Internet (“Net”) Addiction

There is, as yet, no scientific or clinical consensus internationally as to whether a diagnostic classification of Internet Addiction is fully justified. One area of contention is whether use of the internet per se can be addictive or whether it is simply the medium through which people access potentially addictive experiences like gambling, pornography, gaming or social networking.

Increasing numbers of people seeking treatment for Internet Addiction

In any event, as the use of the internet now features heavily in daily life, increasing numbers of people have reported problems with their net-based behaviour. Research across the globe into such matters has accordingly gathered pace and the suffering evidently experienced by some internet users has created a demand for treatment interventions specific to Internet Addiction.

Internet Addiction’s similarities with Substance Addictions

Researchers generally agree that Internet Addiction has striking similarities with addiction to substances. They highlight characteristics of addiction such as:

  • A preoccupation with being on-line so that it comes to dominate a person’s thinking around the clock
  • An increasing amount of time spent on internet-based activity to the exclusion of other interests, with a tendency to stay on line longer than was intended, even to the point of neglecting personal needs. Consequential social disconnection and isolation
  • An impulse to escape from everyday reality or to seek relief from distress
  • An increase in tolerance as activity has to increase in order to get the same effect that was originally experienced
  • Withdrawal symptoms experienced when access is somehow inhibited. The intense discomfort suffered is mostly mood related but may even include physical symptoms
  • Interpersonal conflict occurs in relation to other people who are close, putting these relationships at risk
  • Secrecy and dishonesty about the nature and extent of the internet activity
  • A very real risk of relapse after a period of abstinence or reduced use

Electronic devices enable the addiction

Through facilitating instant access to the internet, electronic devices become a critical component of the addictive behaviour and a powerful attachment may be formed to them so that their absence, even for short periods, sufficiently unsettles users to indicate a withdrawal process.

The question of abstinence in treatment for Internet Addiction

Because use of the internet is now so integral to everyday life, the aim of treatment interventions for internet-based addiction is not for the achievement of total abstinence from all on-line activity. Nonetheless, a period of abstinence does help to reveal the severity of the addiction and provides the opportunity to re-set the user’s relationship with the internet.

It may well be necessary to maintain abstinence from the area of the internet that is most implicated in addictive behaviour, such as sites for pornography, gambling, gaming or social networking. With the right support, the person can then develop a healthier approach to on-line activity in general.

Some people may find that to do so, a residential treatment setting offers a controlled environment where abstinence and/or managed use of internet activity can be productively trialled.

Clinically Reviewed By

Dr. Victor Leroy

Dr. Victor Leroy, a psychiatrist with specialised training in addiction psychiatry from Lausanne University Hospital, combines medical expertise with a passion for systemic psychotherapy. He has worked at length in both the public and private sector, utilising a combination of patient-centered approaches to support them and their loved ones in recovery. A member of AVMCA and COROMA, he consults in French, English, German, and Italian, focusing on integrated care for addiction medicine.

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