If a person knows that he or she has difficulty with other forms of addictive behavior, they should be cautious in exploring the types of application that are used on the Internet. In addition, it is important for people to engage in social activities outside the Internet. Finally, mental health workers should investigate ways in which to participate in the implementation of new technology rather than waiting for its aftereffects.
One symptom of Internet addiction is excessive time devoted to Internet use. A person might have difficulty cutting down on his or her online time even when they are threatened with poor grades or loss of a job. There have been cases reported of college students failing courses because they would not take time off from Internet use to attend classes. Other symptoms of addiction may include lack of sleep, fatigue, declining grades or poor job performance, apathy, and racing thoughts. There may also be a decreased investment in social relationships and activities. A person may lie about how much time was spent online or deny that they have a problem. They may be irritable when offline, or angry toward anyone who questions their time on the Internet.
Since Internet addiction disorder is a relatively new phenomenon, there is little research on the effectiveness of treatment procedures. Some professionals advocate abstinence from the Internet. Others argue that it may be unrealistic to have a person completely end all Internet use. As society becomes more and more dependent on computers for business transactions, educational programs, entertainment, and access to information as well as interpersonal communication, it will be difficult for a computer-literate person to avoid using the Internet. Learning how to use the Internet in moderation is often the main objective in therapy, in a way analogous to the way that people with eating disorders need to come to terms with food. Many of the procedures that have been used to treat Internet addiction have been modeled after other addiction treatment programs and support groups.
If a person's Internet addiction disorder has a biological dimension, then such medication as an antidepressant or anti-anxiety drug may help them with these aspects of the addiction. Psychological interventions may include such approaches as changing the environment to alter associations that have been made with Internet use, or decrease the reinforcement received from excessive Internet use. Psychological interventions may also help the person identify thoughts and feelings that trigger their use of the Internet. Interpersonal interventions may include such approaches as social skills training or coaching in communication skills. Family and couple therapy may be indicated if the user is turning to the Internet to escape from problems in these areas of life.
Relapsing into an addictive behavior is common for anyone dealing with addiction disorders. Recognizing and preparing for relapse is often a part of the treatment process. Identifying situations that would trigger excessive Internet use and generating ways to deal with these situations can greatly reduce the possibility of total relapse.
Causes and symptoms
No one knows what causes a person to be addicted to the Internet, but there are several factors that have been proposed as contributing to Internet addiction. One theory concerns the mood-altering potential of behaviors related to process addictions. Just as a person addicted to shopping may feel a "rush" or pleasurable change in mood from the series of actions related to a spending spree— checking one's credit cards, driving to the mall, going into one's favorite store, etc.— the person with an Internet addiction may feel a similar "rush" from booting up their computer and going to their favorite web sites. In other words, some researchers think that there are chemical changes that occur in the body when someone is engaging in an addictive behavior. Furthermore, from a biological standpoint, there may be a combination of genes that make a person more susceptible to addictive behaviors, just as researchers have located genes that affect a person's susceptibility to alcohol.
In addition to having features of a process addiction, Internet use might be reinforced by pleasurable thoughts and feelings that occur while the person is using the Internet. Although researchers in the field of addiction studies question the concept of an "addictive personality" as such, it is possible that someone who has one addiction may be prone to become addicted to other substances or activities, including Internet use. People with such other mental disorders or symptoms as depression, feelings of isolation, stress, or anxiety, may "self-medicate" by using the Internet in the same way that some people use alcohol or drugs of abuse to self-medicate the symptoms of their mental disorder.