Internet Addiction Guides & Articles

Lisa A. Koosis
Last updated:
Brindusa Vanta, MD, DHMHS
Medical Editor

What Is Internet Addiction?

With some 300 million Americans going online, internet addiction has become an ongoing problem in the United States. 1 This digital-age disorder is defined by compulsive use of the internet or excessive engagement in online activities paired with disregard for personal and/or professional responsibilities. It’s typically characterized by preoccupations and uncontrolled or poorly controlled urges to be online. 2 The condition may have significant personal and professional consequences, such as interpersonal conflicts at school, home, or work.

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Getting Help for an Internet Addiction
in Internet/Computer

Internet addiction disorder, sometimes abbreviated as IAD, is also known by other names, such as Internet overuse, pathological computer use, and problematic computer use. Dr. Ivan Goldberg originally proposed IAD as a psychiatric disorder in 1995 based on the description of compulsive gambling. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders V doesn’t recognize Internet […]

Computer/Internet Addiction Symptoms, Causes and Effects
in Internet/Computer

The Internet has made life a lot easier by making information more accessible to all and creating connections with different people around the world. However, it has also led a lot of people to spend too much time in front of the computer, so much so that it becomes the center of their lives. This […]

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Internet and Computer Addiction Treatment Program Options
in Internet/Computer

Although the Internet has made it possible for individuals around the globe to network in ways previously not believed to be possible, that convenience does present the risk of addiction. When use of the Internet has become compulsive to the point that it is interfering with your work, daily life and personal relationships, you may […]

Causes of Internet Addiction

Internet addiction may be referred to by several other names, including internet dependence and compulsive or pathological internet use. The condition likely occurs because of three main factors: 3

  • Accessibility: Addictions may result when an at-risk person has ready access to an addictive substance or activity. Whether individuals go online through a phone connection, home Wi-Fi network, or public library service, most Americans have readily available internet access.
  • Control: The availability and relative anonymity of the internet and its resources appeal to some individuals who crave control. This can be especially attractive if other aspects of their life feel chaotic.
  • The high: The internet may give some individuals a "high", particularly if they’re engaging in activities with a thrill potential, such as gambling or gaming.

An internet addiction disorder may manifest differently from person to person, depending on their individual compulsion. Categories of internet addiction include: 4

  • Online gaming
  • Web surfing/information searching
  • Net-based compulsions, such as shopping, gambling, and online auctions
  • Cybersexual activities/internet porn addiction
  • Cyber relationships, such as chats, online dating, and social media

What Are the Symptoms of Internet Addiction?

With so many people regularly using the internet to fulfill business and personal needs, it can be difficult to identify when use of the web turns into an addiction. However, the following signs symptoms may indicate an internet addiction: 5

  • Obsessively thinking about the internet or specific online activities, such as cybersex or online auctions
  • Constantly contemplating the next online session
  • Losing track of time and real-world responsibilities while online
  • Spending more and more time online to feel satisfied
  • An inability to cut back on, or stop, internet use
  • Concealing online activities from loved ones
  • Lying to loved ones about the amount of time spent online
  • Jeopardizing work, school, and interpersonal relationships due to excessive internet use
  • Escaping negative feelings, moods, or life events by retreating to the internet
  • Experiencing anxiety, depression, and other negative emotions when unable to go online

Typically, an individual who displays five or more of these symptoms may receive the diagnosis of internet addiction disorder.

What Is Computer Addiction?

Computer addiction is one of several common technology addictions. It’s characterized by excessive or uncontrollable use of a computer or other digital device. 6

Computer addiction doesn’t always involve internet-based activities. Instead, it’s often associated with programming, hacking, and gaming addictions, with games played either on- or offline. Consequently, the disorder is sometimes referred to as computer gaming addiction.

This condition often affects teenagers, particularly males. Individuals with a computer addiction often lack a fulfilling social life, and they may exhibit low self-confidence. 7

What Are Symptoms of Computer Addiction?

Compulsive technology use disorders, such as computer addiction, are often diagnosed in younger individuals. However, they can affect people at any age, and individuals with depression, ADHD, and other mental health disorders may have a higher risk of developing the disorder. Individuals with a computer addiction may exhibit the following signs: 8

  • Spending more and more time on their computer or other device
  • Prioritizing computer time over work and personal responsibilities, including interpersonal relationships
  • Becoming irritable, restless, or moody if they try to cut back on their computer time
  • Escaping to the computer to avoid real-world problems or negative emotions
  • Losing all sense of time when they’re using a computer or other digital device

What Is the Best Treatment for Internet Addiction?

Currently, there isn’t a standard treatment for internet addiction. However, several treatment options have proven effective in helping individuals overcome the disorder, including: 9

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): CBT, also known as talk therapy, is often effective at helping individuals understand what negative emotions underpin their addictions, so they can manage the associated behaviors. Therapy may be conducted one on one or in a group.
  • Prescription medications: A doctor may prescribe medication to treat an underlying mental health disorder or reduce intrusive thoughts related to the unwanted behaviors.
  • Exercise: When an addicted individual reduces the time spent online, it often results in a decrease of dopamine, a “feel good” chemical released by the brain. To combat associated symptoms of dopamine reduction, a healthcare professional may recommend an exercise regimen.

These treatments are intended to help an individual manage their internet usage rather than stop it altogether. However, in some cases, a therapist may recommend eliminating the use of a problematic website, app, or game. Ultimately, the most effective path to recovery depends on the individual, the type and severity of the disorder, and the treatment. During recovery, individuals may find it helpful to manage their free time, engage in physically or mentally engaging activities, and leave digital devices at home when going out.

How to Help Someone With an Internet Addiction

If a loved one is struggling with an internet or computer addiction, there are several key ways to help: 10

  • Seek out information: Becoming knowledgeable about a disorder is often the first step in supporting and advocating for a loved one. Start by visiting reputable websites, such as those of national organizations or major medical institutions, to learn more about this form of addiction and how caregivers can support those struggling.
  • Don’t enable problematic behaviors: Depending on the individual and the type of addiction, providing shelter and money, or doing basic chores, such as making meals or cleaning house, may enable the individual to pursue addiction-related behaviors.
  • Encourage them to seek help: To overcome an addiction, many individuals need professional help. Helping a loved one find a reputable counselor and other crucial resources may help them on the path to recovery.

If a loved one’s behaviors are causing problems at home or within the relationship, it's important to seek professional help to deal with any personal impact. Luckily, there are internet and computer addiction treatment programs available to help.