Internet Addiction: An Escape from Reality With the creation of an online world comes the creation of new problems. The great network system known as the Internet has allowed for huge advances in the world, while creating very serious issues as well. Perhaps one of the most common of these negative issues is Internet Addiction Disorder, or IAD. Doctors Aviv Weinstein and Michel Lejoyeux define Internet addiction as being “characterized by excessive or poorly controlled preoccupations, urges or behaviors regarding Internet use that lead to impairment or distress (Weinstein & Lejoyeux, 2010).
One of the reasons this disorder is so prevalent, is the fact that it encompasses a large number of online activities which can lead to it. For example, one of the most common causes of this disorder is pornography addiction. This can often lead to other problems, such as negative marital relationships or sexual addiction. Other addictions caused by or related to IAD include gambling addiction, gaming addiction, online relationships, overuse of social networking, and others.
Currently, Internet addiction is not a medically recognized disorder, so diagnosis can often be difficult.
This is because it is often unknown whether Internet addiction is being caused by something else. Many medical professionals believe that Internet addiction should be considered a bonafide disorder, but arguments over causality have prevented it from being recognized as a stand-alone condition (Weinstein & Lejoyeux, 2010). Regardless of the way it is perceived, Internet addiction has obvious negative effects on the people experiencing it, but treatment is possible. Since the disorder is not officially recognized, diagnosis is often subjective.
However, an article in a 2010 issue of the journal Addiction proposes a diagnostic criteria for IAD. Based on clinical experience and surveys, eight primary symptoms of IAD were determined. These symptoms are shown in the following list, taken from Addiction: 1. Preoccupation: a strong desire for the internet. Thinking about previous online activity or anticipation of the next online session. Internet use is the dominant activity in daily life 2. Withdrawal: manifested by a dysphoric mood, anxiety, irritability and boredom after several days without internet activity 3.
Tolerance: marked increase in internet use required to achieve satisfaction 4. Difficult to control: persistent desire and/or unsuccessful attempts to control, cut back or discontinue internet useful 5. Disregard of harmful consequences: continued excessive use of internet despite knowledge of having persistent or recurrent physical or psychological problems likely to have been caused or exacerbated by internet use 6. Social communications and interests are lost: loss of interests, previous hobbies, entertainment as a direct result of, and with the exception of, internet use 7.
Alleviation of negative emotions: uses the internet to escape or relieve a dysphoric mood (e. g. feelings of helplessness, guilt, anxiety) 8. Hiding from friends and relatives: deception of actual costs/time of internet involvement to family members, therapist and others The article within the journal details a study involving this diagnosis criteria. 408 patients were admitted to a hospital for pathological Internet use determined by the aforementioned symptoms. One year after being released from the hospital the patients were re-examined, and the vast majority no longer met the criteria for IAD.
However, IAD remained prevalent in a very small number of patients, most of whom suffered from another psychotic disorder such as personality disorder or schizophrenia (Tao, Huang, Wang, Zhang, Zhang, & Li, 2010). With this study in mind, it becomes hard to deny that IAD is an actual condition. However, it is often difficult to determine whether someone is truly suffering from IAD. The previous list of symptoms was determined by a group of medical professionals in China, and this criteria may change depending on where subjects are being tested.
For example, criteria for diagnosis may be different in the United States compared to European or Asian countries. There are many test and questionnaires available to take to determine if IAD may be present in an individual, the most commonly used being Young’s Internet Addiction Scale, abbreviated IAT. Others include the Chen Internet Addiction Scale (CIAS), Compulsive Internet Use Scale (CIUS), and the Problematic Internet Use Questionnaire (PIUQ). These tests attempt to determine symptoms of Internet addiction and their relation to psychological and social health.
These tests, however, are not always accurate. Problems that can occur with any test or questionnaire come into play when using this method, such as dishonesty, misunderstanding the question, or poorly worded questions. One of the criticisms of these tests is that some questions do not relate to addiction, and therefore should not be used in the determination of IAD. It often becomes difficult to determine what Internet addiction truly is in these cases, as an individual may exhibit addictive behavior towards one specific activity (i. . pornography, gaming) and not any others (Weinstein & Lejoyeux, 2010). The fact that IAD encompasses these different addictions, such as pornography addiction, gaming addiction, social networking addiction, etc. , gives more fuel to the argument that IAD may not be a stand-alone disorder, but rather a general term to describe one or more of these. However, simple web surfing often evolves into an addictive behavior which is recognized under IAD, and this activity can only be classified under IAD.
Though sharing similarities with what we may consider typical addictions, such as drug and alcohol addiction, IAD is actually quite different in that it takes place entirely within the mind. Physical problems can arise out of IAD, but the disorder itself does not include actual physical addiction. The question of why IAD occurs then arises. Like any other addiction, certain people may be predisposed to experience IAD. For example, many dispositions for addiction are genetic, others are born out of childhood trauma.
If a person is predisposed, or likely to develop addiction (regardless of what kind), the chance of IAD is present. The chance for addiction relies entirely on the person and a combination of stressors. If the stressors trigger at a specific time in a persons life, while the activity is occurring, the behavior may become addictive. In this case, if the Internet is being used as a release when the stressors trigger, online activity may increase which, in turn, has the chance to evolve into IAD (Ferris, 1996).
IAD shares similarities with other addictions, especially on a behavioral level. The Internet, in this case, becomes an escape, or a way to alter one’s mood by rejecting the real world. The Internet allows the individual to experience a temporary high, in a sense, by allowing reinforcement for desired and often unnatural for the person experiencing it. For example, a person who is shy may exhibit a very extraverted personality on the Internet in order to meet others. They are able to become someone different, possibly with traits they wish they had themselves.
This experience is often very rewarding for these individuals, as they may be accepted online in ways they are not in real life. This can lead to overuse of the Internet, which can lead to IAD, in which the individual always wants to be online, or experience life as their online self constantly (Duran, 2003). This phenomenon of identifying with an online personality exists heavily within the areas of online gaming addiction and online dating. Online gaming addiction, when related to IAD, usually involves games known as Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games, or MMORPGs.
Within these kinds of games, players create a character which will exist in an online world, which often shares very major similarities with the real world. For example, MMORPGs such as World of Warcraft, Rift, and EVE Online all boast their own in-game economic system involving banks, stores, and other financial services. Players can interact with each other, chat, and complete quests together, among other things. The relationships experienced in these online worlds often take the place of relationships in the real world, which can cause the individual to become anti-social.
The identification of an individual with an in-game character is definitely a large factor in gaming addiction. MMOPRGs usually allow for a character to constantly progress, and this progress almost never yields a real world reward, only in-game. For someone experiencing IAD, this can cause them to lose touch with reality, in a sense. This can cause in-game excitement as well as in-game frustration to be exhibited as real world emotion (Smahel, Blinka, & Ledabyl, 2008). Other MMORPGs, such as Second Life, focus more on the player to player relationships than the aspect of gameplay.
Rather than presenting the player with quests to complete or objectives to accomplish, Second Life introduces the player to a virtual world where almost anything can occur, just as it would in real life. Players create and customize an avatar, and are then plunged into what is literally a virtual life, which they can live in any way they see fit. This can include attending school in the game, getting married, buying a house, and having a job and going to work. The similarities with reality are much more prevalent and noticeable than in games like World of Warcraft.
One of the major links between Second Life and the real world is the fact that Second Life often requires you to use real money to buy in-game items. For persons experiencing IAD, this can become a major problem. The fact that real money can be transferred between individuals in this virtual world adds a very addictive factor to the game that other MMORPGs do not exhibit. Not only can you spend money, you can also make it. This causes many people to become extremely absorbed in their literal “second life” on the Internet, which allows for very addictive behavior (Suler, 2007)
This ability to essentially become whoever you want online plays a role in online dating as well. The aspect of anonymity empowers many individuals to do or say things online they would not feel comfortable with in real life. The anonymous nature of many online relationships can become addicting for many people because of this. Cyberpsychologist Mark Griffiths comments on this, stating “People behave differently online. Work on online relationships has shown that people fall in love more quickly than they do offline. There’s the ‘strangers on a train’ effect – people feel anonymous, which is disinhibiting. This, plus the fact that the Internet is constantly available, makes IAD a very real possibility for individuals in these situations. Griffiths also comments on online gambling, though he believes that the true addiction here is solely gambling, and that the behavior would most likely occur offline as well. Internet addiction involves actions that only take place online, such as chatroom addiction and online gaming addiction. For the gambler, the Internet simply intensifies the addiction which is already taking place (Newman, 2008).
IAD, like any other dangerous addictive behavior, can lead to many other disorders and negative behaviors. One of the most common negative aspects of IAD is its effect on personal relationships. Studies have shown that many people who are timid, have poor social skills, or already experience anxiety within interpersonal relationships may be attracted to relationships on the Internet. It is also believed that almost every addiction can be traced back to problems during an individual’s childhood. In a 2007 article in the journal CyberPsychology & Behavior, parent-child relationships are discussed as being correlated to IAD.
In short, negative parent-child relationships beginning at a young age often evolve into negative interpersonal relationships as the child gets older. These negative interpersonal relationships can then lead directly to Internet addiction, but other times move on to social anxiety in the real world before leading to Internet addiction. The following graph illustrates this theory: Conversely, we can assume that positive parent-child relationships most often lead to more successful interpersonal relationships after adolescence.
Individuals are, therefore, less likely to experience social anxiety and develop addictions such as IAD. As individuals progress through adolescence and early adulthood, the effects of past and current negative relationships may become more apparent. Many studies have found that university students often exhibit high levels of social anxiety, and may use the Internet as a way to escape their psychological fears in the real world. These students are more likely to develop online relationships, whether platonic or romantic, due to the anonymity it allows.
Suler, who has studied IAD and online relationships in Second Life, and Young, who developed the Internet Addiction Scale, are professionals on IAD that have concluded that addiction to the Internet is a reaction to poor adaptation in the real world (Liu & Kuo, 2007). Emotional abuse and physical abuse have been shown to be risk factors of IAD as well. A 2009 study surveyed 3769 students through an anonymous questionnaire, which included questions from Young’s Internet Addiction Scale, among others. Of these, 81. % showed a presence of emotional abuse, and 55. 1% showed a presence of physical abuse. The study concluded that moderate and severe physical abuse may be risk factors of IAD (Zhang, Hao, Yang, Zhang, Sun, Hu, Ye, & Tao, 2008). Despite the amount of research and information available on IAD, there are still plenty of researchers and medical professionals who do not consider IAD to be an accepted form of addiction or disorder. Most professionals recognize an addiction or disorder once it is published by the American
Psychiatric Association in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, otherwise known as the DSM. One broad definition of IAD is “the inability of individuals to control their internet use, resulting in marked distress and/or functional impairment in daily life. ” A large number of professionals accept this, and conclude that IAD seems to be on par with other disorders, and is comparable to other addictions, such as drug or alcohol addiction. Even symptoms of tolerance and withdrawal have been observed in individuals with IAD, very similar to individuals with a drug addiction.
Dysphoric mood, irritability, anxiety, anger, and aggression have all been documented behaviors by those suffering from IAD and experiencing Internet withdrawal. However, the same physiological symptoms of drug withdrawal have not been documented in cases of Internet withdrawal. Professionals therefore cannot say that Internet withdrawal is comparable to drug withdrawal, because data has not yet presented to prove that the same nervous functions occur in Internet withdrawal, which would stipulate that true withdrawal was occurring.
The same can be said for tolerance. No data has been presented to prove that an increase in intensity and frequency of Internet use generates tolerance in the same way certain drugs do. It is, therefore, assumed that withdrawal and tolerance, in the context of IAD, are figurative terms, or being used to best describe a patients symptoms. The fact that there is no true diagnosis for IAD calls into question whether it can be considered a disorder at all. Most patients diagnosed with IAD have some other form of disorder already present.
In a study using Young’s Internet Addiction Scale, JH Ha found that of twelve adolescents experiencing IAD, three were suffering from a major depressive disorder, one was suffering from schizophrenia, and another suffering from obsessive compulsive disorder. The fact that other disorders such as these arise so often makes it difficult to determine the causality of IAD. This also gives strength to the argument that IAD may simply be a symptom or sign of some other mental or personality disorder (Pies, 2009)
Regardless of whether IAD is medically recognized by professionals, treatment is available for those experiencing IAD. The main approach to treatment of IAD is an intervention process, similar to an intervention involving drug addiction. Currently there are no other evidence-based medical treatments for IAD. Also, studies show that behavior therapy has also been successful in treating patients with IAD. Self help books and family therapy sessions are also option which may prove successful.
In some cases, banning the individual from computer or Internet access entirely may be the best option (Weinstein & Lejoyeux, 2010). Though the subject is much debated, it’s obvious that the Internet allows various psychological issues to manifest. IAD may not yet be considered a disorder on par with other addictions, but the dangers to health, social relationships, and self esteem that occur from IAD remain as very serious problems which need to be addressed. Like any addiction or disorder, IAD need to be recognized in its early stages, and steps towards prevention need to be taken.
As cases of IAD continue to surface, research into causality, symptoms, prevention, and treatment will bring forth more concrete evidence in favor of or in opposition to the determination of IAD as a recognized disorder. For now, we can remain uncertain as to what causes IAD, whether it be negative childhood relationships, low self esteem, or intense social anxiety. We can, however, be sure that the technological advances involving the Internet will continue to produce a shockingly large number of negative effects on the psychological and social aspects of the human mind.
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