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Computer/Internet Addiction: Is It A Habit Or Addiction? Types, Causes, Diagnosis And Treatments

Computer/Internet addiction is characterised by compulsive use of computers or internet harming an individual's personal, social and occupational life. The addiction is not only limited to computers, but, excessive use of other electronic devices like mobile phones and tablets.

Internet is the requirement of the time. Controlled use of computer or internet is beneficial in many ways. However, it becomes an addiction when people lose control and start using them all time for playing games, surfing social media or other unnecessary tasks. Computer addiction is common in youngsters and children. A research says that one out of every four children is addicted to the condition. Let's know more about this ignored but a serious psychological condition.

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Types Of Computer/Internet Addictions

There are several types of computer/internet addictions (CIA). Common forms include:

  • Cybersex addiction: Spending too much time on porn websites.
  • Online relationship addiction: Too much involved in finding and maintaining relationships online that people often forget to care for their real-life families or loved ones.
  • Compulsion: Spending too much time on online-based gaming, gambling, shopping websites and auctions.
  • Compulsive information seeking: It's actually a good habit to look for knowledge online. But sometimes this habit becomes an obsession for the user. It affects work productivity and also leads to less bonding with loved ones.
  • Gaming addiction: It is also known as offline computer addiction. People (especially children) are more prone to this type of addiction. They spend a lot of time playing games, thus hampering their studies and health.

Causes Of Computer/Internet Addiction

There are no specific reasons that cause the CIA. Researchers believe that a combination of factors causes this addiction type. Common factors include:

  • Psychiatric disorders: In a study, the CIA was found to be highly associated with psychiatric disorders such as low self-esteem, social phobia, anxiety, depression and mood disorders. [1]
  • Structural and Chemical deformity in the brain: In a study, neuroimaging of CIA patients was carried out. It was found that the brain region involved in decision-making, memory, task prioritisation, emotion, empathy, impulse control and other cognitive functions have decreased grey matter and reduced cortical thickness.
  • In short, people with CIA often find using internet pleasurable. So, whenever they get indulged in a computer or internet, their brain releases dopamine (a happy hormone). Soon, they get dependent on this hormone for happiness which leads to addiction.

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Confused Between Habit And Addiction?

Most of them are in doubt whether they have a habit of browsing the internet or addicted to it. Well, there's a thin line between the two of them. Using computer/internet is a habit when you use them for a limited time just for some meaningful purposes. It is an addiction when you prioritise its usage above all your other tasks, family members and official works. When you are addicted, you feel that you are doing wrong by using them excessively and they are also affecting your personal and social life but still unable to stop.

Note: If you want to find out whether you have a habit or addiction to computer/internet, keep your computer or mobile phones aside for half an hour and focus on other works. If you find yourself holding them back within the limited time, you are close to addiction or addicted. If not, you are on the safe side.

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Symptoms Of Computer/Internet Addiction

Common symptoms of CIA include:

  • Mood swings
  • Unable to limit your time online
  • Extremely worried about what's happening online when you are offline.
  • Social withdrawal
  • Depression and anxiety
  • Reduced focus on studies or official tasks.
  • Great pleasure while using a computer or internet
  • Isolation
  • Boredom with routine works
  • Inability to prioritise tasks
  • No sense of time
  • Physical symptoms include:


Risk Factors Of Computer/Internet Addiction

People who are at increased risk of the CIA are found to be mostly lonely, stressed or anxious. The list also includes people who have social phobia or have difficulties in making relationships. These people tend to seek escape on the internet and get addicted. [2]


Complications Of Computer/Internet Addiction

Too much of computer/internet usage can lead to complications such as:

  • Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) [3]
  • Relationships, academic and occupational problems
  • Depressive disorders
  • Psychiatric behaviours
  • Other addictions like drug abuse or alcoholism
  • Social isolation

Diagnosis Of Computer/Internet Addiction

Diagnosing CIA is still a controversial issue. Many researchers believe that addiction is related only to physical substances (drugs, alcohol) which are ingested. However, many believe that it is a pattern of behaviours that are defined as an addiction.

Also, there are no criteria set for the CIA on the scale of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders as it not yet regarded as a psychological condition. However, the increased cases in the recent decade say that in the future it may be called a legitimate impulse control disorder. [4]

As the CIA is accompanied by other mental disorders like anxiety, depression or binge eating, these factors are measured on a scale and only after proper evaluation of clinical results, habits, behaviours and discussion with experts, the CIA is concluded.

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Treatment Of Computer/Internet Addiction

If medical experts find a wide range of CIA symptoms in a person, they mainly focus on treating underlying conditions such as anxiety or ADHD that have led the person to this addiction. Common treatment methods include: [5]

  • Medications:Like anti-anxiety and anti-depressant.
  • Psychological treatments: Like art therapy, behavioural modification, family therapy or recreational therapy.

How To Help Someone With The Condition

  • Reach out to them and let them know your care and support.
  • Communicate with them about their problems.
  • Indulge them in other activities like cooking, gardening, social works or art.
  • Make them feel understood.
  • Pet therapy (involve them in pet care).
  • Reach out to local communities or support groups.

Common FAQs

1. Is Internet addiction a mental disorder?

Internet/computer addiction is not regarded as a mental disorder yet due to several controversies, but it is considered a form of mental illness due to its psychological symptoms like anxiety, depression and ADHD.

2. Is everyone addicted to the Internet?

The world's population is around 7.2 billion. Studies indicate that out of the total population, around 8.2 per cent are addicted to computer or internet, which is around 590 million people.

Story first published: Saturday, June 13, 2020, 17:07 [IST]