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There are no clear-cut definitions or defined causes of Internet addiction. Mainly this is because internet addiction is a newer phenomenon; there are not many precedents. However, that doesn't mean that someone can't have an addiction. As more research is completed around this topic it's likely some clear-cut causes will emerge.
How is Internet Addiction Defined
As noted above, there are few actual researched-based definitions available. Additionally, you can divide Internet addictions into categories - like online shopping addictions, an online gambling addiction, or cyber sex addiction.
That said, at the root of every addiction, whether it's drugs, food, or computer addiction, there's a common factor that suggests that the addiction is indeed an addiction, and not just a habit. That common factor is that the habit creates a negative impact on the person's regular life. A real addiction negatively affects home life, interpersonal relationships, work, and emotional health. Often an addiction will negatively impact a person's physical health as well.
Some signs of internet addiction according to the The Illinois Institute for Addiction Recovery (IIAR) include:
- A large preoccupation with being online. Often an individual will think a lot about their last session online, and be excited about the next time they can access the Web.
- An individual needs to use the Internet more frequently to get satisfaction from the activity.
- Feeling bored, upset, restless, moody, depressed or anxiety-ridden when they can't be online.
- Becoming angry when someone needs the computer or refusing to share time - most common in households where there are shared computers.
- Forgets all about time when online.
- Can't stop getting online, no matter how hard they try.
- compulsive lying to friends and family about time spent online.
- Puts a job, relationship, or other responsibility at risk in order to continue to spend time online. For example, a person may cancel a date, miss a family dinner, or forget a work meeting because of their computer time.
- Uses the Internet to escape frequently. In some cases the Internet may be the only activity that calms an addicted and agitated person down.
- When online, or after an online session a person may feel a sense of manic depression, guilt, anxiety, or hopelessness.
There's a simple Internet Addiction Test (IAT) offered by the Center for Internet Addiction Recovery. This test is easy to take and can point out if you, or someone you love, may have an addiction problem with the Internet. They have a few more good quizzes available as well, including, a Quiz for Obsessive Online Gambling and a Cybersexual Addiction Quiz.
Some Causes of Internet Addiction
While more research needs to be completed about why people become addicted to the Internet, there are some known causes of Internet addiction. Causes can vary by age, gender, and of course, personality.
Some people become addicted to the Internet because of the social connections they make online. Some online relationship activity can be useful and healthy, and many people utilize forums for advice or chats for relaxation, but when a person has many close online friends and no one to count on in the real world, problems can develop.
An Internet addicted individual though, will develop highly emotional attachments to online pals or even online dates. Online relationships are attractive to some because it can feel less risky than meeting live people in person. Online friends allow people to escape their real lives and possibly fulfill their needs for emotional contacts that they don't get in real life.
Some who are addicted to online relationships may even create pretend personalities or personas of themselves. This is actually a dangerous practice because often the people who create these fake lives are already low on self-esteem or desperately seeking the approval of others. Instead of seeking real help, say from a counselor, these individuals just re-make themselves online, while changing nothing about their real offline lives. This can lead to increased symptoms of depression and feelings of inadequacy.
Personality Trait Causes
One interesting paper on Internet addiction notes that some people may be predisposed to online addictions; much like one can be predisposed to an alcohol addiction. What the paper points out is that someone with the right mix of an addictive personality, life stressors, and poor emotional health could get addicted if the Internet happens to also fall into their life during this time.
Along with the previous example are people who may become addicted because the internet reinforces a positive feeling. For example, a wife not getting her emotional needs met by her husband, may hop online and find friendly sites and people willing to talk. Each time she has an issue with her husband there are positives to getting online. This reinforces the hold the Internet can have on someone.
Support for People Addicted to the Internet
- Your best support may come from your personal doctor. He or she may be able to pinpoint why you personally have become addicted and can offer suggestions for support and even medication to treat the underlying causes of Internet addiction. For example, your doctor may prescribe anti-anxiety medication so you will find meeting people in real life less stressful.
- The Center for Internet Addiction Recovery has a blog about recovery. It's a little odd that a recovery method for an Internet addiction is online, but this blog does also point out other good resources and organizations.
- Internet-a-holics Anonymous offers both online and offline treatment options.