In 2015, smartphone manufacturers sold more than 1 billion devices, increasing their annual sales by more than an order of magnitude in less than a decade. During the same ten-year period, the average online time for an adult males increased from ten to twenty hours per week. Almost half of all smartphone users check their phones at least hourly, and at least ten percent check them once every few minutes. These statistics underlie the inclusion of internet gaming addiction in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (the “DSM”). The DSM is considering expanding that category to include broader categories of internet addiction.
Is Internet Addiction a Real Thing?
The term “internet addiction” is broad enough to encompass a host of varied activities. Some individuals are compulsively drawn to social media. They update their Facebook status several times daily, monitor Twitter feeds from hundreds or thousands of connections, and share every meal and trivial event on Instagram. Other individuals develop a compulsive online pornography habit. The internet offers virtual access to every conceivable form of sexual fantasy. Social media and pornography compulsions can replace genuine relationships and friendships. These internet addicts develop an intense internal focus that excludes the outside world and external interactions.
Smartphone access to the internet provides still other individuals with a stimulus-reward mechanism from gaming, gambling, stock trading, and other activities that provide immediate positive feedback when a user takes certain actions. More than 100 billion apps have been downloaded from the Apple app store since its inception in the early 2000’s. Many of those apps are games, which now give a user an opportunity to make micropayments in the range of ninety-nine cents to achieve higher levels or advanced game features. Some users have reported spending thousands of dollars per month to satisfy their urges to play these games. Psychologists believe that a user’s dopamine reward system reacts in a manner that mirrors a response to addictive drugs. Specifically, an internet gamer receives a reward for game play, which releases dopamines in his brain and creates a sensation of pleasure. When those rewards are terminated, the user experiences both physical and psychological withdrawal symptoms.
Some psychologists are studying aspects of information overload as an internet addiction. By some measures, individuals have a limited capacity to absorb and process information. The internet makes more information available to an individual than he or she may be able to process, causing a situation in which raw data supplants objective analysis of that data. Individuals can find themselves turning into news junkies. They may follow one link after another to access greater amounts of data without ever coming to any conclusions or opinions about that data.
Internet usage becomes an addiction when it replaces regular daily activities and adversely affects a person’s relationships with friends and family, his work performance, and his regular moods.
The Last Resort Recovery Center near Austin, Texas, can help you determine if your internet usage has crossed an addiction threshold. Please call us at 512-360-3600 for a confidential consultation and assessment if you are concerned with your compulsive use of the internet. We can provide guidance and more information to help you wean yourself from the virtual world before it completely crowds out your real world.