considered a disease in its own right, the severity of addiction should not be underestimated. The negative consequences of behavioral addiction affect the lives of those affected enormously. At the beginning, the Internet addiction is barely recognizable. Many people spend a significant amount of the day on the computer and are still not addicted to it. For some people, however, the internet is increasingly becoming the center of attention over time. If the affected person gives up recreational activities and friends, this is an alarming warning.
The number of Internet addicts is steadily increasing. Due to the constant progress of the media and the technology, experts suspect that the problem of Internet addiction will be further aggravated.
The longer an Internet addiction goes untreated, the wider the problems become. The loss of social contacts as well as dropping out of school or loss of work drive those affected ever deeper into a vicious circle. The real world then offers little incentive to turn off the computer.
Professional support can enable those affected to return to normal life. The development of special help offers for Internet addicts in clinics has significantly improved the treatment offer. Cognitive behavioral therapy has been shown to be particularly effective for the treatment of Internet addiction proved.