Every year, more and more of our lives are spent online. From shopping to watching movies to connecting with family and friends, the internet has become an integral part of life. Unfortunately, too much use of the internet can lead to addiction which can be incredibly difficult to overcome. While internet addiction is often overlooked, it is a widespread condition which affects millions of people worldwide and can cause serious physical, psychological, and social issues. While overcoming internet addiction can seem like an insurmountable challenge, with the right treatment plan in place, it is possible to break free and reclaim your life.
What is internet addiction?
Internet addiction is one of the most common forms of behavioural addiction worldwide. It is defined as an uncontrollable need to be online despite the negative consequences associated with it. People who are addicted to the internet spend large amounts of time online, often at the expense of their work, relationships and social lives.
One driving force of internet addiction is that websites and other forms of content found online are actually designed to keep you scrolling. Algorithms, clickbait titles and autoplay videos can all act to keep your attention and make you stay online for longer than you intend.
Once internet addiction has developed, it can be incredibly difficult to change your patterns of behaviour. Attempting to abstain from using the internet may result in withdrawal symptoms such as restlessness, anxiety, irritability and feelings of depression.
What causes internet addiction?
Internet addiction has both a physical and psychological component. On a physical level, the brain releases dopamine when you engage with content you enjoy online. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter associated with reward and pleasure. Over time, the brain adapts to these dopamine rewards and continuously seeks out more stimulation in the form of new online content. Eventually, you will develop a tolerance where you need to spend more and more time online to get the same rewards. This reinforces the positive behaviour of using the internet, creating a cycle of dependency that is difficult to break free from.
Psychologically, there are a number of factors that can contribute to internet addiction. These include emotional issues such as depression, anxiety and social isolation, boredom or lack of meaningful activities in life, an inability to regulate emotions and past trauma. Internet use can be used to cope with the negative symptoms of these underlying issues and provide a sense of escape or distraction from the stressors of life. However, while this may work in the short term, it does nothing to address the root of the problems and can often make them worse.
Internet addiction is often a co-occurring disorder which can be both a symptom and a cause of a number of conditions including ADHD, bipolar disorder, ASD and depression. This combination of disorders can heighten the effects of both and make them harder to live with and treat.
Am I addicted to the internet?
Internet addiction can be very difficult to recognise because the internet is such an integral part of our lives now. Many people with internet addiction simply don’t recognise that they have a problem because they don’t understand how their internet use is impacting other areas of their lives.
If you are concerned about your internet use, ask yourself the following questions:
- Do you find yourself using the internet more than intended?
- Do you ever feel restless or irritable when you are not online?
- Do you often neglect friends and family to be online?
- Do you ever hide your internet use from other people?
- Do you find yourself feeling guilty after spending time online?
- Has your internet use ever caused financial, legal or relationship issues?
If you have answered yes to any of these questions, these are likely signs of internet addiction and you may need professional help to overcome it.
How can internet addiction harm your life?
Internet addiction can affect every aspect of your life and can have a serious negative impact on your mental health and well-being. People who are addicted to the internet may experience:
- Feelings of isolation, loneliness and depression
- Sleep disturbances
- Anxiety and stress
- Poor concentration and focus
- Problems at work and school
- Disruption of social relationships
- Loss of interest in hobbies and other activities
- Financial difficulties due to excessive internet use
- Poor physical health due to lack of exercise and improper diet
- Increased risk of cyber-crime or online scams
- Addiction to other activities such as gambling, gaming or shopping
Ultimately, spending excessive time in the online world can and does have real-world implications which is why it is so important to identify the symptoms of internet addiction as soon as possible so you can get the help you need.
Internet abuse and addiction in the UK
According to Ofcom, 94% of UK households now have internet access. Internet use has increased year after year since its inception and UK users now spend an average of 3 hours and 37 minutes online each day.
However, more than 50% of 12- to 15-year-olds have had negative online experiences including being contacted by strangers and seeing distressing content. Over a quarter have experienced online bullying with social media and online gaming being the main causes. Despite this, 7-16-year-olds spend an average of four hours online every day and so their potential exposure to harmful content is enormous.
Ofcom has also concluded that “most people in the UK are dependent on their digital devices“. The rise of smartphones means that people are now more likely to be online during their free time, rather than engaging in other activities and on average, people now check their smartphone every twelve minutes.
All of this means that the potential for internet addiction is higher than ever before with referrals for online gaming addiction alone rising 300% between 2020 and 2021.
How is internet addiction treated?
Effective internet addiction treatment requires two important stages: internet rehab and aftercare.
Internet addiction rehab…
Internet rehab is the process of learning to manage and reduce the amount of time spent on the internet. It involves a range of strategies which help people to identify the underlying causes of their internet addiction and develop healthier ways of managing their behaviour.
Recovery Lighthouse provides inpatient internet rehab because this is the most effective way of treating the condition. Inpatient internet rehab will enable you to completely remove yourself from your online world and focus fully on your recovery.
We will also provide you with a range of therapies to help you explore the root causes of your addiction, build coping strategies for future relapse prevention, and develop skills for healthy living. These include:
- Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)
- Dialectical behavioural therapy (DBT)
- Talking therapies
- Stress management techniques
- Family support therapy
- Holistic therapies including yoga, art and meditation
We work hard to create an immersive recovery environment where you can build relationships and connections with our staff and the other clients in internet rehab. This will provide you with a supportive network of people who really understand the challenges you are facing.
Internet addiction aftercare…
After completing your internet rehab programme, it is important to ensure that your recovery continues on an outpatient basis. This can be achieved by attending our internet addiction aftercare services which are designed to help you maintain a healthy online balance and prevent relapse in the future. Our after programme involves weekly group therapy sessions for a year which will give you ongoing support so that you can stay the course on your path to internet addiction recovery.
Internet addiction relapse prevention
Leaving internet rehab and returning to your normal life can be a challenge so it is crucial to have a relapse prevention plan in place. Here are some useful tips for preventing internet addiction relapse:
- Set boundaries – Develop a plan which outlines exactly how much time you will spend online each day and stick to it.
- Monitor your activities – Track your online activity every week and be mindful of any trends that show increased usage or signs of potential relapse.
- Connect with your support network – Make sure you maintain relationships with your loved ones and people you met in recovery and reach out to them if you feel like you’re struggling.
- Create healthy online habits – Replace unhealthy online activities with positive ones such as learning a new skill like coding or taking part in an online hobby group.
- Be aware of triggers – Identify any situations which may lead to relapse and find ways to manage them in a healthy way.
These strategies will help you maintain your recovery and keep you on the path to achieving long-term success.
The next step
If you’re worried about your or a loved one’s internet usage and believe that it is becoming an addiction, then please contact Recovery Lighthouse. Our admissions team will answer any questions you have about our internet rehab programmes and help you take the first step towards a new life.