People who spend long stretches of time on the computer daily, to the detriment of their human relationships, may have an Internet addiction.

Internet addiction can take a number of different forms:

  • Gaming
  • Gambling
  • Trading stocks
  • Shopping for merchandise
  • “Shopping” for relationships on dating sites
  • Cybersex or pornography
  • Social media

Risk Factors

While anyone can develop an Internet addiction, the majority of people who do so are males in their teens, twenties, and thirties.

People who develop an Internet addiction often already feel socially isolated. They may have a difficult time creating and maintaining relationships with their peers.

These individuals may have feelings of anxiety and depression that are relieved when they are engaged on a computer.

People with other addictions, such as to alcohol, drugs, sex, or gambling, have a higher risk of developing an Internet addiction.

Internet Addiction Symptoms

Like other addictions, Internet addiction isn’t based on just an interest or hobby that someone enjoys pursuing.

If it’s an actual addiction, it may cause one or more of the following:

  • Negative effects on school or job performance
  • Reduced involvement with your family or friends
  • Loss of interest in other hobbies or pursuits
  • Feelings of anxiety or depression when you’re away from your computer
  • When not on your computer, spending most of your time thinking about getting back to it
  • Angry or defensive reaction when someone comments on your behavior
  • Taking steps to hide the extent of your computer/Internet use

In addition to experiencing problems with school, jobs, and relationships, people with Internet addiction have a higher risk of:

  • Social isolation
  • Anxiety
  • Mood disorders, especially depression
  • Impulse control problems
  • Substance use disorders, such as alcoholism or drug abuse

Internet Addiction Diagnosis

A variety of questionnaires have been used to try to scientifically diagnose Internet addiction. Currently, no single scoring system has been validated by research.

However, some of the questions that may point to Internet addiction include:

  • Are you preoccupied with using the Internet?
  • Are you unable to resist your desire to use the Internet?
  • Do you have to use the Internet for certain amounts of time in order to feel satisfied?
  • When you cannot use the Internet, do you find yourself in a bad mood, anxious, irritable, or bored?
  • When you are in a bad mood or irritable, do you turn to the Internet to solve your problems?
  • Do you stay online for longer periods of time than you mean to?
  • Do you try to decrease your online time over and over again, only to fail?
  • Do you have any physical problems from being online so much (backache, eyestrain)? Do you continue to use the Internet despite these problems?
  • Do you have any problems with your school or job performance due to your Internet use? Do you continue to use the Internet despite these problems?
  • Do you have any problems with relationships with family or friends due to your Internet use? Do you continue to use the Internet despite these problems?
  • Does your Internet use ever violate known laws?

Internet Addiction Treatment

In some cases, Internet addiction develops as an escape from other problems, like anxiety and depression.

Medications to treat these disorders (such as antidepressants or anti-anxiety drugs) may also help treat Internet addiction. Ask your doctor if you need to take medication for Internet addiction.

Therapy that aims to change behaviors may also be used to treat Internet addiction.

Severe Internet addiction, or an addiction that is complicated by a gambling disorder or substance abuse, may require an intensive daytime treatment program or even an inpatient treatment program.