Internet Addiction

Internet addiction is an excessive or poorly controlled obsession with internet activities. It ultimately has a detriment on daily life, health, and personal relationships. Implications of internet addiction can also extend beyond individual health and can have serious effects on academic performance, job productivity and relationships.

What is internet addiction?

Internet addiction is a condition where individuals engage in compulsive, uncontrollable use of the internet, with serious impacts on everyday life. It can manifest in various ways, including:

The impact of internet addiction on mental health is significant. Research suggests that excessive internet use can lead to mental health problems such as loneliness, depression, anxiety and ADHD. They often come up because the internet ultimately acts as an emotional crutch used to cope with negative feelings in non-productive and unhealthy ways. Some studies have shown that compulsive internet use can lead to structural and functional abnormalities in the brain.

Internet addiction can also disrupt real-life intimacy and relationships, even leading to financial troubles.

The psychological effects of internet addiction mirror other addictions. This includes the way the addiction impacts dopamine and pleasure centres. Eventually, an individual will become accustomed to the internet (tolerance), needing more of it to function (dependence). They will then start to experience withdrawal symptoms when they stop engaging in the behaviour.

Symptoms of internet addiction

Recognising the symptoms of internet addiction is essential for early intervention and treatment.

Psychological symptoms

  • Increasing obsessions with internet use: This is where individuals spend the majority of their time online, usually more than intended. It leads to a neglect of real-life relationships and responsibilities.
  • Mood changes: Irritability, restlessness, or moodiness when they attempt to stop or reduce internet use.
  • Preoccupation with the internet: Ongoing thoughts about online activities dominate your mind.

Behavioural symptoms

  • Failed attempts to control internet use: A lack of self-regulation in regards to internet activities.
  • Lying to others about the extent of their internet use: Avoiding confrontation about usage.
  • Staying online longer than planned: Can lead to serious disruptions in work, academia or daily routines.

Social symptoms

  • Neglect relationships: Especially with family and friends, due to excessive time spent on the internet.
  • Conflicts with loved ones: Especially conflicts about internet use and tendency to use the internet to escape.

Physical symptoms

  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • Decline in physical health
  • Eye strain
  • Back problems
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome

Causes/who is at risk for internet addiction?

There are several key risk factors linked to an increased likelihood of becoming addicted to the internet.

There are 5 key determining factors:


Young people, mainly children, teenagers and young adults, are at a higher risk of developing internet addiction. This is because this demographic is more likely to engage in online gaming, social media, and other digital activities that can become compulsive.

Adolescents and teens, in a crucial stage of developing social and interpersonal skills, may turn to the internet as a primary means of interaction, which can escalate into addictive behaviour.

Mental health and personality traits

Individuals with particular mental health issues like depression, anxiety and ADHD are more likely to develop dependence issues.

Certain personality traits are also likely to lead to a higher risk of developing an internet addiction. These include:

  • Social anxiety
  • Introversion
  • Emotional instability
  • Shyness

Individuals with these traits may find the online environment a more comfortable space for interaction.

Environmental and social factors

Environmental factors also play a serious influence. Examples are:

  • Negative family dynamics
  • Peer influence
  • Lack of parental supervision
  • Poor family relationships
  • High levels of internet access

Stressful life events and coping mechanisms

Individuals experiencing stressful life events or those with ineffective coping mechanisms may be at risk for internet addiction. The internet can provide a temporary escape from real-life problems, leading to excessive use as a form of coping or avoidance.

This reliance on digital spaces for emotional support can become compulsive and interfere with the ability to manage stress healthily.

Genetic and biological factors

Genetic predispositions and abnormalities in brain processes may contribute to the risk of developing internet addiction. Individuals with a personal or family history of addiction are potentially more vulnerable to developing compulsive internet use behaviours.

Treatment for internet addiction

The treatment of internet addiction involves psychological therapy, behavioural interventions, and sometimes medication, depending on the individual’s specific needs and the severity of their condition.

Here are a few examples of psychotherapeutic approaches:

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)

CBT is an extremely effective treatment for this kind of addiction. It helps individuals identify and modify unhealthy behaviours. It aims to develop time management skills, reduce problematic use, and enhance social interactions offline. It also addresses underlying issues such as depression or anxiety.

Family therapy

Family therapy can play a crucial role, especially for teens with internet addiction. This approach involves family members in the treatment process to improve communication and resolve conflicts. It helps the family understand the nature of addiction and how to support the affected member in reducing internet use and engaging in more healthy activities.

Group therapy

Participating in group therapy provides individuals with a supportive environment to share experiences and coping strategies. It helps reduce feelings of isolation and creates a sense of community among those struggling with similar issues. Group sessions can offer practical advice for managing internet use and encourage positive behavioural changes.


Although there’s no specific medication for treating internet addiction, medications may be prescribed to address co-occurring conditions such as depression or anxiety. For instance, antidepressants or anti-anxiety medications can help alleviate symptoms that may drive compulsive use of the internet.

Detox and lifestyle changes

Implementing a digital detox, which involves taking a break from all digital devices for a certain period, can be beneficial. This approach encourages individuals to engage in offline activities, creating healthier habits and reducing dependency on the internet. Lifestyle changes, including regular exercise, healthy eating, and engaging in hobbies, can also support recovery by improving overall well-being.

Self-help strategies

Self-help strategies include setting clear boundaries for internet use, such as limiting the time spent online, avoiding specific triggers that lead to excessive use, and using apps that monitor or restrict internet access. Developing a routine that includes offline activities and purposefully using the internet can help individuals gain control over their internet use.

Ready for help?

Addiction can damage self-esteem and a sense of control. If internet addiction has impacted your past, don’t let it determine your future. Help is available through a number of high-quality facilities in the UK, contact your local addiction specialist today.

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