Problematic Internet Use: A Modern-Day Addiction


Sober Recovery Expert Author

Since Dr. Kimberly Young first brought attention to internet addiction in 1995, addiction professionals have closely observed the increasing importance of technology in our lives and the rising cases of internet dependency.

According to The Center for Internet Addiction, an organization dedicated to internet addiction therapy that was founded by Young, the addiction includes “any online-related, compulsive behavior which interferes with normal living and causes severe stress on family, friends, loved ones and one's work environment.” Today, this overuse and abuse of the internet has been labeled as Problematic Internet Use (PIU).

As our communication methods and work become increasingly dependent on technology, the rise of online-related compulsive behaviors have also risen.

The Problem with PIU

While people from various demographics are susceptible to PIU, young adults have been found to be particularly vulnerable due to their predisposition to the following factors:

  • Unlimited access to free internet in cafes, dorm rooms, home, etc.
  • Large blocks of free time
  • The requirement of schools to use the internet for research and studies
  • The popularity to enroll in on-line courses
  • Newfound freedom from parental control and monitoring

In December 2015, a study conducted on U.S. college students was the first to showcase internet addiction’s positive and negative effects on the family relationships of young adults with PIU. The study focused on those who “reported spending more than 25 hours a week on the internet on non-school or non-work-related activities, and who experienced Internet-associated health or psychosocial problems.”

The sampled participants revealed the following:

  • Time on the internet often improved family connectedness when they and their family were apart.
  • However, excessive internet use led to increased and often serious family conflict and disconnectedness when family members were all together.
  • College students with PIU felt their family members also excessively engaged in computer use, with parents not setting enough limits for siblings or themselves.

As with other addictions, researchers found that PIU has been linked to other negative mental health consequences such as depression, ADHD, hostility, self-harm, alcohol abuse, social phobia and sleep difficulties.

Treatment Options

With an enormous amount of communication and work dependent on technology, it may appear that treating PIU is a hopeless endeavor. However, despite the new challenges present in this form of addiction, there are various treatment options available for those who are struggling.

1. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is being investigated as an effective form of treatment for technology addiction. This type of treatment aims to help a person become aware of inaccurate or negative thinking, so they can view challenging situations more clearly and respond to them more effectively. The most effective CBT process on internet-addicted patients involves exploring their specific usage patterns of technology, introducing new routines that can interrupt previously established patterns that bring excess exposure to technology, and considering one-on-one and/or group therapy with patients’ family members.

2. Support groups may also prove to be helpful in treating internet addiction, which can be very isolating. Receiving encouragement and assistance as well as understanding that there are others who experience similar obstacles to a healthy lifestyle can help the addict voice their innermost fears and emotions.

3. Dual diagnosis is frequently apparent with internet addiction. As previously mentioned, this form of addiction has been linked to various mental health issues. Some professionals believe that in certain instances prescription drugs that target serotonin, which are used to treat anxiety and depression, can help break the cycle of internet dependency.

4. Inpatient treatment programs are recommended in severe cases or situations where the individual has relapsed. By entering a residential treatment program, a person is removed from access to their usual internet equipment. This enables them to learn and implement coping strategies first in a supervised environment and then out in the “real world.”

Friends and family should not be afraid to confront their loved one if they believe he or she is struggling with an addiction to technology. If you or someone you know is looking for help, please visit our directory of treatment centers or call 866-606-0182 to start the path to recovery today.

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