Megan did not really want to make this appointment, but something her kid said made her stop and think. They were at soccer game when Megan heard her kid say to a friend, “yeah, I think mom’s phone is glued to her hands.” Megan was even on her phone at the time when she knew she should have been watching the game. Being on top of email really helps me at work, Megan told herself. She tried for a few weeks to cut back and use her phone less in the evenings. She had a good day here and there, but walking away from the Internet was a lot harder than Megan anticipated. Megan did not really want to see a therapist, but the more she thought about how much she was on her phone and online, the more she realized that it had become a problem. Megan was not just missing soccer games. She was on her phone during movies and dinner and on the weekends and in bed. Megan decided it was time to get help. More and more, people are like Megan. They are struggling with how much they are online or when they are using the Internet or what they do online. They are losing control, and an Internet addiction is developing. Also like Megan, more and more people are reaching out for help and going to therapy for compulsive Internet use.
“Turn off your email; turn off your phone; disconnect from the Internet; figure out a way to set limits so you can concentrate when you need to, and disengage when you need to. Technology is a good servant but a bad master.” —Gretchen Rubin
Tablets, laptops, unlimited data plans, and smartphones allow many people to be on the Internet whenever and wherever they want to be. Just as with other behavior-based addictions, some people have no problem going offline or controlling what they do online, but others struggle. Anintern Internet addiction may look like being online too much. It may also look like taking unnecessary risks while online. Like any addiction, compulsive Internet use can cause significant harm, but it also has treatments that may mitigate the destructive effects.
Thriveworks Manassas provides counseling for Internet addiction, and our therapists have seen many clients who are struggling. Their Internet use may be holding them back professionally or within their personal relationships, but we have also seen many people find treatment and regain control.
Compulsive Internet Use
Even in the days of dial-up Internet, mental health professionals were discussing how people used the Internet. In 1995, the idea that someone could be addicted to being online was first introduced, and by 1998, criteria had been developed for recognizing signs of Internet dependency. If people are struggling with five or more of these diagnostics, then they may be addicted to the Internet. Many signs overlap with other types of addiction:
- Escalation: using the Internet for increasingly longer times or taking increasing risks online in order to feel the same level of satisfaction.
- Deception: lying to others about what one is doing on the Internet or when/how long one is online. This may also include self-deception that minimizes the consequences of one’s Internet use.
- Obsession: being preoccupied or thinking constantly about being online.
- Lost Control: spending more time online than one anticipated or planned to spend.
- Irritability: feeling moody or depressed when not online or when Internet use is threatened.
- Self-medicating: going online to regulate one’s mood or handle difficult feelings.
- Risk: putting one’s personal or professional life in jeopardy in order to be online.
- Failed Attempts to Quit: trying to quit or curb use but being unable to do so.
Effects of Internet Addiction
When people are fighting Internet compulsions, they will experience negative effects in real life. Internet addiction can take an emotional and physical toll. As you read through these effects, do you recognize anything in your own life? Early recognition of Internet addiction may lead to early treatment and more effective treatment.
When someone is fighting an Internet addiction, they may experience these emotional red flags:
- Mood swings
- Feelings of guilt
- Feelings of elation when using the Internet
- Inability to keep to a schedule
- Avoidance of work
- Losing a sense of time
When someone is fighting an Internet addiction, they may experience these physical red flags:
- Neck pain
- Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
- Poor nutrition (forgetting to eat or eating excessively)
- Dry eyes and other vision problems
- Poor personal hygiene (e.g., not brushing teeth, changing clothes, bathing, and more)
- Weight loss or gain
Treatment at Thriveworks Manassas for Internet Addiction
Maybe you are a professional who cannot put the smartphone away. Maybe you are always on social media, searching for the next trend or the next “like.” Internet addiction can take many different forms and can affect people of all ages. If you are struggling to regulate how much you are online or what you do when you are online, it may be time to reach out for help. And there is help available. Thriveworks Manassas offers appointments for Internet addiction. When you call our office, you may be meeting with one of our mental health professionals the following day. We accept many different forms of insurance, and we offer evening and weekend sessions. Let’s work together.