Internet Addiction: Facts and Treatment

Feb 10, 2024

Reviewed by Eric Patterson, LPC

Key points:

  • Internet addiction, also known as cyber addiction or internet use disorder, involves excessive and compulsive internet use that interferes with daily life.

  • It encompasses various behaviors like compulsive social media use, online gaming, browsing, shopping, and consuming news or pornography.

  • Despite its prevalence and impact on mental health and productivity, the recognition of internet addiction as a distinct mental health disorder remains debated within the medical community.

  • Treatment options include cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), digital detox programs, medication, support groups, educational workshops, and lifestyle changes.


In today's digital age, the internet has become an integral part of our daily lives, facilitating everything from work and education to entertainment and social interactions. However, this constant connectivity brings with it the risk of internet addiction. 

A growing concern globally, internet addiction disrupts lives, affecting mental health, personal relationships, and productivity. Understanding its impact and exploring avenues for support and recovery are important steps toward fostering a healthier relationship with technology.

What is Internet Addiction?

Internet addiction, also known as cyber addiction or internet use disorder, refers to excessive and compulsive use of the internet that interferes with daily life. It is characterized by an individual's inability to control their use of the internet, leading to significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning. This disorder can manifest in various forms, including but not limited to, compulsive use of social media, online gaming, excessive browsing, online shopping, and obsessive consumption of news or pornography.

The concept of internet addiction encompasses a range of behaviors and impulses that share a commonality: the overuse of digital platforms to the point where it negatively impacts an individual's real-life activities and relationships. The criteria for diagnosing internet addiction are still evolving, as it is a relatively new area of study, but the condition is gaining recognition as a serious and growing problem.

Why Internet Addiction Sparks Debate 

The medical community is split on the recognition of internet addiction as an independent mental health disorder. This division stems from the question of whether compulsive internet use is a distinct condition or merely a manifestation of underlying psychological issues or existing behavioral addictions. For instance, an individual's compulsive search for online gambling sites might reflect a deeper gambling addiction rather than a specific addiction to the internet itself.

The intricacies of diagnosing internet addiction are underscored by the need for more comprehensive research to disentangle it from other mental health conditions. A study in the United States found that approximately 4% of college students aged 18 to 20 exhibited signs of problematic internet use.

However, research into internet addiction, especially among college and university students, often relies on self-report surveys conducted online without a comparative control group. This approach raises concerns about the reliability and generalizability of the findings. Surveys focusing on a single demographic or using limited sample sizes may not accurately reflect the broader population. Additionally, the design and implementation of these surveys can yield ambiguous results, complicating the interpretation of internet addiction's prevalence and impact.

To be clear, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) does not recognize internet addiction or internet use disorder. Currently gambling disorder is the only official behavioral addiction with internet gaming disorder considered a “condition for further study.”

Types of Internet Addiction

The term "internet addiction" encompasses a wide array of online behaviors and impulse-control issues linked to the use of the internet, personal computers, and mobile devices. Despite the absence of universally recognized diagnostic criteria, experts have delineated five specific categories within the realm of computer and internet addiction to better understand and address these behaviors.

Cybersexual Addiction

Among the recognized forms of internet addiction, cybersexual addiction includes a compulsive engagement with online pornography, adult-oriented websites, sexualized fantasy or adult chat rooms, and services involving sexually explicit webcam interactions. Individuals grappling with cybersexual addiction may find it increasingly difficult to establish or maintain healthy sexual, romantic, or intimate relationships in the physical world due to their online behaviors.

Net Compulsions

Net compulsions include a range of interactive online behaviors that carry significant risks, including online gambling, stock trading, participating in online auctions (like eBay), and engaging in relentless online shopping. These activities can lead to severe financial distress and interfere with professional responsibilities. The ease of access to online gambling sites and e-commerce platforms makes it particularly challenging for individuals predisposed to gambling or shopping addictions to resist the lure of the internet.

The consequences of net compulsions extend beyond financial loss. The cycle of excessive spending or gambling online can strain personal relationships, induce severe stress, and lead to a sense of isolation. Furthermore, the anonymity and convenience of the internet can accelerate the transition from a casual habit to a compulsive behavior, making it harder for individuals to recognize and admit they have a problem.

If gambling is the primary compulsion, professionals may diagnose a gambling disorder, rather than exploring aspects of internet addiction.

Online Relationship Addiction

Online relationship addiction is characterized by an intense preoccupation with forming and sustaining relationships over the internet, often at the expense of real-life connections with family and friends. These virtual relationships commonly begin in chat rooms or on social media platforms, though they can develop through any online medium that allows user interaction. A notable aspect of this addiction is the tendency for individuals to hide their true identities and appearances, otherwise known as “catfishing.” 

Individuals consumed by their online personas and social interactions may find their real-world social abilities atrophy, burdened by unrealistic expectations of face-to-face relationships. This often results in a struggle to forge genuine connections offline, further entrenching the individual in the cycle of dependence on digital relationships. 

Information Seeking

The internet is a treasure trove of information, offering endless data and insights at our fingertips. However, for certain individuals, the convenience of accessing such vast amounts of information has spiraled into an insatiable compulsion to search, gather, and organize data. This compulsive behavior may be an extension of underlying obsessive-compulsive tendencies, transforming the act of learning into an overwhelming obsession.

Compulsive information seeking can significantly impact an individual's professional life, diminishing work productivity and, in severe cases, leading to job loss. The relentless pursuit of information, often without practical application or necessity, can disrupt daily routines and priorities.

Computer Gaming Addiction

Computer gaming addiction includes both online and offline gaming activities. With the widespread adoption of personal computers, early games like Solitaire, Tetris, and Minesweeper became staples of digital entertainment, embedded directly into the operating system software. 

This convenience sparked the initial recognition among researchers that compulsive computer game playing could evolve into a significant problem, particularly in workplace settings where employees might spend copious amounts of time engaged in these games, thus impacting productivity adversely. Outside of the workplace, computer gaming addiction still has the potential to disrupt daily life, affecting educational and social responsibilities.

Today, the landscape of computer games has vastly expanded, offering thousands of titles ranging from simple puzzles to complex, immersive worlds that command the attention of gamers for extended periods. This has only intensified the issues surrounding computer gaming addiction. The allure of these games lies not just in their entertainment value but also in the sense of achievement and escape they provide, which can be particularly captivating for individuals seeking a reprieve from reality.

Again, the APA is investigating the viability of internet gaming disorder as a separate condition, but no clear decision has been made.

Signs You May Be Addicted to the Internet

In the late 1990s, Dr. Kimberly Young designed the formal assessment of internet addiction through the development of "The Internet Addiction Test." This tool, featuring a 20-item questionnaire, is designed to be facilitated by a professional and helps in evaluating the extent of an individual's internet use and its impact on daily life. 

Since its introduction, several other diagnostic tests and scales have emerged, each aiming to quantify and better understand the nuances of internet addiction. These tools are critical in identifying problematic behaviors associated with excessive internet use and serve as a starting point for intervention and treatment.

Negative Effects of an Internet Addiction

Physically, prolonged periods of internet use can lead to a variety of health issues. These may include body aches, Carpal Tunnel Syndrome from repetitive keyboard or mouse use, insomnia due to disrupted sleep patterns, vision problems from extended screen time, and weight fluctuations resulting from sedentary lifestyle habits.

Emotionally, the effects can be equally, if not more, debilitating. Individuals suffering from internet addiction may experience depressed moods, engage in dishonest behaviors to conceal the extent of their internet use, suffer from heightened anxiety, endure social isolation as online interactions replace real-world connections, exhibit aggression, and face severe mood swings. 

Internet Addiction and Mental Illness

The relationship between internet addiction and mental health is complex, with individuals grappling with excessive online use often facing significant challenges in managing their daily routines. This includes difficulties in home life, academic or work responsibilities, and engaging in social activities offline. Notably, there's a marked increase in symptoms of depression and anxiety among those with internet addiction, shedding light on the emotional toll of this disorder.

The correlation between these issues  remains a subject of debate: does internet addiction precipitate mental health issues, or are pre-existing mental conditions a catalyst for addictive behavior online? Moreover, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) symptoms, such as impaired planning and time management skills, along with a tendency towards attentional impulsivity, are prevalent in individuals facing internet addiction. This suggests a possible overlap in the cognitive and behavioral patterns associated with both ADHD and compulsive internet use.

Risk Factors for Internet Addiction

Understanding the risk factors for internet addiction is essential in preventing and addressing this growing concern. While research in this area continues to evolve, certain demographic, psychological, and social variables have been identified as contributing to an increased susceptibility to internet addiction. 

These may include age, with younger individuals showing higher rates of addiction; personality traits such as introversion, low self-esteem, or high impulsivity; and environmental factors like lack of social support or stressful life events. Recognizing these risk factors is an important step in developing targeted interventions and support systems to mitigate the impact of internet addiction on individuals' lives.

Treatment Options for Internet Addiction

Addressing internet addiction requires a multifaceted approach, tailored to the unique needs of the individual. The journey towards overcoming this digital dependency involves a combination of professional guidance, therapeutic interventions, and sometimes, medication. Here are some of the most effective treatment options for those seeking to regain control over their internet use:

1. Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

CBT stands out as a cornerstone in treating internet addiction by helping individuals identify and challenge the thought patterns that contribute to their compulsive online behaviors. Through CBT, patients learn to recognize triggers for excessive internet use and develop healthier coping strategies to manage urges, ultimately aiming to establish a more balanced relationship with technology.

2. Digital Detox Programs

Some treatment centers and wellness retreats offer digital detox programs, designed to break the cycle of compulsive internet use by temporarily removing access to digital devices. These programs often include mindfulness practices, outdoor activities, and workshops to cultivate interests and skills unrelated to the internet, promoting a healthier lifestyle.

3. Medication

In cases where internet addiction is intertwined with other mental health disorders, medication may be prescribed to address symptoms of anxiety, depression, or ADHD. Medication is typically used in conjunction with therapy to provide a comprehensive treatment approach.

4. Support Groups

Joining a support group, such as Internet and Tech Addiction Anonymous (ITAA) or other peer-led groups, can offer a sense of community and understanding for those struggling with internet addiction. Sharing experiences and strategies for managing compulsive internet use can be incredibly validating and empowering.

5. Educational Workshops and Programs

Educational initiatives aimed at promoting digital literacy and responsible internet use can be beneficial, especially for younger users. These programs teach valuable skills such as time management, the importance of offline activities, and setting healthy boundaries with technology.

6. Lifestyle Changes

Incorporating lifestyle changes such as regular physical exercise, engaging in hobbies that do not involve screens, and establishing tech-free zones or times in the home can reinforce other treatment efforts. Building a fulfilling life outside of the digital world is essential for long-term recovery.

Recovering from internet addiction is a process that requires commitment and patience. It's important to remember that setbacks are part of the journey and not a sign of failure. Seeking professional help and leveraging a combination of the treatment options above can provide a solid foundation for overcoming internet addiction and restoring balance and well-being to one's life.

References: 

Problematic internet usage in US college students: a pilot study - BMC Medicine 

Effects of Pornography on Relationships - Utah State University 

Problem gaming-related harm experienced by partners and parents of individuals with gaming problems and their help-seeking experiences - Journal of Behavioral Addictions 

Isolation and worry in relation to gambling and onset of gambling among psychiatry patients during the COVID-19 pandemic: A mediation study - Frontiers in Psychology 

Catching the catfish: Exploring gender and the Dark Tetrad of personality as predictors of catfishing perpetration - Computers in Human Behavior 

Internet Addiction Test (IAT): Which is the Best Factorial Solution? - Journal of Medical Internet Research 

The effect of psychiatric symptoms on the internet addiction disorder in Isfahan's University students - Journal of Research in Medical Sciences 

The links between healthy, problematic, and addicted Internet use regarding comorbidities and self-concept-related characteristics - Journal of Behavioral Addictions 

Massachusetts aims to expand Problem Gambling research, resources

Jun 20, 2024

Jonathan

Lies Gamblers Tell

Jun 19, 2024

Jonathan

Pathological Gambling: How to assess it & get help today

Jun 18, 2024

Jonathan

North Carolina Sports Betting: May 2024 Stats & Figures

Jun 17, 2024

Jonathan

Slot Machines on U.S. Military Bases Could be Banned

Jun 16, 2024

Jonathan

Gamblers Anonymous alternatives: Virtual treatment from home

Jun 13, 2024

Jonathan

Can I Make A Lot of Money Gambling? Betting Chances Explained

Jun 12, 2024

Jonathan

Gambling Debts: Resources to Help in 2024 

Jun 12, 2024

Jonathan

The Psychology of Gambling Addiction

Jun 9, 2024

Jonathan

Gambling Addiction Help Online: Virtual Treatment Guide

Jun 8, 2024

Jonathan

Do I have a Gambling Problem? How to assess betting habits

Jun 6, 2024

Jonathan

Holistic Therapy: What It Is, Benefits, and Concerns

Jun 5, 2024

Jonathan

Betting Vs Gambling – What's the Difference?

Jun 5, 2024

Jonathan

Exploring Video Game Gambling

Jun 5, 2024

Jonathan

Am I a Gambling Addict? Evaluating betting behaviors

Jun 4, 2024

Jonathan

My Dad Has a Gambling Addiction: How to Help

Jun 4, 2024

Jonathan

The Connection Between Gambling and Social Media

May 31, 2024

Jonathan

Gambling Recovery: How to start the journey today

May 31, 2024

Jonathan

Problem Gambling behaviors to avoid during summer break

May 30, 2024

Jonathan

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy for Gambling Addiction

May 29, 2024

Jonathan

Gambling & Alcohol: Bettors More Likely to Binge Drink

May 28, 2024

Jonathan

10 Gambling Addiction Facts: Understanding Problem Gambling

May 27, 2024

Jonathan

Exploring Female Gambling Addiction

May 25, 2024

Jonathan

Navigating the World of Pattern Day Trading: Is it Gambling?   

May 24, 2024

Jonathan

Symptoms of Gambling Addiction: Problem Gambling Effects on You 

May 23, 2024

Jonathan

How big of a problem is Gambling Addiction in the United States?

May 22, 2024

Jonathan

The Science of Addiction

May 21, 2024

Jonathan

Family Therapy for Gambling Addiction

May 20, 2024

Jonathan

What is Residential Treatment for Gambling Addiction

May 17, 2024

Jonathan

Group Therapy for Gambling Addiction

May 16, 2024

Jonathan

Lottery Addiction: Guide to Help and Recovery 

May 15, 2024

Jonathan

Dialectical Behavior Therapy for Gambling Addiction

May 15, 2024

Jonathan

10 Gambling Addiction Quotes: From Realization to Recovery

May 14, 2024

Jonathan

Help For Family Members of Gambling Addicts

May 13, 2024

Jonathan

Essential Books on Gambling Addiction

May 11, 2024

Jonathan

Is Day Trading Legal?

May 4, 2024

Jonathan

Hypnotherapy for Gambling Addiction

May 3, 2024

Jonathan

Dangerous Gaming: Dave & Buster's introduces betting on arcade games 

May 2, 2024

Jonathan

The Relationship Between Problem Gambling and Suicide

Apr 30, 2024

Jonathan

Self Help for Gambling Addiction

Apr 29, 2024

Jonathan

Can poker become an addiction?

Apr 27, 2024

Jonathan

Naltrexone for Gambling Addiction

Apr 26, 2024

Jonathan

Understanding the Stages of Gambling Addiction

Apr 25, 2024

Jonathan

What Are The Negative Effects of Gambling

Apr 22, 2024

Jonathan

Gambling Addiction Intervention

Apr 20, 2024

Jonathan

Overview of 12-Step Program for Gambling Addiction 

Apr 19, 2024

Jonathan

Support Groups for Gambling Addiction

Apr 16, 2024

Jonathan

Managing Gambling Addiction Relapses

Apr 12, 2024

Jonathan

U.S. Sports Betting Statistics April 2024: Legalization, growth & addiction rising

Apr 12, 2024

Jonathan

My Mom Has a Gambling Addiction: What to Do

Apr 8, 2024

Jonathan

Understanding In-Network and Out-of-Network Providers for Behavioral Addictions

Apr 1, 2024

Jonathan

Has America become a “society of gamblers”?

Mar 28, 2024

Jonathan

How Can I Stop My Child From Gambling

Mar 27, 2024

Jonathan

Birches Health Partners with BettorEdge

Mar 20, 2024

Jonathan

Birches Health Announces Partnership with SaharaBets

Mar 19, 2024

Jonathan

Gambling Addiction Rates Hit All-Time High in U.S.

Mar 13, 2024

Jonathan

Signs of Teen Gambling

Mar 13, 2024

Jonathan

Free Gambling Addiction Treatment

Feb 29, 2024

Jonathan

SNL Sports Betting sketch spotlights real Gambling Addiction issues 

Feb 26, 2024

Jonathan

New U.S. Gambling Stats: Record figures as Addiction also grows

Feb 22, 2024

Jonathan

What will be the social costs of increased gambling? Who will pay them?

Feb 19, 2024

Jonathan

Is it Legal to Bet on the Daytona 500?

Feb 16, 2024

Jonathan

Media Takes Note of America's Increase in Problem Gambling

Feb 15, 2024

Jonathan

What are the Psychological Effects of Gambling?

Jan 31, 2024

Jonathan

Is Day Trading Gambling?

Feb 11, 2024

Jonathan

What are the Different Types of Gamblers?

Feb 12, 2024

Jonathan

Understanding Behavior Disorders

Jan 23, 2024

Jonathan

The Gambling Addiction Recovery, Investment, And Treatment (GRIT) Act

Jan 14, 2024

Jonathan

What is the Cycle of Addiction and How to Break It

Jan 9, 2024

Jonathan

I Lost All My Money Gambling. What Now?

Dec 29, 2023

Jonathan

Your 2024 New Year's Resolution: Stop Sports Betting and Online Gambling

Dec 24, 2023

Elliott

Why Do Addicts Relapse?

Dec 20, 2023

Jonathan

Is Gambling a Sin?

Dec 18, 2023

Jonathan

Staging a Gambling Intervention for a Loved One

Dec 13, 2023

Jonthan

Signs of Gambling Addiction in a Spouse

Nov 30, 2023

Jonathan

Gambling and Divorce: Statistics and Information

Nov 26, 2023

Jonathan

What is DFS Gambling?

Nov 19, 2023

Jonathan

Addiction Specialist: Helping You Overcome Addiction

Nov 18, 2023

Jonathan

Exploring the Different Types of Gambling

Nov 8, 2023

Jonathan

Technology Addiction: Signs and Treatment

Oct 30, 2023

Jonathan

Is Options Trading Gambling?

Oct 23, 2023

Jonathan

Gambling Addiction and Treatment

Oct 16, 2023

Jonathan

Sex Addiction Treatment and Therapy Options

Oct 14, 2023

Jonathan

Signs of Gambling Addiction

Oct 7, 2023

Jonathan

Is the Stock Market Gambling?

Sep 25, 2023

Jonathan

Tips for Finding a Gambling Rehab Center

Sep 24, 2023

Jonathan

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Pathological Gambling

Sep 23, 2023

Jonathan

What Causes Porn Addiction?

Sep 18, 2023

Jonathan

Video Game Addiction

Sep 16, 2023

Jonathan

Porn Addiction Signs & Symptoms

Sep 11, 2023

Jonathan

Gambling Addiction Withdrawal Symptoms & Signs

Aug 29, 2023

Jonathan

How to Stop Online Gambling

Aug 27, 2023

Jonathan

Does Medicare Cover Gambling Rehab?

Aug 19, 2023

Jonathan

Gambling and Dopamine

Aug 12, 2023

Jonathan

Porn Addiction Counseling

Aug 7, 2023

Jonathan

Is Fantasy Football Gambling?

Jul 24, 2023

Jonathan

Signs of a Day Trading Problem

Jul 19, 2023

Jonathan

Why is Gambling Addictive?

Jul 18, 2023

Jonathan

The Arizona Lottery and Gambling

Jul 16, 2023

Jonathan

Is Poker Gambling?

Jul 15, 2023

Jonathan

Is Crypto Gambling?

Jul 14, 2023

Jonathan

Gambling and Sports Betting Among College Students

Jul 8, 2023

Jonathan

Updates made to gambling disorder across the DSM-III, DSM-IV, DSM-5

Updates Made to Gambling Disorder Clinical Criteria Between DSM-III, DSM-IV, and DSM-5

Jul 8, 2023

Cara Anderson

Combatting Gambling and Alcohol Addiction

Jun 30, 2023

Jonathan

Medication for Gambling Addiction

Jun 27, 2023

Jonathan

The Seven Types of Gamblers: Are You One of Them?

Jun 25, 2023

Elliott Rapaport

10 Questions to Ask If You Think Your Loved One Has a Gambling Problem

Jun 24, 2023

Cara Anderson

Las Vegas - often called the gambling capital of the world

Exploring the History of Gambling in the US

Jun 17, 2023

Elliott Rapaport

Gambling Treatment in Arizona

Jun 15, 2023

Jonathan

Voluntary Self Exclusion to Stop Online Gambling

Jun 15, 2023

Cara Anderson

Does Blue Cross Blue Shield Cover Gambling Treatment?

Jun 13, 2023

Jonathan

Gambling Addiction Hotline

Jun 5, 2023

Jonathan

How to Stop Gambling

Jun 1, 2023

Jonathan

Can Gambling Addiction Be Cured?

May 31, 2023

Jonathan

problem gambler worried about addiction

Why Is Gambling So Addictive?

May 30, 2023

Elliott Rapaport

Medication that can cause gambling

Abilify and Compulsive Gambling

May 26, 2023

Jonathan

A man who has regained control of his life by stopping gambling and online sports betting

How to Stop Gambling: Strategies for Regaining Control

May 21, 2023

Cara Anderson

This man stopped gambling by recognizing his online sports betting problem

How to Stop Gambling and Save Money

May 18, 2023

Cara Anderson

People celebrating being free of a gambling addiction

How to Help Someone with a Gambling Addiction

May 16, 2023

Elliott Rapaport

The Growing Phenomenon of Cryptocurrency Addiction: What Traders Need to Know About Crypto Addiction

Cryptocurrency Addiction

May 9, 2023

Tobias Jackson

The stock market graph of a day trader who has a day trading addiction

How Day Trading Can Create a Dangerous Addiction

May 4, 2023

Elliott Rapaport

Younger individuals gathered around a computer talking about a gambling addiction meme

How Addictive Memes Have Fueled Problem Gamblers

May 2, 2023

Elliott Rapaport

Man in the middle of taking a Do I have a Gambling Problem Quiz

Clinical Screening Tools and Quizzes to Answer the Question: "Do I have a Gambling Problem?"

May 1, 2023

Tobias Jackson

Insurance paperwork that Birches clients do not need to go through as Birches Health handles all administrative and payment matters for them!

Insurance Coverage for Gambling Addiction in 2023

Apr 29, 2023

Elliott Rapaport

Couple hugging as the man has a gambling addiction and the woman, his loved one, is able to support him through it.

Helping a Loved One with a Gambling Addiction

Apr 27, 2023

Cara Anderson

Man actualizing self care and manifesting his recovery journey from problem gambling and gambling addiction

Self Care for Problem Gamblers

Apr 26, 2023

Cara Anderson

Bad effects of glamorization of gambling in the media in films, tv shows, and podcasts

Glamorized Gambling and What To Be Aware Of

Apr 24, 2023

Elliott Rapaport

Therapist offering a problem gambler gambling addiction counseling and treatment

What is Problem Gambling?

Apr 20, 2023

Elliott Rapaport