Internet addiction refers to unusual internet-related behavior where one spends most of his or her time on the internet affecting his normal functioning. It also leads to a person feeling nervous or emotionally unstable. With the current society having access to the internet all the time, this problem has threatened to tear apart the social customs of different societies as well as affect the psychological wellbeing of many people. As the disorder leads to the victim giving the internet the priority, it adversely affects his or her education as well as productivity for those employed. The affected people can go to an extent of sacrificing everything else just to have ample time on the internet (Beard, 2002, pp. 2-11). This lends them unproductive and cannot be relied on by society.
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Etiology of internet addiction
The problem having been identified recently, there are still no distinct factors that can be referred as to be the main causes of the disorder. However, different factors have been identified to lead to one being addicted to the internet. There is a common belief that the mood-changing feature of behaviors associated with process addiction contributes to a person being addicted to the internet. As a person addicted to smoking may feel pleasure in the entire process of removing a cigarette from the packet, putting it in the mouth, and lighting it, a person addicted to the internet will feel a similar pleasure when he or she switches on the computer, logs to the internet and visits his or her preferred sites on the internet (Kraut et al., 1998, pp. 1017-1031). From the biological point of view, it is believed that there is a certain chemical reaction that takes place in the human body when one is conducting an addictive activity. It is this reaction that makes one always feel attracted to the activity thus resulting in one being addicted. Medical experts also posit that as it was identified in people addicted to alcohol, there is a specific gene in the victim’s body that makes him or her vulnerable to being addicted to the internet.
In addition, the pleasurable thoughts associated with internet browsing can lead to a person being addicted to the internet. A person becomes fascinated when using the internet leading to one getting glued to the internet for a long time. This feeling may lead to one always visiting the internet eventually resulting in addiction. For those found to have been addicted to the internet, they claim that at the beginning, they feel to be nervy for not having experience in operating computers. However, as they progress, they develop the sense of aptitude excitement on realizing that they have developed the skills in operating the computer (Wu & Zhu, 2004, pp. 1363-1364). It is this excitement that leads to one being addicted. Scholars researching addiction posits that a person who is addicted to one thing is vulnerable to being addicted to others. However, it has not been clearly identified whether those addicted to the internet have other forms of addiction. Generally, people with various mental problems such as stress, anxiety, depression or feeling to be isolated may turn to the internet as a remedy. Eventually, these people become addicted to the internet as it is the only place where they find companionship.
Social factors and peer influence is other factors that lead to internet addiction. In the case of families with immense conflict, a person may opt to browse as a way of escaping the conflict. With the internet giving people an opportunity to meet and interact with others, it becomes the sole option for people with no skills in meeting and interacting with others face-to-face. Here a person gets a chance to express his feelings towards the other person online if he or she is not courageous to express them in person when they meet (Zhou et al., 2009, pp. 76-82). Peer influence leads to people getting addicted to the internet. When one perceives that his or her friends are using the internet, he or she also becomes attracted to using it. Availability of online games, chat rooms, and interactive games leads to peers being addicted to the internet.
Internet addiction prevalence
For most of the researches conducted on the rate of internet addiction, it has been found that the rate is between 3% and 10%. However, the current researches being online conducted has been criticized for suffering from the mode used in selecting the investigated units. Asia is one of the continents where internet addiction prevalence has been found to be on the rise. In South Korea, about 30% of the youths which is about 2.4 million youths are vulnerable to internet addiction. This was according to research conducted by Ahn Dong-hyun who is a psychiatrist. China Internet Network Information (CINIC) has also come up with a finding that shows that by the year 2006, more than 123 million people had started using the internet with 14.9% of the population comprising of teenagers (Griffiths, 1997, pp. 71-79). In 2005, it was established that 85% of the crimes committed by teenagers were associated with the internet.
It has been possible to come up with reliable data on internet addiction prevalence in Asian countries as most of the citizens in these countries use cyber cafes. On the other hand, internet addiction prevalence in the United States cannot be effectively accounted for as most internet users do it from their homes. Any move to measure the prevalence of internet addiction in the country is faced with denial and shame leading to researchers not coming up with reliable data. For approximately 86% of the internet addiction cases reported in the United States, the patients show other diagnostic symptoms (Griffiths, 1997, pp. 8-81). This makes it hard to clearly declare that the patient is suffering from internet addiction.
Gender breakdown in internet addiction
There has been a clear gender breakdown with respect to internet addiction. There has been a distinction when it comes to the sites most visited by men and women. For men who are addicted to the internet, they are fond of visiting sites such as those that host online games and gambling. Men have also shown a tendency of visiting pornographic sites on the internet. On the other hand, women have been found to be attracted to social sites (Zhou et al., 2009, p. 83). Most of the women addicted to the internet are found to spend a lot of time visiting sites such as online shopping, chatting sites, MySpace, and other sites that offer social interaction.
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Despite researches asserting that most victims suffering from addiction are found to have more than one form of addiction, it has been found that most of those found suffering from internet addiction have no other form of addiction. Those undergoing psychotherapy treatments have not been found to suffer from other forms of addiction apart from internet addiction.
Effects of internet addiction
There are numerous effects of internet addiction. These include detachment and being unproductive. When one becomes addicted to the internet, he or she spends most of the time surfing. As a result, one gets limited time to attend to other responsibilities both at home and at the workplace. Consequently, one’s productivity goes down. Isolation is another effect of internet addiction. One becomes strongly attached to people he or she relate with online valuing them more than his family members and friends (Dowling & Quirk, 2008, p. 1). Eventually, the relationship one has with people on the World Wide Web replaces his or her relationship with people outside the internet leading the person to be isolated. Such a person does not associate him or herself with others and spends most of the time on the internet.
Internet addiction leads to the development of a sense of guilt among the victims. Whenever a person sits on his or her computer, one feels that whatever he or she is doing is not right. In the process, one starts using the computer in the wee hours when his relations are asleep or when at work. Another shocking effect of internet addiction is the development of poor diet among addicts. Most internet addiction victims are found to skip some meals just to spend more time on the internet while others opt to take their meals at the computer. In the process, they find themselves making a poor selection of their diets. As it is with drug addicts, when drugs are taken away from them, they develop withdrawal symptoms as their body tries to adjust. The same occurs to internet addicts (Hansen, 2002, pp. 232-236). Whenever they do not use the internet, they exhibit withdrawal symptoms where one becomes easily angered, agitated while others may even suffer from depression. One feels to have missed something big in life whenever he or she goes without using the internet.
Failure to act quickly and treat people suffering from internet addiction leads to the victims not being in a position to hold their jobs. For the case of employed people, they find to be restrained on the number of hours they spend on the internet leading to them quitting their jobs. For instance, people have been found to quit jobs in North Korea only to retreat to their houses and stick to the internet. The social relationship of these victims also deteriorates as they opt to segregate themselves. They do not spend most of their time with friends and are always on the internet.
Treatment of internet addiction
Being a new issue, there has not been established an effective method of treating people addicted to the internet. The current methods being used to treat internet addiction are counseling or personal psychotherapy. The available methods of treatment mostly use the cognitive-behavior approach reinforced by bibliotherapy (Beard & Wolf, 2001, pp. 377-383). The method is basically aimed at reducing the tendency of the victim spending most of his or her time on the internet as it is hard to ensure that one abstains from using the internet. In addition, psychosocial measures are taken to address the issues that compelled one to be addicted to the internet.
With the current rate of the shift to technology, there is a high tendency that most people will be addicted to the internet. It has been found that internet addiction results in being poorly productive as well as becoming isolated from society. As the internet provides access to different sites accessed by both men and women, it implies that more people will be vulnerable to internet addiction. This may result in families breaking down as family members neglect their responsibilities. To avoid this, it calls for early use of the available measures of countering addiction as well as educating people on some of the symptoms that may help them realize when they are becoming addicted to the internet thus cutting down on the number of hours they spend on the internet.
- Beard, K. & Wolf, E. (2001). Modification in the Proposed Diagnostic Criteria for Internet Addiction. Cyberpsychology & Behavior, 4 (2), pp. 377-383.
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- Dowling, N. A. & Quirk, K. L. (2008). Screening for Internet Dependence: Do the Proposed Diagnostic Criteria Differentiate Normal from Dependent Internet Use? CyberPsychology & Behavior, 12 (1), p. 1.
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- Wu, H. R. & Zhu, K. J. (2004). Path analysis on related factors causing Internet addiction disorder in college students. Chin J Public Health, 20(1), pp. 1363– 1364.
- Zhou, Y., Lin, F., Du, Y., Qin, L., Zhao, Z., Xu, J. & Lei, H. (2009). Gray matter abnormalities in Internet addiction: A voxel-based morphometry study. European Journal of Radiology. 10(4), pp. 76-83.