internet addiction treatments

Signs, Symptoms, and Internet Addiction Treatments

November 19, 2021

The Internet has turned how we communicate upside down. Not so long ago, one had to wait for the nightly news or even the Sunday paper to come out to learn about what was happening locally and on the other side of the world. As technology advanced and with it the World Wide Web, the ability to obtain information about things happening a world away changed dramatically and seemingly, overnight. Today, all one needs to do to receive a daily update on the events occurring locally and nationwide is turn on their computer or smartphone. Through these devices, we can communicate with loved ones, watch videos, post photos and thoughts on social media, and do a host of other activities, some of which lead to significant mental health struggles for adults and teens alike. So is the Internet a good thing? Is it possible to get addicted to the Internet?


Is it Possible to Get Addicted to the Internet? 

Despite the broad-reaching effect that the Internet has on our day-to-day lives, little research indicates whether chronic Internet usage is indeed problematic. Recent data from the Pew Research Center suggests that nearly 80% of Americans (of all ages) use the Internet each day. Although many of those use the Internet for work, education, or to check email, a significant portion of society spends so much of their day online that it inevitably interferes with their relationships and day-to-day lives. In some situations, the level to which Internet use interferes with these individuals’ lives is so severe that it can be classified as an addiction.


Currently, Internet addiction and similar technology addictions such as smartphone addiction, video game addiction, etc., are not listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders or DSM. However, some studies point to a legitimate need for in-depth diagnostic criteria and treatment models for these conditions. A recent study by the National Institutes of Health also provides evidence for why Internet addiction should be listed in the DSM. The study began in August of 2017, and based on its results, it could show sufficient evidence of problematic behaviors and psychological conditions that stem directly from excessive Internet use.


Because Internet addiction is not widely recognized as a diagnosable condition per the DSM, many mental health treatment professionals do not recognize it as an illness. Because of this, it is often classified as another behavioral condition such as obsessive-compulsive disorder or an impulse control disorder. This helps treatment professionals provide therapeutic options for individuals struggling with detrimental or harmful Internet use in a treatment setting where diagnostic criteria and specific treatment models have not been clearly defined. Other treatment providers have also classified Internet or smartphone addiction in similar categories as other behavioral addictions such as gambling, shopping, and similar.


Types of Internet Addictions

Internet addiction is far more than spending too much time on the Internet. Internet addiction is an umbrella term used to describe an array of behaviors or impulse control issues directly resulting from Internet use. Internet access does not have to occur on a computer; it can be on a laptop, iPad, or mobile device. Again, there are no widely accepted diagnostic criteria for Internet addiction; however, researchers from the National Institutes of Health have identified five specific subcategories of computer and Internet-related addictions that deserve and require comprehensive treatment at a treatment center like Hillcrest for teens to safely and successfully overcome.


Online (cyber) relationship addiction

Individuals who struggle with online relationship addictions are those who spend significant amounts of time researching and maintaining online relationships. These individuals often spend so much time immersed in the online world that they forget the face-to-face relationships with family and friends. These online relationships are often developed out of interactions in chat rooms or social networking sites; however, they can also occur through online dating apps and a dizzying array of other online locations. It is not uncommon for those who pursue online relationships to conceal their actual age, identity, or location. This often leads to potentially dangerous meetups for young and impressionable adolescents and teens who seek to meet these individuals face to face. It can also result in a range of legal problems for teens and young adults who share questionable imagery and messaging online with those they do not know in person. It is essential to seek help for your teen if you’re concerned about their relationships online, as comprehensive counseling and therapy are often the only way to ensure lasting behavioral change occurs.


Compulsive information seeking

The Internet provides a seemingly endless array of data and knowledge for people to research, view, and absorb. For some, the opportunity to find out information about others or to simply gather and organize data becomes an addiction. For some, this is the opportunity to act on underlying obsessive-compulsive disorders that may not have been noticed. For others, it can be a way to learn information about strangers, friends, and loved ones that might otherwise not be available. Regardless of the reasoning, compulsive information seeking will inevitably reduce productivity at school and in other areas of your teen’s life. Depending on the severity of their condition, specific behavioral therapies may help them target compulsive behaviors and develop safer, healthier ways to interact.


Cybersex addiction

This particular Internet addiction is perhaps the easiest explained based on the title. It involves an addiction to online websites portraying adult material, fantasy chat rooms, and X-rated webcam services. The unfortunate nature of the Internet is that many of these services, although age-restricted, are not as restricted as they should be. It is possible for anyone of any age to create fake accounts, use credit cards that are not theirs, and access online services designed for adults only. For teens, this can be dangerous. In addition to the potential legal, emotional, and personal repercussions, obsessions with online sexual content can make it complicated to form healthy, intimate relationships with significant others as your teen ages. There are many treatment options available for sexual addictions and the behaviors that often accompany them.


Net Compulsions

Net compulsions are better described as online activities that can cause harm. Examples include online auctions, compulsive online shopping, online gambling, and similar. Not only can these activities have a significant impact on one’s financial stability, but they can also have a considerable impact on their psychological health. The financial repercussions for teens who engage in these activities often extend to parents, as many teens are not old enough to have a credit card of their own to use online. Additionally, losing auctions or the money associated with the auctions can lead to emotional and psychological consequences that many teens are not cognitively prepared to process. For some, the idea behind instantly winning money on online casinos is appealing. However, adolescents and teens have not reached the developmental stage necessary to understand how online gambling and other similar activities work.


Computer or gaming addiction

Gaming addictions involved excessively participating in playing computer games. Depending on the game, these can be solo games (solitaire, Tetris, or larger online games involving thousands of people from around the world. Again, compulsive video gameplay is not classified as a unique mental health condition. However, research has indicated that there are many psychological impacts to compulsive video gameplay for adolescents and teens. Not only does compulsive video game playing reduce productivity and interfere with homework and other extracurricular activities, but it also can lead to a significant impact on your teen’s ability to foster healthy or personal relationships with friends and family who are present in the here and now.


Treating Internet Addiction

Internet addiction can have a significant impact on your teen, both physically and psychologically. When people spend a considerable amount of time tied to their computer, they can develop a range of physical issues, including weight gain, eyestrain, carpal tunnel syndrome, and general body aches and pains. Additionally, psychological effects related to online activities can include new or worsening mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression, social isolation, and other changes to your teen’s normal behavior.


Although there is no specific treatment suggested to help your teen overcome Internet addiction, many of the treatments used at a teen-focused treatment center like Hillside are those directed at other compulsive behavioral disorders. Because Internet addiction shares many of the same symptoms as other compulsive disorders, these treatments have been shown to be effective in helping manage Internet addiction. It is important to work closely with the treatment team at Hillcrest to determine the therapy model that would work best for your teen and their specific needs and goals.


If you are a parent and are concerned about your teen’s Internet use, it may be important to seek help at Hillcrest; therapeutic interventions can help your teen learn how to better manage their Internet use in a safe and healthy way. Comprehensive therapy programs address not only the addictive nature of Internet use but also any underlying mental health conditions that may be increasing their need or desire to use the Internet. 


Diagnosing Internet addiction is not always as straightforward as it could be. Because Internet addiction and related technology addictions are not listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders, many treatment providers do not consider this diagnosis when evaluating teens and adults alike. If you are concerned that your teen may have an Internet addiction, the team at Hillcrest understands their struggles are real, and these conditions are treatable. Contact our admissions team today to learn more about how our programs can help your teen manage their Internet use and overcome potentially dangerous dependencies on the Internet.

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