Allegheny College encountered a scheduled wifi network outage in order to complete maintenance on the system last month.
While the exact time and nature of the outages were to be unclear, it was known by students that they would occur sometime between around midnight on March 7 until 6:30 a.m. on March 8.
The unpredictable and large-scale nature of maintenance outages like this, where parts of the campus or even the whole campus can be left without service for hours at a time, provide an opportunity to discuss the emerging field of psychological study into internet addiction, and the effects of withdrawal from service in an increasingly internet-dependent world.
“Problematic computer use is a growing social issue which is being debated worldwide,” the National Library of Medicine stated in its entry on research and practice regarding internet addiction. “Internet Addiction Disorder ruins lives by causing neurological complications, psychological disturbances, and social problems. Surveys in the United States and Europe have indicated alarming prevalence rates between 1.5 and 8.2%.”
The issue of internet addiction has been on psychologists and neuroscientists’ radar for some time now, research into which was pioneered by Kimberly Young in her paper, “Internet addiction: The emergence of a new clinical disorder,” published in 1996.
While China and South Korea already treat IAD as a public health risk and actively fund research and education efforts, the United States government has yet to formally recognize or respond to this issue, according to the NLM.
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders already acknowledged the potential of video game addiction as a stand-alone addictive disorder in its latest edition, DSM-5, published in 2013. Since then there has been continued research into gaming addiction specifically and IAD in general to determine whether they constitute a stand alone disorder.
As described by Matthias Brand, Young and Christian Laier in their paper, “Prefrontal Control and Internet Addiction: A Theoretical Model and Review of Neuropsychological and Neuroimaging Findings,” the early 2000’s came with the introduction of a behavioral model that differentiated between generalized additive internet usage and specific addictive internet usage.
It also argued that the general occurrence is often connected to communication-based applications and that social issues in real life can also heavily contribute to the development of generalized Internet addiction. This may manifest in a mindset that relies on utilizing internet usage as a distraction from other issues.
There is evidence to suggest that general use of the internet, especially in relation to communicative platforms like social media, can lead to an addiction that develops as a result of real life psychological or social issues.
In his editorial in the American Journal of Psychiatry regarding internet addiction, Jerald Bock describes how an IAD diagnosis is accompanied by other DSM-IV diagnosis, that is to say other mental disorders, 86% of the time. Common companions are anxiety or depression, and also especially socially impactive disorders like ADHD or ASD.
This shows that preexisting mental health struggles can be closely tied to increasing or even addictive internet use, as a means to escape negative elements in one’s offline life, diverging oneself socially and physically from that life and becoming dependent on maintaining relationships and human contact solely online, making withdrawal an even more complicated issue.
According to research in the Journal of Psychiatry Investigation, withdrawal symptoms in individuals with IAD can range from common addiction withdrawal symptoms such as “irritability and agitation” to “full-blown psychotic episodes.”
The field of study around internet addiction is relatively young, only around 20 years old, coinciding with the emergence of the internet in the 80s, and its rapidly growing user base by the turn of the century. Research and analysis surrounding symptoms, diagnosis and withdrawal are still emerging, and there is yet to be a clear scientific consensus on the exact nature and effect of the internet on our mental health.
What is clear however, is that internet-related mental health concerns are on the rise.
In a brief report published as part of the Wiley Public Health Emergency COVID-19 initiative, scientists led by Dr. Yan Sun presented statistical evidence that addictive internet and substance use had increased during the COVID-19 pandemic in China. In a post-pandemic world, researchers have yet to find whether our new normal will bring along with it an increase in dependability on and addictive behavior relating to the online life we were often relegated to during the pandemic.