Internet addiction is a worldwide problem and growing every day. With the growth of the internet and effortless access, this addiction is “viral” in its own right. Many internet addicts are teenagers or young adults. In China as many as 15% of youngsters are addicted to this activity. Hong Kong posts disturbing numbers. It is estimated that 40% of the youth population there is addicted! For the U. S., estimates indicate that we have 20 million internet addicts, with the rate going up 25% yearly. According to a University of Maryland study released last year, many college students are addicted to the internet (1).
Internet usage is a strong visual stimulus to the brain. CT Scans of internet gamblers have detected dopamine release similar to that seen in crack addicts. It is reasonable to assume that this condition is mediated through the pleasure center of the brain. Dopamine is the major neurotransmitter involved with the pleasure center. The internet provides not only visual stimulation but tactile and auditory as well. This complex problem undoubtedly involves multiple neurotransmitters and other parts of the brain besides the “pleasure center.”
Current estimates state that being online over 20 hours a week may be considered addiction. This would exclude someone who uses the internet in their work.
Detox, withdrawal and cravings with these persons are a real phenomenon. They believe that the only way they can be “connected” socially or intellectually is when they are online. Depression, anxiety, a feeling of isolation and frustration are common symptoms when addicts cannot access the internet.
The harmful side effects of this problem can be disastrous. Many school-age children neglect their studies, playing internet games or socializing online, undoubtedly contributing to high dropout rates and poor grades. Internet addiction is linked to ADHD and depression in teens (2). Reading comprehension and writing abilities all suffer due to internet abuse/addiction. This problem can damage relationships and families. When one considers online gambling or online pornography, you are looking at a real nightmare. These addictions can result in financial ruin or imprisonment.
Current treatment for this horrible addiction is in the infancy stages and involves behavioral and cognitive approaches. It is believed that the medical community must realize that this serious disorder causes chemical and electrical changes in the brain. There have been studies which have shown that repeated visual images in children can change the anatomy of the brain. Countless hours on the internet undoubtedly change the brain qualitatively and quantitatively.
Counseling is common for this problem and there are support groups available. The medical community has been slow to identify this as an addiction and medical treatment is not typically used for this quandary. Naturally, insurance companies are hesitant to offer any type of coverage to treat this or any other addictive disease.
Alternative medical treatment for internet addiction is a logical approach to this wide-spread problem. There are naturally occurring herbs and supplements that can help to normalize the chemical and electrical changes that take place during ongoing addiction. These natural herbs and supplements are non-addictive and can be taken in the privacy of one’s home, maintaining confidentiality.
This type of treatment should probably continue for at least two years. The majority of individuals with internet addiction were exposed at an early age. The changes this caused in their brain would take a considerable period of time to reverse. The recovering individual would have to be careful with any internet activity during the recovery period.
Any recovery plan should probably include some type of 12-Step Program. The 12-Step Program is a classic venue for behavioral therapy. These programs have been around since 1935 and they work. All of the 12-Step Programs resemble the AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) model. These groups provide needed support and put the recovering person in contact with individuals who have similar problems.
1. Tyger Latham, Psy.D. July 26, 2011. Can You Really Become Addicted to the Internet? 8/5/11. http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/therapy-matters/201107/can-you-really-become-addicted-the-internet
2. Amanda MacMillian. Oct. 05, 2009. Internet Addiction Linked to ADHD, Depression in Teens. CNN Health. 9/4/11. http://www.cnn.com/2009/HEALTH/10/05/depression.adhd.internet.addiction/