By Adam Wakefield

The threat is real

So what exactly is Internet addiction, and why should it be a going concern?

According to Dr. Kimberley Young, the founder and director of the Centre for Internet Addiction and, no single behaviour pattern defines Internet addiction (IA) but a problem exists if these behaviours take control of an addict’s life and become unmanageable.

“If your Internet use pattern interferes with your life in any shape or form – for example, does it impact your work, family life, relationships, school etc.? – you may have a problem,” Young says.

“Internet addiction can be understood by comparing it to other types of addictions. Individuals addicted to alcohol or other drugs, for example, develop a relationship with their ‘chemical/s of choice’ — a relationship that takes precedence over any and all other aspects of their lives.”

Addicts find they need drugs merely to feel normal, and with Internet addiction, a parallel situation exists. It provides the “high” addicts become dependent on to feel normal, substituting unhealthy relationships for healthy ones and opting for temporary pleasure over the deeper qualities of “normal” intimate relationships.

David Briskam, clinical and development director at Twin Rivers Rehab Centre in Plettenburg Bay, says IA is an obsession with moving or still images over which the “user has control, with control being the key element.”

“Just like other addictions, it’s born out of curiosity, boredom, peer pressure, excitement, need for control. Excessive Internet use impacts social ability and promotes isolation and other anti-social attitudes and behaviours,” Briskam says.

Dr. Sumayya Ebrahim, a practising psychologist and lecturer at the University of Johannesburg, says the idea that we can become addicted to the Internet is not new, with research and interest in the area having begun in the 1990s.

“There is much debate on the causes of IA and it is speculated that many of the factors responsible for addictions in general are also at play in IA,” Ebrahim says. 

“Preliminary research suggests that there is a difference in the brain structure of individuals who exhibit symptoms of IA compared to individuals in control groups who do not display symptoms of IA.”

Prevention is better than cure

To avoid joining the ranks of Internet addiction, Briskam says boundaries are the key. 

“Like most addictions, poor boundaries are involved, leading to over use of the Internet. There is a growing trend of no computers in households because of this epidemic. Unfortunately, schools allow cell phones and, these days, break time is taken up with cyber activities, including cyber bullying,” he says. 

Ebrahim acknowledges the difficulty of fully distancing oneself from technology, but it should always be borne in mind that these are resources that are meant to be used to enhance or facilitate our lives.

“Having personal as well as family regulations that limit mobile screen time may go a long way in helping prevent addiction. A useful suggestion is to have what I call the ‘distraction draw’ where all phones, tablets, handheld games etc. are deposited when we get home,” Ebrahim explains.

“This leaves families and individuals more available to spend time pursuing other activities such as family time, rest, exercise, socialising and the like.”

Treatment is available 

If a person has passed the point of no return, Young says treatment options for IA include inpatient, outpatient, and aftercare support, as well as self-help groups, family counselling and educational workshops for addicts and their families.
“Unlike recovering alcoholics who must abstain from drinking for life, treatment for Internet addiction focuses on moderation and controlled use of the Internet, much in the way those suffering from eating disorders must relearn healthy eating patterns,” Young says.

“I focus on cognitive-behavioural techniques to achieve a healthy digital diet of moderated and controlled use along with a comprehensive psycho-social approach to address the underlying problems in a person’s life creating the need to use the Internet as a way of escape.”

Ebrahim says a person confronting and being aware that they are an Internet addict is the first step to recovery, with family support being key as well as living a lifestyle that in general supports efforts to break away.

She goes on to say; “The help of professionals is always at hand to assist and facilitate recovery.” 
Have you dealt with Internet addiction? Let us know in the comments below.