For the most part, the internet is a good thing. People who use the internet can keep up with daily events, pass the time by playing games or interact with distant friends and family members.
Unfortunately, too much of a good thing can be dangerous. Some adolescents – and even adults – have found themselves “hooked” to the internet, unable to stop themselves from checking their phone or playing online video games. This obsession can have negative ramifications throughout a person’s life, hindering schoolwork, encouraging isolation and harming mental health.
What Is Internet Addiction?
Internet addiction is a condition marked by an obsession with spending time online, whether on social media, gaming or any other number of online activities. People with online addiction progressively lose control over their ability to avoid or regulate their time online, even when it hinders their ability to function in daily life.
Internet addiction is not yet included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fifth edition (DSM-5), the so-called “bible” of mental illness, but may soon find itself in the same category as gambling disorder.
Causes of Internet Addiction
Much like other behavioral disorders and mental illnesses, online addiction does not have a single clear cause.
Mental illness may make internet addiction more likely to occur. Teens who are coping with illnesses – including depression, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder and bipolar disorder – may be more likely to seek refuge in the online world.
Other teens might find themselves addicted to specific online games – for instance, World of Warcraft – because the game environment itself encourages regular participation, punishes absence and has no set end point.
Scientists are still researching internet addiction in-depth and will likely identify more causes and correlates as time goes on.
Symptoms of Internet Addiction
Teens who struggle with online addiction don’t simply like to go online – they NEED to go online.
This online obsession can manifest itself in many different ways including:
- Using the internet or playing online games despite negative effects (e.g., failing grades)
- Needing to spend more and more time online to receive the same rush
- Canceling plans to spend time on the internet
- Feeling frustrated or anxious when away from the internet
- Having no hobbies besides spending time online
Teens who are addicted to the internet may fall behind in school, stay up all night, lie about how frequently they go online or grow combative when they’re forced to spend time doing other activities.
Internet addiction can also cause a number of physical symptoms, including carpal tunnel syndrome, vision problems, back pain, headaches and disordered eating.