Internet Addiction: Causes, Signs, Help

Our lives are becoming increasingly dependent on the internet which, despite its many benefits, is an endless source of distraction.

At Game Quitters, we’re often contacted by people who feel like they’re addicted to their smartphone, laptop or games console. But, unlike other addictions such as gambling and drinking, it’s impossible to completely cut the internet out of your life.

However, there are ways to have an intentional rather than compulsive relationship with it. In this article, we look at the signs of internet misuse and how to get a better tech-life balance.

What is internet addiction?

man addicted to screens

Although internet addiction has not yet been officially recognized in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM–5), it’s becoming a public health concern in many countries worldwide. A recent survey of internet users in the US found that 48% of respondents said they were either addicted or somewhat addicted to their digital devices. 1 1. https://www.statista.com/statistics/1343695/us-users-addiction-digital-devices/ ×

So, what is the root cause of internet addiction? No single reason has been identified but there are several factors that can play a role:

What are four causes of internet addiction?

kid sleeping with smartphone

  1. Fear of missing out (FOMO) on anything from world events to friends’ social media posts.
  2. Underlying mental health conditions such as stress, anxiety, and depression. The internet can be used to escape from painful feelings.
  3. Genetic factors – There is increasing evidence that some people are predisposed to developing addictive behaviors 2 2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3480687/ × .
  4. The brain’s reward system – Hours spent on social media, gaming or browsing websites can produce a rush of dopamine (the pleasure hormone) similar to a drug-induced high. Wanting to recreate this intense feeling of reward can make users build up a tolerance, so they need to spend increasing amounts of time online to experience the same effects. This cycle of excessive internet use can become difficult to break, despite the damage it may cause to relationships, responsibilities, and physical and mental health.

What are the five signs of internet addiction?

man addicted to gaming

In our experience, the most common signs of internet addiction are as follows:

  1. Uncontrollable urge to use the internet despite negative repercussions.
  2. Needing to spend more and more time online to feel the same rush of excitement.
  3. Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when online access is restricted, such as feeling restless, irritable, and anxious.
  4. Using the internet to escape from problems in everyday life.
  5. Hiding internet use from other people or lying about how much time is spent online.

Other signs can include waking in the night to check the internet, struggling to focus at school or work, neglecting hobbies you used to enjoy, and trying to cut down on your online activities without success.

Different types of internet addiction

types of internet devices

Some people have the uncontrollable urge to constantly search the internet for news and information, while others can become addicted to a using specific app or engaging in a particular activity. Let’s look at some of the different types of internet addiction:

Video game addiction

Most people play video games for fun, but a small percentage (about 3-4% of gamers) suffer from video game addiction. The World Health Organization calls it ‘gaming disorder’ and describes how those affected are unable to stop playing despite experiencing negative consequences.

Is gaming taking over your life? Take our short video addiction quiz to find out if you meet criteria for problematic use.

Social media addiction

With so many social networking sites available, there can be peer pressure to stay connected and active on multiple platforms. However, social media can become addictive, as users want to keep repeating the ‘high’ they experience from every comment, like, share or follow.

This can manifest as Snapchat addiction, YouTube addiction, Instagram addiction, TikTok addiction or a general social media addiction.

Phone addiction

These days, we use our phone for almost every aspect of our lives – from communication, travel, and entertainment, to shopping and banking. So it’s not surprising that smartphone users engage with their devices every five minutes according to research 3 3. https://www.lse.ac.uk/News/Latest-news-from-LSE/2020/L-December/We-engage-with-our-phones-every-five-minutes-new-study-shows × .

Most of the time our phones are within arm’s reach, which combined with our increasing dependence on them for day-to-day activities, can lead to phone addiction.

Net compulsions

This type of internet addiction is an umbrella term for compulsive habits such as online shopping, gambling, trading, and cybersex such as spending too much time on OnlyFans.

It’s very difficult for those affected to curb their behavior because instant access to the internet means they can indulge in these activities and satisfy their cravings at any time, day or night.

How to stop internet addiction

If you’re concerned about the amount of time you spend online, there are strategies you can use to reduce your internet usage so it is not so compulsive.

These strategies include things like:

  • Recognizing you have a problem
  • Monitoring your internet usage
  • Identifying your triggers
  • Setting time limits
  • Controlling notifications
  • Banning screens from the bedroom
  • Find replacement activities

For a more in-depth guide on the strategies you can use, follow our guide on breaking your internet addiction.

Get help for breaking internet addiction

If you’ve tried to cut down on your internet use without success, we can help.

At Game Quitters, our specialist coaching programs can help you regain balance with technology.

These virtual sessions cover how to take control of your internet use, improve motivation, build healthy digital habits and achieve your goals.

Limited spots are available so we can provide personalized coaching. There’s a separate program for families too.

To find out more about how we can help you, book a Gameplan call today.