Addiction can occur in many forms, which are typically divided into two categories: substance addiction and behavioral addiction. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines addiction as “a compulsive, chronic, physiological or psychological need for a habit-forming substance, behavior, or activity having harmful physical, psychological, or social effects and typically causing well-defined symptoms (such as anxiety, irritability, tremors, or nausea) upon withdrawal or abstinence.” Internet addiction, also known as Internet addiction disorder, compulsive Internet use, computer addiction, Internet dependence, problematic Internet use and pathological Internet use, is considered a behavioral addiction that is characterized by excessive or poorly controlled preoccupations, urges or behaviors regarding computer use and Internet access leading to impairment or distress.
Internet addiction is not yet an officially recognized mental disorder, therefore it is not listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5). Still, researchers have formulated diagnostic criteria for Internet addiction. Dr. Keith W. Beard published an article in 2005 where he proposed 8 characteristics that describe having an Internet use disorder. If 5 or more of the traits describe the subject, they would be diagnosed with an Internet addiction. These warning signs include:
- Is preoccupied with the Internet (thinks about previous online activity or anticipates next online session).
- Needs to use the Internet with increasing amounts of time to achieve satisfaction.
- Has made unsuccessful efforts to control, cut back, or stop Internet use.
- Has stayed online longer than originally intended.
- Is restless, moody, depressed, or irritable when attempting to cut down or stop Internet use.
- Has jeopardized or risked the loss of a significant relationship, job, or educational or career opportunity because of the Internet.
- Has lied to family members, therapists, or others to conceal the extent of involvement with the Internet.
- Uses the Internet as a way of escaping from problems or of relieving a dysphoric mood (e.g., feelings of helplessness, guilt, anxiety, depression).
2022 PEW Study shared illuminating results that were published during a pandemic when digital communication became more central than ever for teens. Approximately 95% of those surveyed have their own smartphone and 88% have access to a computer at home, and nearly half of teens reported being online almost constantly. The universal increase in technology use among adolescents can make it difficult to distinguish between typical teenage behavior and an indication that something may be awry. Research shows behavioral addictions, such as Internet addiction, mirror substance use addictions in their comorbidity, symptom presentation, neurobiological mechanism, and response to treatment.
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