When you think of addiction, your thoughts might not immediately gravitate toward cyber addiction. While most of us are avid users of cyber technology, many of us are also easily able to disengage from the web and lead functional lives in the outside world. However, that is not the case for everyone. Cyber addiction is real and impacts many lives. It can be difficult to treat, but there are forms of therapy that have proven successful in helping individuals overcome their addiction.
What Is Cyber Addiction?
Cyber addiction (which is also referred to as Internet Addiction Disorder or IAD for short) is an impulse control disorder in which the individual struggles to disengage themselves from using the Internet in a pathological manner. Many of their relationships will be exclusively or almost exclusively held online through social media, e-mail, chat rooms, and even dating websites. All of these virtual landscapes offer the individual a sense of community and belonging that they might not feel they get in the outside world.
It is estimated that about 8.2% of the total population in Europe and the United States is addicted to the Internet. In fact, some studies put this number as high as 18.5% in certain locations. As the size of the Internet expands by at least 25% on a three-month basis, so, too, does the number of those who become addicted. One study even showed that 13.5% of responders would struggle to be away from the web for more than a few days.
The result tends to end up being that the individual’s interpersonal relationships suffer and that the person becomes increasingly isolated within their home. They risk losing their careers, doing poorly in school, and losing out on major life opportunities.
Symptoms of Cyber Addiction
The most telling sign of cyber addiction is, of course, a person’s inability to disconnect from the Internet. Aside from this undeniable preoccupation with being online, someone with a cyber addiction might also display the following behaviors and attitudes:
- Using the Internet more frequently over time in order to gain a sense of fulfillment;
- Multiple and/or failed attempts to stop going online or to cut down on time spent online;
- Going online as a way to improve one’s mood or as a means of escaping from their reality;
- Feeling agitated, restless, or depressed when unable to get online;
- Attempting to lie or conceal how much time they spend online and/or the activities they engage in online;
- Remaining online for longer than they had intended;
- Risking the loss of relationships, careers, and educational standing and/or opportunities to be online.
It is important to remember that not everyone with a cyber addiction will experience all of these symptoms. Additionally, this person might create several online personas or not accurately represent themselves online. They might appear to have low self-esteem or a dwindling sense of self-worth and strive to build themselves up online versus doing so in reality, where they tend to feel disempowered and less anonymous.
Causes of Cyber Addiction
As with any other addiction, cyber addiction does not have one known root cause. Those who are already suffering from symptoms of serious mental disorders like anxiety and depression appear to be the most likely to experience cyber addiction. Many who have a cyber addiction also have a co-occurring or previous history of other addictions, such as drugs, alcohol, sex, and/or gambling. However, not all who experience cyber addiction have any history of other addictive behaviors.
Other Issues Related to Cyber Addiction
Who is at the greatest risk of developing a cyber addiction? Studies are finding that the most vulnerable population seems to be adults between 25 and 65 years of age and that the likelihood of addiction increases with age. Women are considered to be more likely to admit to having a cyber addiction than men, and roughly 1 in 8 Americans actually has a cyber addiction. This number might actually be growing with the expansion of the Internet. In particular, online gambling and online sex addictions seem to be the most commonly-displayed cyber addiction behaviors.
Cyber Addiction Treatment Options
As with other forms of addiction, treatment is available for those who are addicted to the Internet. Psychotherapy techniques, such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), appear to be fairly successful at treating symptoms of addiction. In this form of therapy, the counselor helps the client identify harmful and inaccurate thoughts that lead to emotions that prompt engagement in addictive behaviors. The counselor and client work together to identify positive and realistic thoughts that can be inserted in place of the negative ones.
Additionally, cyber addicts can do some self-care at home. This might include meditating, practicing yoga, engaging in non-computer-based hobbies, and spending time with loved ones. It is crucial that the individual has the support of their loved ones before, during, and after they have gone through treatment.
Cyber Addiction Examples
Since we live in the Digital Age, there are plenty of Internet addiction examples to be found. Even minor cases of it abound. One of the most prominent is that of musician and actor Ed Sheeran. In 2017, Sheeran landed a coveted guest role on the hit HBO show Game of Thrones. Prior to this, Sheeran was known to frequent social media websites and described himself as having “seen the world through a screen.” After the episode of Game of Thrones aired, Sheeran received a lot of negative feedback from the show’s fans on Twitter. This led Sheeran to identify his former dependence on social media and temporarily leave his accounts.
While Sheeran was able to recognize that he needed to scale back on his Internet usage, other individuals will struggle to do so. This is why it is crucial to seek counseling. As Ed Sheeran shows us, there is no shame in admitting that you have an addiction. Proper treatment is out there, and having the support of loved ones can make a world of difference in overcoming Internet addiction.