What Is an Internet Addiction?

Today, internet and computer use are ingrained in contemporary society and have changed the way we live our lives more than any other technological medium yet. Despite this, we still know relatively little about the effects of internet addiction on our psychological functioning, mental health, and general well-being. Just last year, data from the Pew Research Center showed that 77% of Americans connect to the internet on a daily basis. While many believe that surfing the web or binging cat videos on YouTube is a relatively harmless act, there are some people who spend so much of their time using a computer or on the internet that it has begun to interfere with their daily lives. When an action or desire becomes a hindrance, taking precedence over the most important aspects of one’s life – relationships, work, school – it can become classified as an addiction.

Internet addiction is yet to be listed in the latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (commonly referred to as the DSM-5). However, a 2-year study funded by The National Institutes of Health may change that. Beginning in August of 2017, the study could deliver sufficient evidence that problems stemming from excessive internet use deserve serious attention from U.S. mental health and psychiatric communities. Professionals that do recognize internet addiction tend to classify it as either an obsessive-compulsive disorder or an impulse control disorder to aid treatment. Internet addiction is also called compulsive computer use, pathological internet use, and internet dependence.

5 Types of Internet Addiction

Internet addiction is a broad term that covers a range of behaviors and impulse-control problems involving internet, personal computer, and mobile technology. While there is yet no officially accepted criteria to diagnose an internet addiction, researchers have identified 5 subcategories of specific types of computer and internet addictions.

Cybersex Addiction

A Cybersex addiction is one of the more self-explanatory internet addictions. It involves online pornography, adult websites, sexual fantasy/adult chat rooms, and XXX web-cam services among others. An obsession with any of these services can be harmful to one’s ability to form real-world sexual, romantic, or intimate relationships. Treatment options are available for those with cybersex addictions, typically in the form of intervention followed by ongoing inpatient or outpatient therapy.

Net Compulsions

Net compulsions concern interactive activities online that can be extremely harmful, such as online gambling, trading stocks, online auctions (such as E-bay), and compulsive online shopping. These habits can have a detrimental impact on one’s financial stability and disrupt job-related duties. Spending or losing excessive amounts of money can also cause stress in one’s relationships. With instant and easy access to online casinos and stores, it is easy for those who are already susceptible to a gambling or spending addiction to get hooked online.

Cyber (Online) Relationship Addiction

Cyber or online relationship addicts are deeply involved with finding and maintaining relationships online, often forgetting and neglecting real-life family and friends. Typically, online relationships are formed in chat rooms or different social networking sites but can occur anywhere you can interact with people online. Often, people who pursue online relationships do so while concealing their real identity and appearance – this modern phenomena led to the creation of the term “catfish.”

After being consumed by an online social life and persona, a person may be left with limited social skills and unrealistic expectations concerning in-person interactions. Many times, this leads to an inability to make real-world connections, in turn, making them more dependent on their cyber relationships. Counseling or therapy is typically required to treat this addiction and ensure lasting behavioral changes.

Compulsive Information Seeking

The internet provides users with a wealth of data and knowledge. For some, the opportunity to find information so easily has turned into an uncontrollable urge to gather and organize data. In some cases, information seeking is a manifestation of pre-existing, obsessive-compulsive tendencies. Commonly, compulsive information-seeking can also reduce work productivity and potentially lead to job termination. Depending on the severity of the addiction, treatment options can range from different therapy modalities – which target changing compulsive behavior and developing coping strategies – to medication.

Computer or Gaming Addiction

Computer addiction, sometimes referred to as computer gaming addiction, involves on- and offline activities that can be done with a computer. As computers became more widely available, games such as Solitaire, Tetris, and Minesweeper were programed into their software. Researchers quickly found that obsessive computer game playing was become a problem in certain settings. Office employees would spend excessive amounts of time playing these games causing a notable decrease in productivity. Today, not only are these classic games still available, but so are thousands of new ones. Computer addiction is the oldest type of internet/computer addiction, and it is still prevalent and harmful today.