Are we all addicts?

Can Internet be considered to be an addiction?

Until some years ago, we only considered addicts as those individuals who were either dependent on drugs or on alcohol. Even though these people still exist, and in numbers that are still very worrying, the study of addiction has widened. It now includes the so called behavioural addictions, that is, dependencies which are not substance based but are behavioural based. These include: co-dependency, food and eating, gambling, sex, love, work, shopping, internet and gaming. In this article, I would like to speak about one of these addictions, which we might be all at risk of: the internet.

The number of internet users has continued to grow worldwide in the recent years. Very few people nowadays don’t have access to it; not just on their PC but in their very own pocket, accompanying them all day long. There are so many applications which use the internet; ones which you are currently using actually read this article for example to text messaging through WhatsApp. Therefore the natural question to this realisation is: are we all Internet addicts or are we all problematic Internet users?

Kimberly Young, who began studying internet addiction way back in 1995, suggests these questions to help us assess our use of internet:

  1. Do you feel preoccupied with the Internet (think about previous online activity or anticipate next online session)?
  2. Do you feel the need to use the Internet with increasing amounts of time in order to achieve satisfaction?
  3. Have you repeatedly made unsuccessful efforts to control, cut back, or stop Internet use?
  4. Do you feel restless, moody, depressed, or irritable when attempting to cut down or stop Internet use?
  5. Do you stay online longer than originally intended?
  6. Have you jeopardized or risked the loss of significant relationship, job, educational or career opportunity because of the Internet?
  7. Have you lied to family members, therapist, or others to conceal the extent of involvement with the Internet?
  8. Do you use the Internet as a way of escaping from problems or of relieving a dysphoric mood (e.g., feelings of helplessness, guilt, anxiety, depression)?

Other symptoms might include: failed attempts to control behaviour; neglecting friends and family; neglecting sleep to stay online; being dishonest with others; feeling guilty, ashamed, anxious, or depressed as a result of online behaviour; weight gain or loss, backaches, headaches, carpal tunnel syndrome; withdrawing from other pleasurable activities.”1

Most of us, myself included, use the Internet for a number of hours daily, whether it is for work, study or leisure. And I honestly cannot imagine myself living without the commodity this technological improvement has provided us with. If you have an internet problem (that is, if you answered positively for 5 of the above 8 questions), then maybe it’s time you speak with someone who can truly help you. If you don’t have a problematic internet use, then here are some tips which might help improve your relationship with it.

There are obviously aspects of the Internet, which are surely problematic, such as pornography, fake news, hate speech, bullying, online gaming, etc. (If you’re interested, some of these themes have already been discussed in previous articles on Project 22). This however doesn’t mean that the Internet is intrinsically evil! On the other hand, it has improved our world on various levels. We are more connected with each other and it has opened possibilities that until a few years back were unthinkable.

As many therapists would agree, the solution to Internet addiction isn’t complete abstinence but a controlled use. Although I would like to think of myself not as an internet addict and neither as a problematic internet user, however the counsel coming from psychology is surely helpful. A good starting point is to be truthful to oneself and examine our own personal use of this tool, so as to be able to control my use and see how it affects our life.

Some questions might be worth pondering on: What is the first thing I do in the morning upon opening my eyes? Is it controlling my social networks? How much time do I spend online daily? Does Internet disturb me in my intimate relations? What would happen if I were to find myself for a long time without an Internet connection?

P.S. If you’re interested to know more, here’s an interesting TED talk by Dr. Kimberly Young: “What you need to know about internet addiction” 

1  Kimberly Young. (2017)

Photo by Marc Schäfer

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