Is The Internet Addictive?
Nowadays, nearly 40% of the world’s population is online. Almost all adolescents use Internet at home or at school. Internet usage has grown six times during the last decade, becoming a popular activity for both adults and adolescents. The Internet has turned the world into a small village, where the news travels from one part of it to another with unbelievable speed. With the emergence and expansion of the Internet, is became extremely easy to share user-generated content and ideas, find like-minded people in any corner of the world, and simply communicate with complete strangers any time. Though the Internet is a source of a wide range or benefits, some people can be negatively influenced by it. Every user is in danger of online harassment, exposure to violent and pornographic content, and violation of privacy. Moreover, the ever-increasing popularity and frequency of the Internet usage resulted in emergence of clinical cases that present symptoms of abuse. Excessive Internet use can lead to significant deconditioning and emergence of mental health issues. The Internet is an addictive medium that carries a direct threat to the physical and mental well-being of a person.
The traditional concept of addiction referred to a dependence on physical substance and did not concern any behavioral patterns. Recent researches indicate that there are behavioral addictions, as well as substance addictions. The latter include excessive use of technology. There is a range of definitions and terms that define Internet addiction. Some of the most widely-used are Internet dependency, pathological Internet use, compulsive computer use, virtual addiction, problematic Internet use, Internet gaming disorder, and Internet addiction disorder.
The condition of Internet dependence is analogous to substance dependence. Individuals with Internet dependence experience such symptoms as negative consequences, tolerance, withdrawal, maintenance of use regardless of the negative consequences, lack of control, environmental distress, and relapse. All of the above-listed symptoms serve as indications of the fact that Internet addiction is a dangerous and destructive condition. For a diagnosis of the disorder, five or more symptoms have to be present during a twelve months period of observation.
Internet dependency interferes with social life, academic and professional work of a person. People, suffering from compulsive computer use, tend to sleep less, ignore family and household responsibilities, come late to work or other institutions, and cancel their appointments for the chance to spend more time online. There is evidence pointing out that excessive Internet use meets the criteria of impulse control disorder, considering the fact that the individuals dependent on the Internet use experience a fierce desire to perform the behavior.
Internet addiction has strong connection with technology literacy and publishing literacy of a person. As a result, a person can develop an Internet dependency in spite of technology literacy and publishing literacy. The better technological and publishing skills the person has, the higher the risk of his/her potential addiction is. Most people, suffering from technological addictions, are very skilled users of various online tools, such as, for example, blogging websites.
Younger adults develop symptoms of Internet addiction regardless of the parenting style they experienced. It does not matter whether parents had strict rules for using the Internet or let child use media at ones’ pleasure, younger adults parental influence factor is insufficient. Considering the fact that the Internet is an omnipresent medium, it is hardly possible to control the online activity of a person or to block it completely. Even if at-home Internet use becomes limited, there is always Internet access at peers’ houses, public places, educational establishments, etc. With the emergence of smartphones, almost every smartphone owner can access Internet any time and find information or website he needs. In addition, the privilege to use the Internet privately with the help of smartphones exposes children and younger adults to more violent and pornographic content. However, younger adults, whose mediation was strictly exercised by their parents, have a lower risk of suffering from online harassment, exposure to violent or pornographic content, and privacy risks. It is worth mentioning that placing personal information, such as pictures, contacts, and address on the Internet are the main causes of solicitation, which can be threatening not only to emotional well-being, but to a life of a person, as well. Many girls and women suffer from online harassment due to the fact that they upload personal information, which should not have been revealed. In most cases, a person does not realize how dangerous the situation can become, until he/she becomes a victim. Till that moment, addiction makes the person reveal more information, spending more time in online chat rooms, at social media websites, forums, etc. In any case, the actions of the user have the greatest influence on the consequences of the Internet use. Self-disciplinary actions are always more effective than parental restrictions. It is extremely easy to disguise the amount of time a person spends online, as well as to keep one’s personality disguised, while spending much time online. Some people use the Internet as a tool for procrastination, when they get online to find necessary information and then start surfing the Web without any particular purpose. Every individual bears personal responsibility for the healthiness, purposefulness, and reasonableness of their Internet use. It is impossible to decrease the risk Internet users are exposed to without limiting the opportunities of Internet, which are omnipresent.
Internet gaming addiction is one of the most obvious manifestations of Internet dependency. Online gaming became popular in the 2000s, and, at the same time, studies of online gaming addiction appeared. The fact that there are rehabilitation centers in the US, Europe, and South-East Asia proves that there are many people seeking professional help. People involve in online games for numerous reasons, such as fulfilling the need to socialize, to find new friends, to achieve game goals, to immerse into the game and to escape from thinking and dealing with unpleasant real-life situations. Since there is an abundance of games, there is also a great range of reasons why people become addicted to playing online games. Most players state that their main motivation to play is achievements they make in the games they are engaged in. The other reasons people name are socializing and escapism.
Researches indicate that the higher the level of social acceptance of gaming and Internet penetration is, the more actual gaming problems are. Moreover, the less society approves gaming, the more distress the gamer experiences while engaging in this activity. Lack of acceptance can serve as a contributing factor to addiction development.
Online gaming addiction causes much concern as it leads to numerous negative consequences. It has attracted most of the attention that was given to compulsive shopping, excessive exercising, and overworking. From a psychological point of view, a gamer sacrifices real-life relations without regrets, avoids socializing and participating in various community activities. People suffering from Internet gaming addiction are often aggressive, stressful, and hostile. Their academic achievements are low and they experience problems with sleeping and general well-being. The truth of the matter is that being addicted to online games has more negative consequences than the person realizes and sometimes more than a person can cope with on his/her own. At this point, it is very difficult to return to normal life without professional help.
Numerous ways explain online gaming addiction. First of all, such behavioral problem is silent. Second, it is used for mood modification. Third, an individual develops tolerance and needs more time in the game to elevate his mood. Fourth, there are withdrawal symptoms, such as irritation and depression. Fifth, the behavior problems lead to interpersonal conflicts. Finally, relapse often takes place upon the discontinuation of the destructive behavior. From the point of view of neuroscience, gaming addiction leads to changes in the brain of a person. Excessive gaming has a negative effect on the regions of the brain, is responsible for reward, motivation, cognitive control, and memory. Some evidences prove that the continuation of the behavior leads to the release of dopamine, and the longer the gamer is engaged in the activity, the more negative permanent changes occur in the dopaminergic pathways.
The American Psychiatric Association officially recognizes Internet gaming disorder as a state that demands consideration by researchers and clinicians. There are definite symptoms of the disorder, five or more of which have to manifest themselves during a twelve months period for the diagnosis to be valid. The symptoms include concernment over gaming, withdrawal symptoms, lack of control, tolerance, mood modification, playing regardless of the negative consequences, loss of interests and refusal to participate in important aspects of life. Online gaming addiction is a serious problem. There are cases when people are unable to cope with their problems on their own and should seek professional help in order to be able to return to normal life. Consequently, people should raise their awareness of the possible threat of online gaming and perform self-assessment to be able to see the approaching danger. The issue is very serious, since there have been cases of deaths of cardiopulmonary origin in Internet cafes and game-related murders in the world.
Internet addiction is a real threat to human emotional and physical well-being. Possessing numerous characteristics of substance abuse and resulting in a wide range of negative consequences, it raises much concern all over the world. Researches indicate that most cases of Internet addiction require intervention, professional help and, in severe cases, rehabilitation. Though there are opportunities to prevent the compulsive use of the Internet, there is not a prevention method that can prevent a person from developing an Internet addiction disorder. Finding the optimal balance between restricting online presence of their children and educating them how to use the Internet for their benefit is the best advice for parents. At the same time, the adults should control their online presence by themselves and, if any worries arise, take self-assessment tests that can show whether the person under test could possibly suffer from compulsive Internet use.
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