The Center for Online Addiction Recovery defines Internet addiction as a compulsive behavior that dominates a person’s life. Though cyber sex and pornography use are the most common types of Internet addictions, people can also become addicted to online chatting, shopping, gambling and even website surfing. Here’s how to tell if it’s time to seek help for an Internet addiction.
1. You’re spending more time online than with family or friends
Internet addicts will choose to spend time online rather than participate in social activities, says Linda Bell, CEO of Bellwood Health Services, an addiction-treatment center in Toronto. “I did an interview recently with someone who was into gaming online. He would spend over eight hours a day after work gaming and it was interfering with his social life,” she describes.
If your Internet use is out of control, you may find that your family and friends question why you’re choosing the computer over them or express concern about the amount of time you’re spending online.
2. You’re neglecting yourself and your work
“We have clients who will be online for 15 hours at a time and don’t eat or wash,” says Jennifer Kotry, a therapist at Bellwood who treats individuals with Internet addictions.
You don’t have to spend more than half your day online to be suffering the symptoms of an Internet addiction—it’s the way your Internet use negatively affects your life that determines whether or not you have a problem, notes Kimberly Young, a psychologist and director of the Center for Internet Addiction Recovery. If you find that your Internet use is causing you to neglect your health, your chores and your work, it may be time to seek help.
3. You’re using the Internet to alter your mood
“Those who are depressed are three times more likely to become hooked on the [Internet], those who suffer from anxiety disorders are twice as likely, and those who suffer from an addiction to alcohol and drugs are twice as likely,” says Young.
Those that compulsively use the Internet may find that going online helps relieve the symptoms of a mood disorder—but the relief is short-lived. A study conducted by the Stanford Institute for the Quantitative Study of Society found that the more people used the Internet, the less time they spent in contact with real people, which could lead to loneliness and isolation.
4. You think about the Internet even when you’re not online
As with addictions to drugs or alcohol, Internet addicts are constantly searching for their next fix. If you’re preoccupied with your next purchase on eBay or tactics in an online game, you may have a problem.
How to Find Help
Internet addiction may be treated in a number of ways, including counseling, cognitive-behavioral therapy, group therapy, and medication to treat underlying symptoms of anxiety or depression. Speak to your family doctor for advice or find a therapist who specializes in addiction treatment.
Web exclusive November 2009 Best Health magazine