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Internet Addiction Explained: Statistics, Signs, and Treatment

Last Updated: March 13, 2024

Authored by Olivier George, Ph.D.

Reviewed by Michael Espelin APRN

Staying glued to a smartphone or other internet-enabled devices for numerous hours at a time does not always indicate an addiction to the internet. However, it is a sign that, along with other signs and symptoms, needs to be monitored carefully.

People living with an addiction to the internet will typically experience tough-to-repress urges to be online all the time, even up to the point where these urges cause stress to the mind and are hard to control. They are warning signs that one could be having an Internet addiction (IA). IA is an increasingly common situation with the advent of new technology all the time, and it is a topic that is continuously being researched for new information. This review takes a closer look at the emerging disorder.

Internet Addiction Disorder: An Overview Of The Condition

It has no apparent cause. Medications and psychological interventions may provide relief.

There has been a debate in the scientific community regarding this condition’s status as a separate disorder. The condition has not yet been officially classified as a disease either by the World Health Organization or The International Classification of Diseases. However, it is worth noting that it has recently been added to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders as a disorder that needs to be researched more. There is also a well-defined disorder that is similar, called the “Problematic Computer Use” which is similar to technology addiction.

Currently, the term Internet Addiction Disorder (IAD) has also started to appear in many scientific studies. Notably, the DSM fifth edition has placed it under the category “condition for further study.” It means future studies will decide if it is a proper disease.

In Different Sources, this Condition Can Also Be Called:

  • Problematic Internet Use (PIU)
  • Computer Addiction
  • Internet Dependence
  • Compulsive Internet Use
  • Pathological Internet Use

Interestingly, the term “Internet Addiction Disorder” was coined ironically by a doctor that did not genuinely believe in the need to classify the condition as a disorder. Dr. Ivan Goldberg was the one who ironically coined this name only to be shocked when people sent in emails attesting to the fact that they were victims of the condition.

Since then, more detailed research has been carried out, and studies proposed to present the facts of the condition in a more well-defined manner.

Internet addicts

Statistics and Insights

The condition is prevalent across most commonly classified age ranges of people, particularly with Generation Z and Millenials. The 18-29 age range contains the demographic of people most often dealing with internet addiction (48%) compared to people aged 65 and above who rarely struggle with the condition (7% occurrence).

Additionally, up to 74% of high-schoolers are dealing with this addiction at various levels, which supports the fact that the issue is more common with the younger generation. However, it is worth noting that only 3.4% of this figure deals with the condition at severe levels.

This suggests that there is a higher chance of being addicted to the internet than the opposite.

As more research is done on the topic, it will be educating to see how much of an impact this disorder has on society overall.

Statistics Among Teens

Teens fall into the “Generation Z” category, and they are typically the most likely demographic of people to get addicted to the internet (over 70% occurrence)

Here are some other interesting statistics to note:

IA frequency rate in thirty-one countries averaged at six percent. Notably, the rate in the US was higher at eight percent. In fact, the spread of IA topped the spreading rate of gambling addiction by a huge margin. This study appeared in CYBERPSYCHOLOGY, BEHAVIOR, AND SOCIAL NETWORKING in 2014. Note that this figure holds true for the general population rather than a particular subgroup like the teens.

The rate of this addiction among teens and youth prevalence in Italy was 0.8%. The Nordic Journal of Psychiatry published this particular finding in 2012.

A study found in Cyberpsychology and Behavior in 2005 noted the rate was shockingly high among the UK students. The addiction for teens and youth in the UK stands at a whopping eighteen percent.

The IA prevalence rate is even higher among high-school students in Hong Kong. A study appearing in the Journal of Pediatric and Adolescent Gynecology published in 2013 found the addiction among teens and youth to be slightly greater than 26.7%.

In China, the IA prevalence stood at 12% for students, 5% for females.

young asian man in headphones with pc computer.

Causes of Internet Addiction Disorder

Addiction, irrespective of the type or nature, is a disorder of complex origin. Pinpointing the cause of abuse may not be possible in each case. Regrettably, things get even more complicated when the addicts do not abuse a substance but an activity.

Nevertheless, scientific studies suggest a combination of factors may play a central role. These include:

Hereditary Factors

Some patients are naturally more inclined to develop an addiction based on their genes. A person with a family history of this type of addiction is more likely to have the same condition than the average person with no such history.

Social and Cultural Factors

These include the availability of the connection at home and in schools or colleges. Easy access promotes a stronger possibility of addiction. Moreover, how well social norms allow such practice may also play an influential role.

Abnormal Level of Brain Chemicals

In fact, this is also the risk factor for a host of other mental illnesses. Certain chemicals in the brain (in this case, dopamine) are triggered when performing pleasurable tasks, of which using the internet can be. When one uses the internet very often, these dopamine levels are raised to a point where any reduction in the amount of time spent on internet usage will affect the person’s mood as the dopamine levels drop back to a point where the brain is no longer accustomed to.

Personality Traits

Traits such as poor self-control or self-image can make a person more likely to get addicted to the internet than the average person.

Teen girl lying on desk using in laptop computer.

Types of Internet Addiction

There are five common types, and they are:

  • Cybersex Addiction
  • Net Compulsions
  • Cyber Relationships Addiction
  • Compulsive Information Seeking
  • Computer or Gaming Addiction

Cybersex Addiction

This type involves pornographic content, adult websites/chat rooms/webcam services, and other similar content consumption. An obsession with these is unhealthy for forming real-life relationships.

Net Compulsions

This includes (but is not limited to) gambling online, compulsive online shopping, trading stocks obsessively, online auctions, etc. When it gets to a point where these activities negatively affect financial stability and well-being, it becomes extremely unhealthy.

Cyber Relationships Addiction

This refers to people obsessed with forming relationships online at the detriment of real-life relationships with friends and family. The obsession will negatively impact social skills offline.

Compulsive Information Seeking

There is a ton of information on the internet, and it is perfectly okay to seek them out. However, when the habit of seeking information online turns into obsessive-compulsive behavior, it becomes an addiction that can be unhealthy for productivity in real life.

Computer or Gaming Addiction

This involves any activities that are carried out with a computer, especially gaming-related activities. Gaming addiction is already classified as a disorder, so this is possibly the most generally accepted representation of internet addiction. It also extends further to offline activities – still carried out with a computer.

Effects of Internet Addiction: Signs And Symptoms

There is a significant difference here. Signs are the features one may notice in the affected person. However, symptoms are subjective experiences of the difficulties during the course of a disease. Thus, to simplify the identification process, some doctors may prefer to separate signs from the symptoms.

Hipster man play game in vr glasses.

Internet Addiction Signs

If one or a loved one shows the following signs, it may be the effects of internet addiction:

  • Spending too much time online without a strong, productive reason is problematic, social networks addiction, for example.
  • Restlessness and aggressiveness, especially when they cannot browse the web
  • Continuous use. That is at least 20 hours without a break. This is common to video game addicts.
  • Attempts at finding excuses for the overuse
  • Impaired ability to complete daily activities
  • Complaints of constant pain in the hands or fingers, back, and eyes. Vision problems may also develop over time
  • Weight and appetite changes
  • Missing social gatherings or limiting communication
  • Overuse affecting academic/job performance, and relationships
  • Defending online activity by lying to loved ones or the therapist

Internet Addiction Symptoms

If one shows any of the following symptoms, it may be as a result of the effects of internet addiction:

  • Inability to control the urges to stay online even when you realize such practice is harmful
  • Failed attempts at curbing excessive use
  • Prioritizing online activity over many other tasks
  • Being unable to track the loss of “online” time
  • The virtual world can connect you to happiness and euphoria. In fact, an anticipation of the use could lift your mood
  • Sleep problems like difficulty falling asleep
  • Psychological symptoms like restlessness, mood swings, and irritability. They may occur when you try to control or stop the use

Do Not Miss These Signs Of An Underlying Mental Illness

IA, in almost every case, is associated with some other well-known mental illnesses. For example, depression and anxiety. On rare occasions, it may also share some links with ADHD.

Thus, it is of paramount importance that you pay attention to the symptoms of these disorders too. In essence, take note of their behavior and mood in addition to the duration of online activity.

Internet Addiction Risk Groups

Anyone who has a web connection may become addicted to it. But certain individuals are more prone to addiction due to their genetics and internal chemical processes inside the brain. Regrettably, you cannot change your genes. Nonetheless, you may modify other socio-cultural risk factors.

Busy parents surfing internet smartphones.

Knowing the risks prepares you to take extra care. That way, you may prevent the problem or take immediate remedial action.

Note if Anyone You Love Falls Under the High-Risk Category:

  • Male gender: Boys typically spend more time on the internet than girls, and as such, may be at greater risk of this addiction. Nonetheless, girls also deserve the same concern.
  • Current or past diagnosis of a mental illness. For example, anxiety and depression. Also, kids with ADHD may be more prone.
  • Psychopathology
  • The poor emotional support system in the family.
  • Personality traits: There is probably a link between this addiction and neuroticism. Neurotic persons have poor self-control, impaired ability to handle stress, and are self-conscious.

Treatment Strategies: How To Stop Internet Addiction?

The rising prevalence of internet addiction disorder worldwide is not a good sign. In fact, it shows one should act now. IA occurs invariably in association with other severe mental disorders. For example, ADHD and depression. So, it may mean the teens and youth may be having other mental health issues too. Studies also suggest that teens and young people with IA may be more aggressive. Conversely, excessive aggression may be a risk factor for IA. In any case, you should go for a psychiatric consultation. Not to forget that the risk is always there even if you do not fall under this age group.

The Shared Goals of Internet Addiction (AI) Treatment Options are to:

  • Reduce cravings
  • Decrease the time spent online
  • Cut down the risk of further complications. For example, suicidal tendencies and degrading mental health
  • Improve other aspects of life such as academic performance, relationships, and social communication
  • Address underlying mental disorders like anxiety, depression, and impulsiveness

What Are The Approaches Of Internet Addiction Treatment?

One can get the best internet addiction treatment at addiction centers. Their team consists of experienced physicians and psychiatrists. Counselors, psychologists, and auxiliary health care professionals are generally employed as well. They all work together to design addiction treatment plans that suit your individual needs. In fact, the treatment facilities provide both medical and psychological support. Thus, one can expect a quicker recovery.

psychologist taking notes.

A combination of medications and psychological measures are common. Also, adopting healthy choices promotes general health. Thus, aiding the other treatments. Most often, rehab professionals recommend the following approaches to treat internet addiction disorder:

The Role Of Medications In Treatment

The US FDA has not approved any drug specifically to treat internet addicts. Clinicians may use medication or a combination of medications. Then, they watch the response. Next, they decide whether to continue prescribing it. If it does not produce the desired effect, they may switch to another medication.

They May Consider Using Any One or a Combination of These Medications:

  • Antidepressants. A class of depression-treating medications known as SSRIs may be useful in improving the symptoms. They treat both anxiety and depression. Thus, they can be a good option for IA.
  • Wellbutrin. Also known as Bupropion, it is an antidepressant that increases the brain’s level of dopamine. So, it may help to cope with the cravings.
  • Methylphenidate. This psychostimulant is useful when the patients have IA and ADHD. In particular, this approach may work better for kids.
  • Antipsychotic medication like Quetiapine. A few studies show this may improve the symptoms.
  • Mood stabilizing medications may help to control mood fluctuations. Considering mood disorders are a risk factor of IA, they may prescribe a mood stabilizer to improve the symptoms.
  • Addiction medication. Naltrexone. Like other types of addiction, this one also influences the brain’s reward system. As a result, being online produces euphoric feelings. Naltrexone helps to curb the euphoria.

Therapeutic Approach Of Treatment

Also called psychotherapy, these procedures do not use pills. Rather they work to correct the behaviors that contribute to addiction. A study published in Clinical Psychology Review suggests CBT is the most effective. Yet, the result of the treatment depends on the individual response. So, what works for another person may not work for others.

  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). In CBT, the therapist teaches patients ways to identify the pattern of thoughts and behaviors. Then, patients can learn to change their problematic behaviors. It improves behavior, self-control, and reduces emotional roller coasters. Besides, it makes the internet addicts more likely to stick to healthy lifestyle measures.
  • Reality Therapy (RT). In RT, patients take part in sessions learning to accept that addiction is an option. Once they realize it, they can better manage their time. That way, they can invest their time in productive activities. Mostly, groups conduct RT.

Multimodel Treatment Approach

This approach involves different treatment programs. For example, medications, psychotherapy, and counseling therapy for family members. All of these may be carried out at the same time or in a sequence.

Lifestyle Measures

Physical exercise boosts the levels of dopamine in the brain. For this reason, it may be an easy and straightforward option. Talk to the doctor if they can issue a sports exercise prescription.

You May Also Try These Exercises Within Your Home:

  • Walking
  • Jogging
  • Jumping Jacks
  • Jump rope
  • Lunges
  • Planks
  • Squats
  • Push-Ups, etc.

How Long Will Treatment Last?

Internet addicts mainly experience psychological problems. So, it is not easy to outline a timeline of the treatment. In fact, your response determines the length of treatment. A study suggests treatments lasting at least eight weeks may be best.

Treatment Strategies That May Work

The effectiveness of these strategies remains doubtful. Nonetheless, one may apply them and see if they work. Also, you do not need a prescription to use any of the following measures.

  • Follow a new daily routine that allocates little time for online activity.
  • Set goals to limit the time of internet use.
  • Join a support group. There you can learn to communicate with other members. Thus, it improves your social skills.
  • Be a part of the family therapy. That way, you may repair the damaged family relations.

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Page Sources

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Published on: June 13th, 2017

Updated on: March 13th, 2024

About Author

Olivier George, Ph.D.

Olivier George is a medical writer and head manager of the rehab center in California. He spends a lot of time in collecting and analyzing the traditional approaches for substance abuse treatment and assessing their efficiency.

Medically Reviewed by

Michael Espelin APRN

8 years of nursing experience in wide variety of behavioral and addition settings that include adult inpatient and outpatient mental health services with substance use disorders, and geriatric long-term care and hospice care.  He has a particular interest in psychopharmacology, nutritional psychiatry, and alternative treatment options involving particular vitamins, dietary supplements, and administering auricular acupuncture.

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