Overcoming Internet Addiction For Dummies
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Internet addiction involves excessive, and at times compulsive, overuse of Internet screen devices. Typically, some types of content are potentially more addictive, including social media, pornography, video games, binge TV watching, shopping, and gambling.

The Internet delivers desirable content unpredictably, and the reward center of the brain loves the unpredictable experience of maybe. Addiction is about maybe finding the pleasure you once experienced, and you thinking that maybe it will be fun again.

This is the neurobiological chase for the previous pleasurable dopamine hit.

Internet addiction basics

What is addiction? Addiction is a pattern in which substances or behaviors (like Internet use) are consumed in an excessive or compulsive manner, which then creates changes in mood, thinking, judgment, motivation, physical health, productivity, and psychological well-being.

Often, psychiatric symptoms and disorders co-occur with or from an addiction. Addiction or overuse involves the whole person, often presenting with aspects of both tolerance (with the Internet, this means needing more stimulating or intoxicating digital content or time online) and withdrawal (which often involves some level of physical or psychological discomfort when the behavior is discontinued).

Negative consequences almost always occur with Internet and tech addiction. Sometimes these impacts are mild and may simply be related to excessive time spent and the imbalances this activity creates, while at other times, the dysfunction and life disruption can be substantial.

Breaking down why the Internet is addictive

The Internet has many unique qualities that make it addictive:

  • Broadcast intoxication: This is the pleasure of recording and posting your life.
  • Productivity illusion: This is the idea that the Internet makes you more productive when, in fact, most of the time you spend online is not for productive purposes.
  • Threshold reduction: Content is more easily consumed and overused when doing so online.
  • Reward deficiency: When comparing the stimulation of the Internet to real life, real life can feel flat and less interesting by comparison.
  • Instant gratification: This is about getting what you want when you want it, which reduces patience for real life.
  • The fun of infotainment: The Internet makes information fun — where else can you get lost in Wikipedia?
  • Perceived anonymity: The Internet seems like a private place to communicate — although it is anything but private.
  • Disinhibition: This means feeling freer to express yourself when online.
  • Losing track of time: Time is distorted when online — dissociation is often experienced when on the Internet or on screens.
  • Content intoxication: This means the direct delivery of stimulating content via the Internet modality.
  •  Synergistic amplification: The Internet modality itself is addictive and serves as an efficient neurobiological delivery mechanism, in the same way that a hypodermic efficiently delivers a drug to your blood stream. The content is the drug itself, and when you combine a stimulating form of content with the addictive Internet delivery mechanism, you get an amplified, dopamine-innervating experience, which can contribute to continued overuse or addiction.
  • Variable ratio reinforcement: The Internet is the world’s largest slot machine; you never know what you are going to get, when you will get it, and how good it is going to be. This maybe factor is the intermittently rewarding way the Internet operates, which innervates dopamine, and is both extinction resistant and addicting.

Diagnosing and treating Internet addiction

Diagnosing Internet and technology addiction is not dissimilar to assessing other types of addictions or mental health problems. Ultimately, it’s about the functional impact the behavior has on major life spheres and daily activities.

In a sense, if there is no negative life impact, then theoretically, there is no need to change your tech use patterns or to receive treatment.

Not all Internet and technology addictions need to be diagnosed or treated professionally; many (if not most) people find that some modification of their screen use, or changing habitual patterns of use, can reduce total time spent online, as well as their use of the most problematic content, apps, games, or websites.

Video game addiction, social media overuse, and pornography addiction are some of the most problematic areas of screen use, but many people just spend way too much time surfing all types of content.

Diagnosis requires that you examine your relationship with your devices and the types and amount of content you consume. Most importantly, it involves examining your life-tech balance by seeing how much time you’re spending on your screens, and for what purpose. This does not necessarily refer to your use of your devices for work or school or, say, banking; rather, it is about extended, compulsive, and unconscious use (often for many hours per day).

Prolonged time on the Internet engaging in such activities can result in negative effects on your health and well-being, work or school performance, family and social relationships, sleep, and emotional/psychological functioning.

Numerous psychiatric symptoms and disorders can co-occur with Internet addiction and may either be the result of, or contribute to, a screen and technology addiction.

Generalized and social anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, impulse control disorders, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and sleep disorders are some of the most common issues and concerns that appear to co-occur with Internet addiction.

Balancing life and Internet use

The ultimate cure for Internet and screen overuse and addiction is to change your relationship with these technologies.

The machines you use will impact you only if you allow them to; often making small changes in how you use your screens can help. These changes may include the following.

  • Limit recreational use of the Internet and screens to one to two hours a day.
  • Consider developing alternative entertainment and pastime activities that are less screen-based.
  • Develop a more conscious and moderate approach to using the Internet and screens. Become aware of how, when, and why you are using your screens, and make some modifications in these patterns. Pay particular attention to how boredom is a frequent trigger for picking up a screen.
  • Practice greater amounts of time living without your smartphone. Try to eat meals without it, do not have it in your bedroom at night, and reduce the number of notifications that cause you to constantly check your phone.
  • Consider switching your smartphone screen to black and white (gray scale) — your brain may find this less appealing and you may naturally cut down your screen use.
  • Use fewer social media less often. Try more real-time living and social relating with friends, family, and acquaintances. Break out of the social validation loop, where you constantly post, read, rate, and comment on other people’s updates and posts. Make a phone call instead of texting or using a social media app.
  • Consciously limit screen time that you just cannot seem to control naturally. Consider eliminating certain forms of content completely, such as video gaming, porn, social media, or mindless surfing.It is okay to admit you don’t have control over some of the websites and apps you use, because they are designed to have just that effect — the Internet is neurobiologically built around capturing your time and attention.

About This Article

This article is from the book:

About the book author:

David N. Greenfield, PhD, MS, is the Founder and Clinical Director of The Center for Internet and Technology Addiction and former Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Connecticut School of Medicine, and Consulting Medical Director at Lifeskills South Florida. He is a leading authority on behavioral and process addiction, Internet and screen behavior, and the treatment of Internet and video game addiction, and is author of Virtual Addiction.

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