Internet addiction disorder

Internet addiction disorder — the Internet overuse which interfere with person’s life and work, and hinders personal development. Internet addiction disorder is most commonly met among the teenagers, but pose hazard to the adults as well.

The origins of the term

In 1995 psychiatrist Ivan Goldberg drew up a questionnaire with a set of diagnostic criteria concerning Internet addiction. For this Goldberg out of mere play adapted the description of pathological gambling for the Internet use. This survey sparked the heated and still ongoing debates among journalists and psychologists, on how to classify Internet addiction, and whether or not it is actually an addiction. Although the term “disorder” is not uncommon in discussions when defining Internet addiction, Internet addiction is not listed in the latest DSM manual on mental disorders (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), unlike the gambling disorder, which is the only behavioural addiction (i.e. non-substance related addiction) included there.

Experts offer other terms to refer to the phenomenon in order to avoid the word “addiction”: problematic Internet use (PIU), compulsive Internet use (CIU), Internet overuse or iDisorder.

The term “Internet addiction” advanced in popularity thanks to American psychologist Kimberly Young, who took great pains to popularize the issue and founded the first specialized center for the treatment of this disorder.

Addiction diagnostics

It is difficult to detect the Internet addiction for the reason that the Internet and the technology are so deeply rooted into our life, that life is virtually impossible without them. The Kimberly Young questionnaire obviously overstates the number of addicts (according to some experts, in three times), because it does not take into account the intermediate stage “Internet overuse”. For instance, the research conducted by psychologist Vladimir Malygin shows that Internet-addicts account only for 4.2 percent of 1000 adolescents, while 30 percent are just overusing the Internet.

The most common approach is the identification of two factors in the Internet addiction concept. The first is the abuse of a particular kind of activity: communication in the Net, news consumption, cybersex, games, etc. This addiction category is a subset of certain types of technology addiction. In the second element of addiction online environment acts as a pathological agent. In this case, it is fair to say that virtual space is addictive itself, regardless of the activity type. This is explained by the special properties of the cyberspace. Psychologist John Suler identifies the following features of the cyberspace:

  • Reduced sensation;
  • social multiplicity and anonymity;
  • time stretching and condensation;
  • de-bordering of the space (irrelevance of geography);
  • unlimited contact accessibility;
  • permanent recordability;
  • alternative and dream worlds.

The most vulnerable to Internet addiction are teenagers between 13 and 14 years. This is due to the fact that in this period teenagers collide with the society and have their body changed, while mental immaturity and inability to handle their emotions pose risks of making a virtual environment too significant. Internet overuse can hamper the emotional sphere development and body awareness, which are crucial to the young organism.

Internet addiction treatment

The main thing to understand in the treatment of Internet addiction is that person does not dive into the Internet just for the sake of it, but escapes from some problems, anxieties, destructive emotions, pain or resentment. Anxiety pushes a person to lose himself in the game or to hide from his own feelings in the information flow.

To start the Internet addiction therapy one should spot the reason person is abusing technologies. Addictive behaviour is a pathological adaptation. The Internet environment is used as a medicine which allows you to relieve the anxiety, tension and circumvent the problems. The following personality traits which can be behind this: anxiety, excitability, demonstrativeness or other disturbances that drive addiction. In other cases, people take their needs into the Internet, where they can get social stroking without being exposed to the risks of real communication.

For example, issues with parents force the teenager to dive into the Internet where he can find a good company. And the desire to hide in computer games can stem from the teenager being treated as an outcast at school.

First of all, psychologist or the person himself should deal with the problem that constantly pushes him to go to the gadgets and abuse the Internet. One more thing to be done alongside is digital literacy improvement, e.g. you should make a new habit of using the Internet efficiently.

Internet addiction experts

Kimberly Young, Mark D. Griffiths, John Suler, John Grohol, Maressa Orzack, Tatiana Bolbot, Lyudmila Yurieva, Vladimir Malygin, Mark Sandomirsky.

Technology addiction

A spacious approach to a problem allows identify another category of addiction — technological addiction to gadgets, mobile communication and cloud-computing services. Obsession with technology started with radio in the 1930s and with television in the 1960s, and has exploded during the current digital age.

Network addiction

Cyberspace can have disruptive influence not only on the teenagers. Adults are also exposed to the risk of Internet addiction. Still, when referring to the emotionally stable and developed individuals, it is more relevant to speak about Network addiction, rather than of the Internet addiction.

Network addiction is defined is the Metcalfe’s law. It states that the value of a telecommunications Network is proportional to the square of the number of connected users of the system. The more you devote, the more difficult it is for you to abandon the lived-in space. If at first participation in the Network is our opportunity, later it becomes our duty. Who defaults on, may find themselves on the margins of the social network world.

Like Theory — describes the desire of social networks users to “like” and get the “likes”. The phenomenon can be explained by the need of stroking in the Internet.

According to the Like Theory, “like” is the easiest way to receive and to express strokes on the Internet.

In psychology “stroking” is the action when person focuses on the partner, and by addressing him indicates that recognize his presence, or his personality. At the same time, partner experiences certain emotions and feelings. Stroke does not necessarily imply a physical touch. Stroke is a smile and a compliment, supportive words and active listening, which emphasize the importance of a person. Another name for the stroke is the “unit of recognition”.

There is an idea that stroking represents a kind of hunger, the same as the food-, water-, air- or warm-hunger. The lack of strokes makes people emotionally vulnerable and susceptible to manipulation.

“A movie actor may require hundreds of strokes each week from anonymous and undifferentiated admirers to keep his spinal cord from shriveling, while a scientist may keep physically and mentally healthy on one stroke a year from a respected master.” Eric Berne, Psychology, Psychotherapy, Psychoanalysis

People, who lack the “strokes”, spend an enormous amount of energy to satisfy their stroke-hunger.

People get “strokes” in different ways. Some become diligent and responsible employees. Others draw attention to themselves, carefully looking after their appearance. Still others write witty status on their social pages, post photos and change profile covers.

Ways of getting strokes

Getting strokes can be “unconditional” — related to what you are, and “conditional” ones which are about what you do.

Conditioned stroking reflex

Social network teach us the principle that love can only be earned. In a social network, you cannot “like” people just for what they are.

To get the “love”, approval and encouragement you need to attract attention, and necessarily to do something for that. Post a funny picture, create an interesting post, share news, change the cover photo, or show new pictures. When the user updates, it is a sign of another user that the first is alive, that it is possible to love him and to interact with him. It is impossible to communicate with users who are on the margins of the news feed. The silence in the Network equals to non-existence.

Social network doesn’t allow to “like” a man just for the fact that this person exists. You can only “like’ the action or feature of a person.

Virtual merits

In the virtual world stroking is an easy game in comparison with that in the material world. Moreover, people feel about the same — it is the recognition of their existence and merits. This gives your mind the signal: you may not take risk and get the effect, comparable to the stroke of a visible partner. Social networking hooks people on the large number of strokes. Simple reading of his posts becomes just not enough for a person. He needs that people mark it off. This thirst causes user to get scattered for the single-point strokes, which he needs in ever-greater numbers and as often as possible. Instead of investing in large projects, user focuses on simple motions which take a lot of effort and attention, but lead nowhere.

Social networks and relationships

People, who have sound relations both in their family and in their personal life, do not desperately need stroking. Moreover, their social networks activity is much lower than of those who have their personal life filled with social networks. However, stroking can be a great incentive for achievements and creativity. This is particularly noticeable when people get attention from people, who are of a paramount importance, but there is no real-life communication with them.


Divide strokes for different actions in order of importance. Photo of a kitten or a post about that you’ve written a new article, can get the same number of “likes”, but for your personality and the future these events are worlds apart. Do not use “likes” or comments as your key indicators. This is a high road for you to dance to the crowd’s tune.

Our most precious, irreplaceable resource is our time. For me personally, books are one of the wisest ways we can invest that time. A book is the direct transfer, mind to mind, of the thoughts of another human being. Today, we are assailed by a thousand distractions every hour, as various sources of information compete for our attention. Those of us who grew up in the pre-Internet era know the slow time experience of immersion in a powerful or moving book. And when we switch our attention to Facebook, or Reddit, or any of a million and one other potential distractions, we are losing our time to an insidious digital addiction.

The shallow accretions of Internet data doses are finely tuned to captivate our attention, titillating our minds with illusory promises of satisfaction which can never be fulfilled except by more of the same, in an endless cycle of meme, news flash and tawdry ‘human interest’ stories, optimized with click-bait headlines. What we gain in content, we lose in meaning.

We are also losing our privacy, our innocence and most importantly, we are losing the ability to think deeply about important subjects. As long as we embrace too-easy gratification, we will continue to remain in thrall to the digital domination of instant information. I am concerned that human beings are subjecting themselves to a new way to trigger neuro-chemical changes in our brains, that may ultimately lead to a decline in the quality of our human relationships.

I therefore advocate and support the message of entering slow time. Take a hike in nature. Disconnect from the constant digital flood. Interact with your friends. Share a meal together. Switch off from every external distraction, and embrace the flow of life beyond the digital fix. Your future may depend upon it.

Paul Gillingwater
Journalist & Filmmaker. Managing Editor at The Local Austria