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Are You Addicted to the Internet?

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Addiction is commonly associated with drugs, alcohol, nicotine and gambling, but did you know that internet addiction can be equally damaging?

Internet addiction is closely connected to anxiety and can often lead to depression and isolation. Consultant Psychiatrist and Group Medical adviser for UK Addiction Treatment Centres (UKAT) Dr Mateen Durrani, based at Sanctuary Lodge in Halstead, Essex explains how to identify internet addiction and what can be done to treat it.

Dr Durrani said, ‘Internet addiction disorder, more commonly called problematic internet use (PIU), refers to excessive internet use that interferes with daily life. The science behind internet addiction is relatively new. There is some debate over whether compulsive internet usage constitutes addiction. Most psychiatrists and addiction experts recognise that people engage in internet use compulsively. The two areas where this is most common are social media use and online role-playing games.’

A survey by Statista, a US based statistics agency, has disclosed in February 2017 that 47% of UK adults used social media every day in 2016. Another report, by Tech Addiction and OnlineSchools.org, showed that 48% of 18 to 34 year olds check Facebook as soon as they wake up

There is some debate over whether compulsive internet usage constitutes addiction.

Dr Durrani added, ‘Whether you use the term addicted or not, it is clear that online behaviour can control people’s lives. This is very harmful on a psychological and emotional level. It can be harmful physically as well if the internet user neglects hygiene, diet and general health.

‘The person on the road to internet addiction is someone who will prefer online activity over most other things. They will lose interest in other hobbies, and social interaction will be put on the back burner. There will be little desire to get out of the house and do things or interact socially with others at a face to face level.’

Dr Durrani added that the visible signs of internet addiction can be:

  • Spending excessive amounts of time online doing tasks that are non-work related
  • Unreasonable anxiety or irritation when internet connections are slow
  • Corresponding anxiety or irritation when internet use is blocked or otherwise unavailable
  • Increasing social isolation in favour of spending time online
  • Poor work or school performance as a result of spending too much time online
  • Increasing anxiety and unexplainable mood swings
  • Lack of interest in interpersonal relationships, especially sexual and marriage

Dr Durrani continues, ‘We treat internet addiction the same way we treat substance use addictions or internet gambling addiction. There is a general consensus among the professionals that, for internet overuse, controlled use is a more practical goal than total abstinence.

After being diagnosed by a specialist, a patient will take part in a course to reduce their time spent online. Internet addicts undergo counselling, therapy and group support, similar to what is used for alcoholism or drug addiction. Unlike alcohol or drugs, the internet is not a tangible thing and cannot be cut off. It surrounds our lives and the recovering addict needs to learn coping strategies.’

Founder of UKAT Eytan Alexander said, ‘Internet addiction is a very real problem. It ruins relationships, drives spouses and partners away, jeopardises financial stability and alters cognitive function. It’s important that people who are showing signs of internet addiction are referred to a specialist.’

Eytan Alexander will be speaking on Tuesday 2 May 2017 at the iCAAD conference held at the Royal Garden Hotel in London from Monday 01 May to Wednesday 03 May. The global event brings together professionals to discuss addiction and other behavioural health issues, incorporating mental and emotional health and well-being.

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