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Internet addiction treatment

The increasing ease and accessibility of browsing the internet means that it is now possible to search for information, access social networking sites, shop and gamble from devices which can fit in your pocket or even on your wrist.

While this can be beneficial when researching information as part of your education, or assisting you with your job role, the increasingly instantaneous nature of the internet means that compulsive use becomes more likely. An internet addiction can be diagnosed if your use of the World Wide Web becomes pathological, in that your internet usage has a detrimental effect on your everyday life, including your relationships and any educational or job commitments.

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If you believe that you or someone that you care for may be experiencing an internet addiction which is impacting on various aspects of their day-to-day life, addiction treatment options at Priory include self-help groups and behavioural talking therapies focused on abstinence and understanding more about why you may turn to excessive internet use. Treatment for internet addiction can take place as part of our 28-day Addiction Treatment Programme, with the length and type of treatment that you receive, dependent on your unique condition and the severity of your addiction. A free initial assessment is also offered, which explores the specific problems that you are experiencing with online addiction, after which a bespoke treatment plan can be made.

Internet addiction can cover a wide variety of problems, from compulsions to use social networking sites, through to shopping, gambling and pornography. Online addiction has been brought sharply into public awareness over the last few years due to a number of concerning headlines, including a recent study of over 1,300 young adults in Leeds which suggested that just over 1% met criteria for internet addiction.

Often described as an impulse control disorder, internet addiction is a behavioural addiction which doesn’t involve the use of substances in order to feel desired side effects. If you have an internet addiction, it will feel much like how a compulsive gambler will feel, with the desire to go online taking priority over other aspects of your life.                 

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Treatment for internet addiction

The benefits of an increasingly digital world include connecting with friends and family via text, email and social media at any time of the day, making it easier to plan events and keep more up-to-date on what is happening in each other’s lives without having to physically meet.

While many people are able to detach themselves from this daily use of technology, it can be more difficult for others to switch off and spend quality time with family and friends. If virtual worlds and online friends have become more important than the relationships you have in the ‘real-world’, and you feel anxious without them, then it is a sign that a period of abstinence is required in order to regain control of your life.

Treatment for internet addiction at Priory is delivered via a number a methods including self-help groups, abstinence and counselling. If you are unable to progress with either self-help or one-to-one therapy, there are also 12-Step rehabilitation programmes run by Priory.

Therapy for internet addiction  

Due to there being no medications which can specifically treat internet addiction, much of a treatment programme for the condition at Priory will focus on the thoughts and behaviours you have which may contribute to a compulsive urge to go online.

We are the UK’s leading independent provider of addiction treatment services, with consultants, psychologists and therapists who have specialist experience in treating similar addiction cases.

The goals of self-help and one-to-one therapy sessions for overcoming internet addiction include:

  • Helping you to identify how internet addiction has impacted your life
  • Working with you to try and understand if there are any underlying mental health issues which may be causing you to compulsively use the internet as a coping mechanism
  • Shifting a negative relationship with the internet into a positive one by finding new outlets for coping with the stresses and strains of daily life

Therapy sessions for internet addiction aim to encourage ways you can reduce the amount of time spent on the internet, with cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and behavioural activation techniques being effective methods of reaching this goal.

CBT - an action-oriented and problem solving approach to internet addiction which helps you to understand the impact that internet addiction has on your relationships and conduct with others, as well as teaching you methods of managing your thoughts and behaviours that lead to compulsive internet use, in a more positive manner.

Because the inability to control your impulse to use the internet can lead to a pattern of addiction that is difficult to stop, self-control techniques learned during these sessions can help to minimise the severity of withdrawal symptoms of internet addiction, such as anxiety, making it possible to reduce your internet usage in a safe and gradual manner.

Behavioural activation – evidence-based therapy technique which can be particularly effective if co-existing mental health conditions such as depression are contributing to internet addiction. The aim of the therapy is to increase activity levels and focus on ways that you can prevent feeling the need to avoid other activities through your internet use, and help you to find alternative hobbies which can help improve general mood and overall wellbeing.

Family or relationship therapy - this form of therapy can be useful if your internet addiction has affected the family unit, as well as problems with relationships relating to unsolicited chats with potential partners online, or cybersex based interactions.

Family or relationship counselling allows you to work through unresolved issues that might be affecting existing relationships, while marriage-specific counselling works towards improving communication and re-establishing an intimate bond between you and your partner, if you have turned to the internet to fill such a void.

What is an internet addiction?

Internet addiction refers to an impulse control disorder which is similar to that experienced by compulsive gamblers, where lack of management and control of temptation to use the internet, often for lengthy periods at a time, overrides any inherent ability to resist.

The condition can arise for many different reasons, although underlying symptoms of anxiety, depression and stress can cause you to compulsively use the internet as a way of avoiding the ‘real world’.

Who can develop an internet addiction?

Situational issues such as loneliness and a general difficulty making and maintaining relationships can lead to unhealthy amount of internet use, particular if you are looking to replicate such emotional attachment with chat rooms, social networking and virtual communities.

Other people may develop an internet addiction when chronicling their lives through YouTube videos, blogs or online journals, feeling a compulsive need to create content and update their followers on such a regular basis that they struggle to make time for anything else. In the UK, the most frequent categories of internet addiction, based on those who seek help, are pornography and multiplayer roleplay games.

The effects of an internet addiction

The effects of internet action can have a significant impact on your personal life, with family, academic and financial problems potentially occurring, as they can with many other addictions. Even if your internet addiction isn’t financially dependent, such as spending large periods of time on shopping or gambling websites, the amount of time spent on the internet can see you become increasingly solitary and isolated away from spending quality time with loved ones.

If you suffer from an underlying mental health condition such as social anxiety or depression, it is believed that associated feelings of low-self-esteem and negative self-image may contribute to how much time is spent on the internet. This can lead to the creation of online personas and alternate identities which portray a version of yourself that you want others to see. Social media has allowed us to be who we want to be online, but unfortunaltely, the impact of social media on our mental health can be significant and create mental health problems or worsen existing conditions.  

What are the signs and symptoms of internet addiction?

Internet addiction can be limited to desktop or laptop use and confined to a specific location such as in your home or even at work. For people who are prone to internet addiction and can’t simply ‘switch off’ their devices, the onset of smartphones has arguably made it increasingly difficult to resist the temptation to go online at regular intervals.

While there is no specific amount of internet time or amount of messages you send that means you have an internet addiction, a diagnosis will only be given if compulsive use is reducing time which would usually be spent engaging in face-to-face conversations, completing work tasks, or getting involved in hobbies and activities you used to enjoy.

Signs of internet addiction                

Typical signs and symptoms of internet addiction disorder include:

  • Spending a long time online for reasons that are not work-related
  • Irritability or bad moods if access to the internet is blocked or limited
  • Pleasurable anticipation of internet use is common, although many internet addicts see their internet overuse as a form of stress management
  • Multiplayer roleplay gamers may also see their usage as a form of social contact
  • As the addiction becomes more severe, internet usage becomes more important than most other activities and major social problems are likely to follow
  • Isolation from family and friends to spend time on the internet
  • Concealing or playing down the amount of time spent online
  • An extreme fear of missing out which means you have to compulsively check social media

Symptoms and effects of internet addiction

The following effects will become apparent to a person who is suffering from an internet addiction:

  • Related depression, anxiety and mood swings
  • Social withdrawal and isolation, feelings of loneliness
  • Feelings of low self-esteem and fears of disapproval
  • Relationship and sexual problems
  • Employment or education issues that can lead to financial problems

Further symptoms which can indicate internet addiction will be apparent when you or someone that you care for stops using the internet for a certain amount of time, or cannot gain access to apps or social media, due to being on holiday for example.

Withdrawal symptoms from smartphone or internet addiction when you attempt to cut back on use may include:

  • Restlessness
  • Problems concentrating
  • Intense cravings for access to your smartphone and the internet
  • Difficult sleeping
  • Anger and irritability

What causes an internet addiction?

Addiction to the internet can be compared to other forms of addiction such as alcohol or drugs, in the sense that it can provide a type of escape or 'high' for some users.

This is especially true when considering the release of your brain’s ‘happy chemical’, dopamine, which is released when playing a computer game, interacting with people online, or receiving ‘likes’ for content that you have posted on social media. This mood altering effect thereby increases your desire to repeat the process in order to attain the same feeling.  

Much like the relationship experienced with addiction to drugs and alcohol, heavy and repeated use can lead to building up a tolerance to the pleasurable effects of using the internet or playing an online computer game, causing you to feel the urge to spend increasingly longer periods to achieve the same effect.       

Those with other pre-existing addictions or mental health conditions such as depression or anxiety can be more predisposed to having an internet addiction. The secluded behaviour of internet addiction can actually increase unwanted symptoms of co-existing mental health conditions, due to social interaction being required to feel increased self-confidence, relieve feelings of mental illness and boost your mood. Treatment at Priory would involve treating symptoms of related mental health conditions first, in the hope that this would address the severity of an internet addiction.

Once internet overuse reaches the point where it causes major problems, abstinence is the only solution. There are fellowships that are similar to Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) for those whose internet compulsion takes the form of gambling or pornography, which include Gamblers Anonymous (GA) and Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous (SLAA). There are also self-help groups that deal with the more notoriously addictive role play games.

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For details of how Priory can provide you with assistance regarding internet treatment and rehabilitation, please call 0800 144 8969 or click here to book a FREE ADDICTION ASSESSMENT. For professionals looking to make a referral, please click here

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