Cyberbullying, sexting, video chatrooms, online predators and Facebook did not exist a generation ago, nor did Internet addiction. The DSM 5, the psychiatric Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders will be updated in 2013 to include the new affliction affecting today’s generation, Internet addiction.
The effect of dopamine on the brain
Other addictions, gambling, smoking, alcohol and drugs have existed for a long time. Anyone that’s suffered from addiction will tell you that it’s not easy to quit. Internet addiction is no exception. The neurotransmitter dopamine is the chemical that is released in the brain that causes an Internet addict to feel a sense of euphoria when they go online. To continue to get this pleasure feeling, they continue to go online. Going online is like getting an electronic high. Dr. Gary Small, a professor of psychiatry says that “Dopamine transmits messages to the brain's pleasure centers causing addicts to want to repeat those addictive actions - over and over again, even if the addict is no longer experiencing the original pleasure and is aware of negative consequence.”
Social networking more difficult to resist than alcohol or cigarettes
If asked, most of us would probably say that alcohol and cigarettes are addictive. How do the desire of alcohol and cigarettes compare to the desire to engage in social networking? Surprisingly “resisting the urge to check social networking sites for updates is more difficult than turning down a drink or the desire for a cigarette,” according to a study from University of Chicago.
This is in line with another study that found one in three women ages 18-34 admitted that “Facebook was their first thought when they woke up and many said they check Facebook before doing anything else in the morning, including going to the bathroom.”
If checking Facebook is so difficult for adults to resist, how can we expect children to resist checking for comments or posts?
Internet doesn’t show obvious harm like drugs or cigarettes
Internet addiction is subtle. Unlike drugs, cigarette smoking or losing all of your money gambling which results in obvious harm, the Internet is viewed as a necessary and largely positive resource. It’s easy to imagine a world without cigarettes. It’s hard to imagine a world without the Internet today. For many people the Internet is as essential to their lives as food. But like food moderation is the key.
It’s hard to get away from the Internet
Unlike some addiction problems where we can separate ourselves from the addiction physically, e.g., those suffering a gambling problem shouldn’t go to Vegas, the Internet is pretty hard to get away from. This is true especially for kids since it’s become ubiquitous in their culture and environment. The offline world and the online world are one and the same to kids.
How is technology consumption is affecting our children?
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, Internet Addiction Disorder affects about 8-12 percent of U.S. children. You might say, "Who cares?" Everyone uses the Internet. The reason you should care is because according to research , the brains of people with Internet addiction are similar to the brains of cocaine and heroine addicts. Brain scans of adolescents addicted to the Internet revealed a decrease in density of the white matter which contains nerve fibers that transmit signals to other parts of the brain. “These changes showed evidence of disrupting pathways related to emotions, decision-making, and self control.”
Depression has also been linked to intense use of the Internet. A study conducted by the Missouri State University on Internet usage of children revealed that 30 percent of the kids that used the Internet the most showed signs of depression.
In addition, in the last decade there has been a 66 percent rise in Attention Deficient Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and now some scientists are questioning whether the increased use of technology is related to this increase. One study showed ADHD was the most significant predictor for the development of Internet addiction. Children exposed to four to six hours a day of technology before they are ten years old have a much shorter attention span at the age of 14. Clearly there is more research to be done in this area.
Addicts need help to stop
Most addicts of all kinds can’t stop with out help and this is also true of Internet addiction. In one case a bright, promising student had to be sent away to rehab, away from all electronic devices, to address his addiction to the online game World of Warcraft.
There are many signs of an unhealthy dependence on computer devices and the internet today such as the average teen that sends 3,700 texts a month. How does he/she have time for anything else? Or it may be more subtle, such as your daughter who is so hooked on Facebook that getting homework done takes a backseat to looking at the latest pics and comments. Sleep, face to face time with friends and family, homework, all suffer because of Internet addiction.
What are the symptoms of Internet addiction disorder?
In order to be diagnosed an individual must have five of the following symptoms:
- Do you feel preoccupied with the Internet (think about previous online activity or anticipate next online session)?
- Do you feel the need to use the Internet with increasing amounts of time in order to achieve satisfaction?
- Have you repeatedly made unsuccessful efforts to control, cut back, or stop Internet use?
- Do you feel restless, moody, depressed, or irritable when attempting to cut down or stop Internet use?
- Do you stay online longer than originally intended?
- Have you jeopardized or risked the loss of significant relationship, job, educational or career opportunity because of the Internet?
- Have you lied to family members, therapist, or others to conceal the extent of involvement with the Internet?
- Do you use the Internet as a way of escaping from problems or of relieving a dysphoric mood (e.g., feelings of helplessness, guilt, anxiety, depression)?
If your child’s Internet use is compulsive, interferes with daily activity, homework, time with friends and family, changes in behavior and restrictions cause severe agitation, seek professional help. There are treatment centers available for those suffering from Internet addiction.
What can parents do to help prevent internet addiction disorder
- Parents are blind to how much teens check social networks. Teens are glued to their computers with 60 percent of social network users checking their accounts daily and 41 percent checking their accounts constantly. Only 48 percent of parents think their teens check their accounts daily, and only 22 percent believe their teens check their accounts constantly.
- Limit the amount of time children can spend online. Are they doing homework or playing games?
- Monitor what your child is doing online and how long they are going online. Make sure your family Internet rules are being followed.
- Monitor night time computer activity when your kids should be sleeping.
- Keep your kids away from especially addictive games like World of Warcraft that draw kids in.
- Kids that are at higher risk for addiction like kids with ADHD, or those with psychological problems should be monitored more closely.
- Make sure your kids are doing other activities outside of the home such as sports, community activities, theater, girl/boyscouts that will allow for face to face time with friends and family.
- Help your child begin a hobby that doesn't involve electronic devices.
- Unplug during dinner time, reading time, family time and vacation time. Kids don’t always know what they’re missing. They think being on Facebook is the be all and end all of life. They really don’t need that computer when they go on a trip to the Carribean or the mountains of Colorado. They need to grow and experience life and the wonderful world they live in.
- Teach your kids about the consequences of Internet addiction and the effect it can have on their brain.