Internet addiction is one of the numerous mental health conditions that affect people today. It makes sense why, since we live in the society which cultivates a constant need for validation.
Without a doubt, the internet and social media have changed the way we live. However, there’s definitely a dark side to the internet, and prolonged social media use can oftentimes be quite damaging. Just think about the addictive reward cycles of notifications and likes. You can easily find yourself spending more time online than you might otherwise want to. This can have a dramatic impact on your health and mental wellbeing. Does this mean, however, that you are suffering from internet addiction?
We’ve written elsewhere about the harmful effects of smartphone addiction and how to cut down on your phone usage, but what about the internet itself? Below, we’ve listed some of the tell-tale signs of internet addiction, both physical and emotional. We also discuss how they might affect your day-to-day life.
Put simply, internet addiction is a form of behavioral addiction. Behavioral addictions are, as the name suggests, based upon particular patterns of behavior that elicit a certain reward. An individual performs a certain behavior and this behavior causes a definite prize, which gradually creates a reward loop.
However, the reward – or dopamine rush – isn’t as strong as the first time. The user gradually builds up a tolerance, distorting the brain’s pleasure pathways over time. This leads the user to seek greater and greater rewards by constantly carrying out the behavior that first created the reward.
Gambling was the first behavioral addiction to be recognized. It first opened up researchers to the possibility that behavior alone could be just as powerful and addictive as chemical cravings. The original behavior, which was voluntary, gradually becomes compulsive as the addiction grows.
Product and user experience designers seek to create apps and websites that people want to use. In another term, these apps are designed to reward the individuals that use them. Think of notifications and likes. These are rewards that prompt certain behaviors in users, i.e. to post more content, tweet, or simply spend more time online.
So what should you be looking out for? What are the signs and symptoms of internet addiction? Of course, the signs will vary from individual to individual and you’ll rarely see a textbook case. However, there are certain signals.
For instance, if you feel restless or unhappy away from a computer, phone, or tablet screen. It can be difficult to exercise self-reflection in terms of one’s own behavior, but most people are at least aware of how certain actions make them feel. So do you feel uncomfortable or unhappy if you don’t check your emails or log in to Facebook for a prolonged period of time?
This is a really basic measure of an activity’s propensity to be addictive; does it make you feel good?
The internet is so overloaded with things that can grab our attention. It entertains us that it’s often easy to lose a degree of agency over our actions online. Information overload in part at least robs individuals of the ability to make decisions. It creates a kind of decision paralysis which in turn leads to compulsive behavior.
Additionally, if you find yourself withdrawing from daily activities, chores, or unpleasant commitments to spend time online, you might be suffering from internet addiction. Most psychologists and therapists agree that once a compulsive behavior begins to interfere with or adversely affect daily life, it amounts to an addiction and should be addressed.
So do you find yourself putting off tasks, ignoring responsibilities or withdrawing from your social life to spend time on the internet?
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, are you finding that your internet use is having an impact on your physical health? For instance, individuals that spend excessive amounts of time online often find that they have a litany of health issues arising from the time they spend say at their desk or clicking with their mouse.
Whilst not exclusively a sign of addiction, physical health problems that result from internet use are often associated with addiction.
Ultimately, the symptoms of addiction can vary from person to person. However, there are certainly clear, key signs that might suggest that either you or someone you know should rethink your relationship to the internet and how much you use it.
Of course, it’s a lot easier said than done, but – as the old truism goes – acknowledging there’s a problem is the first step to solving it.