How often do you spend more
time online than you meant to? If your answer is “a lot,” you’re not alone. In
a study of U.S. college students, published in BMC Medicine, two-thirds said they frequently stayed online
longer than intended.
Of course, there are many
valid reasons for spending extra time online: studying, working, socializing,
and reading articles such as this one, to name a few. But for 4
percent of students in the study, out-of-control Internet use was causing problems
in their daily lives.
Is Internet Addiction Real?
Some people show a pattern of
uncontrollable, self-destructive Internet use that looks remarkably similar to
compulsive gambling or drug dependence. Internet addiction isn’t an officially
recognized diagnosis yet. But some experts have lobbied for its inclusion in DSM-5, the forthcoming update of the standard
diagnostic guide used by mental health professionals.
Not everyone is convinced
that Internet addiction is a distinct condition. Some believe Internet overuse
is just a symptom of other psychological disorders. Numerous studies have shown
that problematic Internet use is more common in
people with depression, social anxiety disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity
disorder, and substance abuse.
On the other hand, there’s
good evidence that some Internet users behave a lot like addicts. They feel
unable to control their Internet use, even when it starts interfering with
work, school, home life, and personal relationships. Some try repeatedly to cut
back their online time, but they can’t seem to stay away from the Internet for long.
There may even be a
physiological basis for Internet cravings. In a recent study, researchers at
the Chinese Academy of Sciences used MRI to scan the brains of 18 teens and
young adults classified as having Internet addiction. Compared to healthy
controls, the Internet addicts showed impairment in white
matter fibers of the brain connecting regions involved in decision making,
cognitive control, and emotional processing.
Wherever experts fall on the
addiction debate, most agree that spending too much time online can wreak havoc
in a person’s offline life. How do you know if your own Internet use has
crossed the line from extensive to excessive? Below are 10 warning signs to
to spend more time online
deteriorate or grades fall as a result
offline relationships to stay online
Losing track of
time frequently while on the Internet
or secretive about Internet use
with the Internet even when offline
Using the Internet
to escape problems or relieve a bad mood
Losing sleep because
of late nights on the Internet
unsuccessfully to cut back on Internet time
or cranky when unable to go online
If your Internet use is causing serious problems in your daily life, consider discussing
the issue with a therapist or counselor.