“I have an addiction.” Whenever someone says those words in seriousness, not in a joking “I’m addicted to Nutella” way, most people expect to hear a harrowing tale of substance abuse that ends in rehab, jail time or both. When the person says that what they are addicted to is the internet, well, most people stop listening at that point or at least fail to take the person’s confession seriously.
Ridiculous as it sounds to some, internet addiction is a real problem. Like any addiction it can interfere with interpersonal relationships, damage job prospects and take a serious toll on a person’s physical health. Most people, however, do not think of something as seemingly harmless as the internet as a source of addiction. They expect to hear addiction in the context of drugs or alcohol, but intangibles such as the internet or gambling can form addictions in people who would never have picked up a needle or gotten sloppy drunk.
Internet addiction is based on the same things that most addictions are; however, internet addiction can be somewhat more insidious because people often struggle to recognize something as intrinsic to modern life as the internet as the cause of an addiction. People can understand that the foreign substance they are putting in their body could cause an addiction. It is much harder to associate such a loaded word as “addiction” with looking at things on a screen.
The difficulty in recognizing or even believing in internet addiction causes plenty of people who are internet addicts to be unaware that they are suffering from an actual addiction. They may recognize that they are on the internet far more than they should be, but they do not see that they have actually become addicted. They still believe they are in control and fall prey to the classic addict’s lie: I can stop anytime I want. Unfortunately for internet addicts, they cannot stop whenever they wish any more than an alcoholic can stop drinking on a dime. Internet addicts need to have a plan to beat their addiction and take steps to avoid falling off the wagon.
When it comes to kicking an internet addiction, internet addicts have one massive disadvantage when compared to more “traditional” addictions such as drugs or alcohol. A person can throw out their liquor and avoid buying more. It is not nearly so easy to avoid internet usage. Internet usage is required multiple times a day in most jobs, and smartphones ensure that temptation literally lives in an internet addict’s pocket. The internet is also the main source of information today regardless of whether it is interpersonal information, such as what is found on Facebook, or more practical information such as the veritable armada of electronic DIY instructions and “how to” guides living on Google’s servers. Being surrounded by temptation, understandably, makes it difficult for internet addicts to kick the habit and then keep it away. This difficulty is then made even worse by the social and cultural acceptance of internet addiction. As a society, substance abuse is frowned upon. Excessive internet usage, however, is most often ignored or, in some cases, expected or embraced. Young people are not surprised when their friends state that they were up all night scrolling through Tumblr. Frankly, this is considered to be impressive. Such statements may be made with a self-deprecating or complaining tone, but they are little different than “complaints” about how little a middle schooler says they slept last night. The words and tone are unpleasant, but the fewer the hours of sleep or the longer the number of hours spent online, the cooler a teen seems to their friends.
While it is not as inherently harmful as drugs or alcohol, internet addiction can cause serious health problems in those that suffer from it. Staring at a screen all day can harm a person’s eyesight, and given that most people use computers, phones or tablets sitting down, internet addicts are also at a greater risk for cardiovascular issues as well as neck or back issues and migraines caused by constantly looking down. The blue light from electronic screens is also known to suppress melatonin production which can cause or worsen insomnia.
In addition to causing physical damage, internet addiction has a number of mental and emotional consequences as well. Overuse of the internet can lead to depression and anxiety. Internet addiction can also cause a person to neglect interpersonal relationships which can lead to a sense of loneliness and isolation. This in turn increases the likelihood of a person developing some form of depression.
Internet addiction can take a variety of forms. A person could be addicted to social media usage and the dopamine hit caused by their posts and pictures being liked. A person could also be suffering from a porn addiction, online shopping addiction or online gambling addiction. Some people are also simply addicted to surfing the internet. They do not have one specific thing they do when they are online, but the inability to click from page to page makes them antsy, irritable or nervous. An internet addict may also be focused largely on one website that has a great deal of content on it such as Tumblr, Pinterest, Wikipedia or TV Tropes. Why some people form one variation of internet addiction and other people form another is still unclear.
Internet addiction is not an easy thing for people to deal with or defeat. Temptation is everywhere and has been woven into much of daily life. Many people will also not even see internet addiction as an actual addiction. They will not realize that internet addicts struggle with compulsive, uncontrollable and self-destructive habits when it comes to the internet. It is not simply a matter of “spending less time online.” It is a real addiction and one that has to be treated as such. It can be beaten, but it takes focus, determination and a plan to wrestle the virtual demon into submission.