Internet Addiction Disorder (IAD) is also popularly known as problematic internet use (or pathological internet use.) It refers to uncontrolled/ unrestrained use of internet and thus it interferes with the daily functioning of a person. IAD can be sexting or cybersex addiction, online gaming addiction, addiction to chat rooms or blog sites and others. Some spend hours online surfing websites or even on mailing or text messaging.
Not only is a person’s employment or academic or social functioning affected, but, there can be health problems too. An individual might experience fatigue, headaches, insomnia, dry eyes, backaches or carpal tunnel syndrome. Psychiatric co-morbidity is common, particularly mood, anxiety, impulse control and substance abuse disorders.
Aetiology is not known very well, but studies mention that it involves psychological, neurobiological and cultural factors. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V) has recognized and included Gaming Disorder but not IAD. Thus, it requires more research for consideration of a full disorder.
Dr. Kimberly Young proposed one of the first integrated sets of criteria, a diagnostic questionnaire to detect IAD. A person who fulfills any five out of the given eight conditions, he/she would be regarded as someone suffering from IAD. They are as follows:
- Preoccupation with the internet
- A need for increased time spent online to achieve the same amount of satisfaction
- Irritability, depression or mood lability when internet usage is limited
- Staying online longer than required
- Putting education, work or relationships at risk for usage of the internet
- Lying about one’s internet usage
- Usage of internet as a medium of regulating mood
Dr. Young’s Internet Addiction Test is till date one of the most widely used and valid measure for IAD.
There are Internet Addiction Rehabs which provide individualized treatment plan and counseling. Also, there are many online self-help books and tapes.
Current interventions and strategies for treatment for IAD have their base from treatment of substance abuse disorder. They are:
- Cognitive Behavior Therapy can help due to the key aspects like
- Learning time management strategies
- Understanding the benefits and potential harms of the internet
- Identifying triggers of internet binge behavior like certain Internet applications or sites (Facebook); or emotional states, maladaptive cognitions and life events
- Learning to manage emotions and control impulses related to accessing the internet like muscle or breathing relaxation training
- Improvement of interpersonal communication and coping styles
- Building interests in other activities (like reading books, spending quality time with close ones, etc)
Thus behavior modification for control of internet usage and cognitive restructuring to challenge and modify cognitive distortions are the main techniques used in CBT. There are Internet Addiction Rehabs which provide individualized treatment plan and counseling. Also, there are many online self-help books and tapes.
Even though today’s modern society cannot live without little or no internet access, there are other ways one can change one’s lifestyle and routine to accommodate a life without an over-dependence on the internet. It is possible to recover from IAD and lead a happy and healthy life.
Puja Roy is a health psychologist and is currently working as a counselor at the Institute of Neurosciences, Kolkata. You can follow her here.