Most people today use the Internet as a functional tool in everyday-life and many individuals cannot imagine living without the Internet in business or private life. The Internet provides multifariousness of possibilities for communication, entertainment, and dealing with everyday-life requirements.
Generally, internet usage has no harmful effects. However, some individuals suffer from a loss of control over their Internet use resulting in personal distress, symptoms of psychological dependence, and diverse negative consequences. This phenomenon is often referred to as Internet addiction.
Addiction is a compulsive need for and use of any habit-forming substance such as food, gambling, shopping, work and sex. Hence, Internet addiction is any online-related, compulsive behavior which interferes with normal living and causes severe stress on family, friends, loved ones, and one’s work environment. Internet addiction is synonymous with Internet dependency, Internet compulsivity, Compulsive Internet use, Problematic Internet use, Pathological Internet use, etc.
Defining Internet Addiction
Internet Addiction is defined as:
- preoccupation with the Internet
- withdrawal symptoms of irritability, anxiety, or sadness
- development of tolerance
- unsuccessful attempts to control the behaviour, i.e. “loss of control”
- loss of interest in other activities
- continued excessive use despite knowledge of psychosocial problems
- deceiving others regarding the amount of time spent gaming
- use of this behaviour to escape or relieve a negative mood
- jeopardizing / losing a significant relationship / job / educational opportunity
There can be several forms of addiction to the internet. They can range from Web-surfing to pornography (cybersex), from chat rooms or online dating or social networking to gaming (video/computer) and even online gambling. There are several factors responsible for the far-reaching usage and addictive potential of the internet.
- Easy Accessibility: Since Internet is accessible at a nominal cost round the clock-it becomes easy for everyone to engage in it, even in the midst of their work schedule.
- Anonymity: Indulging in addictions on the internet has the distinct advantage of keeping people’s identities private, thereby sidestepping the inherent embarrassment and shame of certain addictions.
- Easy to use: No special skill needs to be acquired for one to be a part of the internet and this makes it a universally accepted tool of entertainment.
- It provides the illusion of connection: Platforms like instant messaging and social networks give the illusion of being constantly connected to friends and colleagues and even acquaintances. This removes the need for physical proximity and interaction to a great extent.
- It can be inexpensive: With technology becoming cheaper, mobile internet connections and internet enabled devices like phones and tablets are becoming affordable for the masses.
- It is fun and very engaging: Continuous up-gradation in graphics and sound quality makes the games and other activities over the internet very innovative, life-like and absorbing.
More than 3 billion people use internet worldwide (June 2014 data)
70% of youth and young adults (ages 12 to 29) who use the Internet use social networking sites
In addition, one in three teens sends more than 100 text messages a day, with at least 70% of 17 year olds texting daily.
Out of a total population of 1, 220, 800, 35, the total number of internet users are 213,000,000, which comes to an internet penetration of 17% (January, 2014 data).
The national as well as global trends reflect an alarming increase in the number of internet users. This growing usage raises questions about its positive and negative effect on health, especially mental health.
Impact of Internet Addiction
Studies done so far indicate that the effect depends upon the type of internet usage. For instance, for adolescents using the Internet to maintain existing social contacts usage is associated with greater social connectedness and well being. However, there are several complications that may arise from excessive internet usage.
- Internet addicted students are more prone to experiencing loneliness, withdrawal, sadness and rejection from others
- Internet addiction was associated with symptoms of ADHD and depressive disorders
- Internet over-use affects academic performance and is associated with substance consumption
- A high co-morbidity between Internet addiction and insomnia has also been reported
The complications that can arise from internet addiction are manifold and cover a broad spectrum of difficulties. They range from the more easily apparent physical problems to more subtle but far more complex social complications to work and academic related issues.
- Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
- Dry Eyes
- Back Aches
- Eating irregularities (skipping meals)
- Sleep disturbances
- Strained Parent-child relationship
- Dysfunctional Marriage
- Unbalanced Professional Equations
- Weak Bonding within Friend Circle
- More time is spent “researching” than actually completing assignments.
- Incomplete or Missing Assignments
- Inability to concentrate on real life instruction
- Grades begin to decline
- Skipping classes to stay in chat room
Most alarmingly however, internet addiction is associated with a number of Mental Health Problems
- Depressive Episodes: caused by negative psychosocial consequences of the cyber-addiction or the break-up of relationships
- Suicidal thoughts: out of despair and hopelessness
- Alcoholism / Substance abuse: Alcohol is being used to get calmer but also to enhance the sexual excitement
- Obsessive-Compulsive Behavior: Online addicts develop complex rituals to conceal their dependency and to make sure their family, colleagues or company cannot access their “hidden area”
- Paranoid Thinking: Fear of being discovered and being ashamed lets them associate even marginal observations with personal threats.
- Researchers have recently proposed a new type of depression, termed “Facebook depression”
- It develops when preteens and teens spend long periods on social media sites and then begin to experience symptoms of depression.
- Facebook depression can cause anxiety and withdrawal, as well as a propensity towards engaging in risky activities such as substance abuse, unsafe sex or self-destructive behaviours.
- A study done in 2011 in Serbia showed depression to be present in about 25% of young female Facebook users.
- A 2009 study from New York also reported an increased risk of depression in teenage girls using Facebook.
Intervention: What is the solution?
The ability to control one’s own Internet use is an important factor preventing people from developing an Internet addiction. Thus, one of the major goals of therapy must be to give the individual back the control over his/her Internet use.
Here are some basic steps that everyone can follow to reduce the addictive impact of the internet.
Determine how much time you go online per week.
- By using a clock, a timer or otherwise, keep track of the amount of time you spend online.
- Use the chart below to decide if you are addicted to the Internet
- 10 or less hours: you are not addicted. Good job.
- 11-15 hours: not an addiction yet, however it is advisable to cut down on your time.
- 16-25 hours: Somewhat addicted. The amount of time you spend online needs to be reduced.
- 26+ hours: very addicted; your time on the Internet must be cut
Develop substitute activities
If you are on the Internet an excessive amount of time, you will need to find substitute activities to distract you from the internet like:
Slowly wean yourself off of the Internet.
- Shorten the amount of time you allow yourself online.
- Set a timer if necessary
- Make sure the computer is in a common area
- Drop to 2 hours per day or less
- Distract yourself with other activities during the remainder of your time
- Wait until homework and other chores are done
If, however, difficulties still persist, professional assistance may be called for. Since compulsive computer use can be a signal for deeper problems, one must not hesitate to seek professional counselling, specially if self-help techniques have not proved to be of much help.
Dr. Sanjay Garg
MBBS, MRCPsych(London), CCT(UK)
Specialist in Mental Retardation, Developmental Disorders & Dementia
Senior Consultant Psychiatrist – Fortis Hospitals, Anandapur, E M Bypass, Kolkata
Honorary Consultant – NHS Greater Glasgow & Clyde, UK
Ex-lecturer and Examiner, University of Glasgow