The internet is as much part of our lives today as the air we breathe. At home and outside, Wi-Fi spots keep us connected to the World-Wide-Web through our phones, tablets, watches and laptops. In fact, it’s difficult to remember what it was like not being able to get online, while the younger generation have never experienced a world without the internet. The percentage of people in Qatar able to access the internet has grown incredibly quickly: from just 6% in 2001 to 86% in 2011 These days we all have a smartphone, and rare are those who do not go online at least once a day. But could we be getting addicted to the internet?
The internet can be anything you want it to be. It’s a way to connect with friends and meet new people, a discussion space for virtually any topic, a vast repository of knowledge, and more. Since the internet is so diverse, it’s no wonder that almost everyone finds something to love about it. However, the internet has a dark side: it’s easy to overuse, and overuse can lead to addiction. Internet addiction is a serious problem that can damage your relationships, hurt your finances, and eat away at your happiness.
Who Is at Risk of Internet Addiction?
Anyone can develop this kind of addiction, but some people are more at risk than others.One common trait of most internet addicts is that they are young, predominantly under the age of 30. Younger people are more likely to get addicted to the internet because they grew up around computers, while older people who grew up in a more computer-free environment may not be in the habit of reaching for their smartphone when they’re at a loose end. For young people, using computers and the internet is an easy, intuitive form of entertainment they’ve been enjoying most of their lives. This early habituation sets the stage for a greater likelihood of internet abuse later in life.
People with “addictive personalities” are far more likely to become addicted to the internet than those who have no history of addiction. Doing something as simple as checking email or social media triggers a dopamine response in the brain that’s eerily similar to the response produced by junk foods, drugs or alcohol. For people who are prone to addiction, the dopamine rush can lead to increased internet use that grows into a full-blown addiction. It’s far from a hard-and-fast rule that internet addicts are addicted to other things as well, but it is common.
Another risk factor for internet addiction is difficulty navigating social situations. Introverts, shy people, and people afflicted with social phobia are all dis-proportionately represented among internet addicts. People who have difficulty connecting with others in real life often have an easier time finding friends and a sense of community on the internet, with its relative anonymity and lack of social pressure. If online relationships start eclipsing in-person relationships, an addiction can easily follow.
Mental health can also affect a person’s likelihood of getting hooked on the internet. The internet’s lightning-quick, varied stimulation is inviting to those with ADHD. Personality and mood disorders, especially anxiety and depression, often go hand-in-hand with internet addiction as well. The internet provides an outlet where people can escape their unhappiness temporarily, but this only makes the situation worse in the long term, since it enables people to avoid their problems instead of finding ways to deal with them.
When it comes to gender, internet addiction doesn’t discriminate. Women and men become addicted to the internet in about equal numbers. However, they tend to favor different online activities. Women are more likely to look for interpersonal contact online, such as social media and chat rooms. They’re more likely to seek out online relationships. Women also are more likely to be addicted to online shopping than men. Men who are addicted to the internet, on the other hand, are usually more drawn toward compulsive gaming, sports and fitness motivation, and shopping for technical or sports goods.
Internet addiction is a serious matter that can have detrimental effects on every aspect of your life. If you’re at risk for developing an internet addiction, be mindful about how and why you use your electronic devices. It’s easier to avoid developing an addiction than it is to break one. If you’re already showing signs of addiction, seek help. You can break an internet addiction, and the earlier you seek treatment, the easier the process is.
The Three Types of Internet Addiction
Addiction comes in many forms. In the case of internet addiction, there are three main types you need to look out for. Take a look at the list below – do you, or someone you know, abuse the internet?
Information overload is an addiction to surfing the web. If you can’t stop checking your social media accounts, article-hopping, scrolling through Wikipedia or checking your email, you might have this type of internet addiction. Watching videos and conducting endless Google searches also fall into this category. Information overload can make you feel like you’re doing something worthwhile at the time, since your mind is busy and occupied, but when you have nothing to show for it afterwards, it’s common to feel guilty or low. People with ADHD can be particularly prone to developing this type of addiction.
The internet is a useful tool for keeping in touch with people and meeting others who share your interests, but you can have too much of a good thing. If you’re getting the majority of your interpersonal contact and social validation from the internet, you may have an addiction to virtual relationships. This type of internet addiction can damage your real-life relationships by causing you to withdraw from friends and family. Social media and discussion forums are potential avenues for developing this type of addiction. Shy people and those who have social difficulties in real life are particularly vulnerable to virtual relationship addiction, since the internet is a low-pressure way to interact with people.
Compulsively playing games, trading stocks, shopping, and bidding in auctions online are all manifestations of the compulsive variety of internet addiction. Compulsive internet addicts often find that their habits interfere with work or school and wreak havoc on their finances. It’s possible to get addicted to shopping or trading in real life too, but the online version of the addiction is more damaging because the internet is available 24/7 and offers an anominity of sorts, while it takes more effort to find places to shop in person. Combine the constant accessibility of the internet with the burst of dopamine that accompanies placing a winning bid or making a new purchase, and it’s not hard to see why many people develop this kind of internet addiction.
Letting internet addiction go untreated can have serious repercussions on your life. Any of these types of internet abuse can distance you from your loved ones, hurt your productivity at work or school, and make you feel guilty, ashamed, or depressed. If you find yourself struggling with any of these varieties of internet addiction, seek help. It’s possible to recover and find joy in an unplugged life again.
7 Signs You Might Be Addicted to the Internet
Anyone can succumb to addiction, and it’s all the easier when it comes to something as easily and widely available as the internet. Take a look at the list of common symptoms of internet addiction. Do any of them sound like you, or someone you know?
- You have difficulty keeping up with responsibilities
If you have a habit of finishing projects late, missing classes, or letting household chores pile up because of how much time you spend online, it might be a symptom of internet addiction. If you’re online too much, it’s easy to get into a cycle of procrastination and panic that gets worse the longer it goes on. You’re overwhelmed by the pressing obligations that are piling up on you, so you temporarily escape to the internet, which makes the problem even worse when you come back to the real world again.
- You get anxious or restless without internet access
If you freak out when you forget your smartphone, avoid going places where you know there will be no Wi-Fi, or just don’t know what to do with yourself when you can’t get online, this could indicate an internet addiction. Feeling overly dependent on your electronics isn’t fun, and worrying about whether your phone battery will last through the evening diminishes the enjoyment you get from real-life activities. If you’re too attached to your gadgets, take it as a sign that you might need to dial back your use.
- You withdraw from family and friends
Internet addiction often leads you to spend disproportionate amounts of time on the computer, cutting down on your interactions with friends and family in real life. This can happen in a number of ways: maybe you’re getting drawn into gaming or other virtual worlds for hours, maybe you’re fulfilling your social needs through online friendships, or maybe you’re physically present with other people, but so focused on checking your phone for updates that you miss out on conversations and human connection. Whatever form it takes, social withdrawal isn’t healthy, and when your internet use interferes with your real-life relationships, it’s a sign that you may be addicted.
- You can’t control how much time you spend online
How often do you tell yourself that you’ll just check your email and then get to work… and find yourself coming off an internet binge several hours later with no work done? Most people do this from time to time, but if it’s a regular occurrence it may signal that your internet use is unhealthy. A common symptom of addiction is being unable to control how much you use the thing you’re addicted to. If you keep spending more time than you intend on your computer or smartphone, especially if you feel like you can’t stop or are consumed with regret afterwards, it’s a red flag that you’re dealing with an internet addiction.
You’ve lost interest in your other hobbies
An addiction tends to consume a person’s thoughts and life, pushing aside other things that were once enjoyable. It’s not a good sign if you’ve become less interested in your other hobbies as your internet use has increased. There’s nothing wrong with enjoying the internet in moderation, but a healthy, balanced life should involve a variety of activities. If you’re getting most of your pleasure from the computer, it might be time to take a step back and re-evaluate your internet use.
You hide your internet use
Guilt and shame are two of the hallmarks of addiction, and a frequent result of feeling ashamed and guilty is hiding your use of the thing you’re addicted to. If you conceal your habits by only using the internet when you’re alone, sneaking away from people to get online, or lying about how much you use the internet, this is cause for concern—it’s a sign that you know, consciously or subconsciously, that something about your relationship with the internet is dysfunctional.
You have physical symptoms
Internet addiction occurs in the mind, but spending a lot of time at the computer can cause physical problems, too. Staring at a glowing screen can give you headaches, slouching over a keyboard can give you backaches, and typing too much can lead to developing carpal tunnel syndrome (a medical condition caused by the compression of the hand’s median nerve, leading to tingling, numbness and pain). Weight gain or weight loss are also common symptoms of internet addiction. If your body seems to be trying to tell you something, listen to it.
If you experience some of these symptoms, and if you think your internet use is negatively impacting your life, don’t hesitate to seek help. It’s possible to overcome an internet addiction, and the sooner you seek treatment, the easier the process will ultimately be. A mental health professional and a support network of real-life friends and family can help you unplug from your addiction to the internet and reconnect with the real world.