2018-02-04 / Insight

Experts: Internet addiction is very real

BY ANDREW DIETDERICH
810-452-2609 • adietderich@mihomepaper.com

LAPEER COUNTY — While technology has no doubt become a big part of our lives these days, for some it’s become problematic.

That’s according to mental health experts who say that problems like internet, gaming, and social media addiction are very real. In fact, “Internet Addiction Disorder” is a term being increasingly used to describe issues generally related to tech addiction.

And we’re only using tech more and more.

The American Psychiatric Association says the number of people in the U.S. spending more than 20 hours a week on the internet nearly doubled between 2008 and 2015 to more than 43 million.

A study from Pew Research found that more than 50 percent of 13 to 17 year-olds go online several times a day and nearly a quarter are online “almost constantly.”

Nearly 60 percent of parents think their teens are addicted to mobile devices according to a recent survey by Common Sense, a parent advocacy group.

Still, The County Press could not find anyone in the immediate coverage area who deals with tech-addiction. Calls made to experts purporting to specialize in addiction and behavioral health matters went unreturned.

But other experts in southeast Michigan were able to provide insight into identification and treatment of the issue.

“Internet addiction in children and adolescents is a growing problem and part of our culture. The internet is a wonderful servant, but a cruel and crippling master,” said Dr. David Rosenberg, chair of psychiatry and behavioral neurosciences, Wayne State University School of Medicine.

Rosenberg was featured on an episode of ABC-TV’s “20/20” in May 2017.

“There is some debate in the field about whether internet addiction is real addiction or pathology. We contend it exists, and it can devastate children and their families,” Rosenberg said.

“But there are differences — as well as similarities — with other addictive behavior, and you can’t just stop with a diagnosis of internet addiction, since there are always underlying conditions that must be aggressively diagnosed and treated for the long-term benefit of the internet addiction.”

Using equipment like MRI machines, Rosenberg said his department has found brain abnormalities and changes observed in the brain after digital fasts.

A digital fast, also known as a digital detox or unplugging, is when an individual voluntarily stops using all connected devices such as smartphones, tablets and computers for a specific period of time. Preliminary studies suggest that brain abnormalities may normalize with a digital fast, but those normalizations may not persist if the individual’s environment does not change. This includes the continuation of possible family behaviors that may enable internet excess.

In short, people get addicted to tech for some reason.

“It is not an isolated phenomenon. There are always associated and underlying conditions, such as depression, poor self-esteem, poor impulse control, anxiety, obsessive compulsive behaviors and chronic pain,” he said.

Troy-based Perspectives of Troy, a counseling center, also says on its blog that “Internet addiction is a real problem, one that is often overlooked in addiction counseling programs. Social media, online video sites, forums, discussion boards, and the like are all a potential source of addiction.”

If your time online is interfering with your life as a whole, Perspectives of Troy says these tips may help:

• Identify the most addictive element of the internet. In most cases, the internet itself is not a problem — it’s a specific website or set of websites that are addictive. For instance, you may find yourself going on Facebook or YouTube at work, even though it is against company policy. You may also be addicted to a photo or story sharing site, like Reddit or Imgur. Whatever the case may be, you need to know what is triggering your internet addiction. That is the only way to recover from it.

• Block those websites on select devices. Once you know what websites you are most addicted to, block them on certain devices. For example, you may delete the Facebook app from your phone and block the site on your work computer. Then the only way you can access Facebook is from your home computer. You may need to block them altogether, depending on how significant your addiction is. You can slowly incorporate them back into your life once the addiction subsides.

• Schedule your internet time. Instead of going online “whenever,” create a schedule for yourself. Only get on the internet for 30 minutes in the morning and an hour at night, well before your bedtime. If need be, you can set a timer for yourself to remind you when to get off the internet. Once your time is up, find a different task to occupy your mind.

• Find new ways to socialize. One of the biggest driving factors of internet addiction is the desire to socialize. Find a club or organization to get involved with, and start interacting with people in person. The modern age is filled with addictive electronics that pull our attention away from reality. You may be surprised by how little you crave the internet once you find a suitable substitute for your attention.

• Work with an addiction counselor.

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