It’s not just about being on your phone all the time
“To meet the criteria for Internet Use Disorder, you have to have significant impairment of function,” says Dr. Sean X. Luo, M.D., PhD and a member of Columbia University’s Department of Psychiatry. “We also require that there’s an impairment of social or occupational functioning.”
Internet addiction can come in many flavors, but some of the most common ones revolve around hooking up and/or compulsions. These include sexting and online sex addiction; Internet infidelity and online affairs; video games and gaming; and compulsive behavior like gambling, shopping, or eBay. It’s also often the case that Internet addiction doesn’t just appear on its own, but is a manifestation of, or an outlet for, another problem.
“There are several patterns with patients who suffer from Internet addiction, but the main one is that it is combined with other problems,” Dr. Luo adds. “Someone who meets the criteria for Internet Use Disorder also has other mental health conditions that require clinical attention. It’s often [the case that] they have other problems like depression, anxiety, and substance abuse disorders.”
But it’s not just that the Internet offers an outlet for other issues. It can also provide something that’s increasingly elusive: anonymity. Which is kind of ironic, since constant connectivity is one of the ways people become less anonymous.
“It is the anonymous nature of electronic communication where users can use games, social media or online porn to escape problems in their lives,” Dr. Young points out. “It is worse among those with depression, social anxiety, and obsessive-compulsive tendencies.”
Is there any cure for Internet addiction?
Fortunately, it’s very possible to treat Internet addiction. If you feel you might be a problematic Internet user, or know someone who’s suffering, consider seeking a full psychiatric evaluation to see if there’s something else at the root of the problem. A psychologist or social worker might be a good place to start.
The most common treatment is psychotherapy, namely cognitive-behavioral therapy, which as the name suggests focuses on changing unwanted behaviors. Much like any other addiction, enough treatment and understanding can lead to recovery without a relapse. But, of course, each case is different.
“There are no existing FDA-approved medications for ‘Internet Use Disorder,’” says Dr. Luo. “A number of medications have been tried, but existing data are not enough to make across-the-board recommendations. Medications would be used to treat other associated conditions, such as depression and ADHD. Cognitive-behavioral therapy addresses some of these symptoms by developing more coping skills, keeping track of Internet use, restructuring negative and distorted thoughts, and developing behavioral strategies for preventing relapse or aim for moderation.”
So you can relax. Just because you change your profile picture every other day and tweet out your sweet Insta filters does NOT mean you’re addicted to the Internet. You might, however, want to consider spending a little more time in the three dimensional world. Couldn’t hurt.
Sign up here for our daily Thrillist email, and get your fix of the best in food/drink/fun. Meagan Drillinger is a contributing writer for Thrillist and thinks it's a little wrong that she did the research for this online. Follow her on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook at @drillinjourneys.