There are people who claim that they or someone they know are “addicted” to the internet, social media or smartphones. Is it really possible to be addicted to these modern phenomena? Before the internet age, you never heard someone claim to have a “book addiction” in a clinical sense, did you?
What is addiction?
It’s not hard to understand the difference between a clinical addiction (drugs, alcohol, etc.) and an “addiction” to a favorite activity or item (cookies, Game of Thrones, etc.) Which camp would an internet “addiction” fall into? Addiction, according to the American Society of Addiction Medicine:
“…is a primary, chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory and related circuitry. Dysfunction in these circuits leads to characteristic biological, psychological, social and spiritual manifestations. This is reflected in an individual pathologically pursuing reward and/or relief by substance use and other behaviors.
“Addiction is characterized by inability to consistently abstain, impairment in behavioral control, craving, diminished recognition of significant problems with one’s behaviors and interpersonal relationships, and a dysfunctional emotional response. Like other chronic diseases, addiction often involves cycles of relapse and remission. Without treatment or engagement in recovery activities, addiction is progressive and can result in disability or premature death.”
Addiction is, simply put, a psychological or physical dependence on a substance or behavior to such an extent that it interferes with one’s normal life. Addicted people often make poor life choices in pursuit of their addiction – despite knowing the negative consequences.
Think about the concept of internet “addiction.” Could you picture someone so obsessed with being online or on Facebook at all hours of the day? To the point where they never leave their house, avoid any activities that may require not checking Facebook, or go into intense withdrawal symptoms when disconnected from the net?
Experts talk about “Internet addiction”
The American Psychiatric Association’s “encyclopedia” does not currently list “internet addiction” as an illness. Many experts believe that what people observe as “internet addiction” might actually be a set of behaviors or conditions like ADHD, depression, or OCD, and simply take the form of internet use, instead of another. The Internet itself might not be addictive, but simply a tool with which other compulsions or psychological conditions can be expressed.
Furthermore, the Internet is made up of a lot of different content and activities. One could be online gambling, watching pornography, communicating, or searching for images of kittens. Someone with a preoccupation with kitten pictures could hardly be described as being the same as someone who is engaging in endless cybersex. So, the term “Internet addiction” hardly describes what a person is ACTUALLY fixated on.
Many experts believe that often, people use “Internet” as a substitute for what they might really be “addicted” to (gambling, for example). Similarly, the Internet is blamed for the dysfunction in someone who actually suffers from depression or stress and spends hours online as a RESULT of an existing condition.
The debate is still open as to whether “internet addiction” is a real phenomenon. For now, your doctor will most likely diagnose you or someone you know with a more accepted mental health condition while perhaps recommending a reduction in time spent online.
In the meantime, if you feel like you are indeed “addicted” to the internet or social media, and you worry about the amount of time you spend engaged with your computer screen or smartphone, there are many ways to address your concerns. Just remember that the internet or phone might not be the problem, but the outlet of a deeper issue. If they didn’t exist, your potential problem would most likely show itself in a different way.