Too much time on social media? Can’t stop obsessing over the latest online game? Can’t go more than 5 minutes with a smartphone? In short, is an internet addiction hurting your relationship with your son or daughter? Internet addiction can affect anyone but is especially harmful to teenagers and young adults. In this article, we’ll discuss how to recognize the signs of internet addiction and explore the best internet addiction treatment options.
What is Internet Addiction?
Today computers, phones, and other technological devices are integrated into our everyday life. This article discusses what triggers compulsive behavior, anxiety, depression, and withdrawal symptoms associated with internet addiction, social media addiction, and online gaming. In today’s world, we use the internet for work, school, socializing, and entertainment. It is hard to imagine a world without the internet, especially since its use has increased significantly in the last decade. “Almost 4.57 billion people were active internet users as of April 2020, encompassing 59 percent of the global population.” With this increase in use, there has been an increase in how much we depend on the internet as well. For some, teens and adults, this dependency turns into an addiction. This poses a couple of questions: how do you know when internet use has become a problem? What is internet addiction?
When internet use starts to interfere with everyday life, it is time to reach out for help. Internet addiction can be very upsetting. Especially early in life, it can be detrimental to healthy physical and psychological development.
Symptoms and Causes of Internet Addiction
Internet usage has a strong connection to mental health issues. When you are addicted to the consistent stimulus provided by the internet. This may cause you to experience signs and symptoms of certain mental health issues.
Signs and Symptoms:
The most common signs and symptoms of internet addiction are:
- Excessive time spend online
- Boredom with everyday tasks
- Avoidance behaviors
Other signs and symptoms may include:
- A sense of euphoria when using a computer
- Mood swings
- Trouble with prioritization
- Insomnia or poor sleep
- Poor hygiene
There are many signs and symptoms of the internet, social media, and gaming addiction. Like an impulse control disorder, digital addiction is characterized by problems with focusing and socializing, resulting in the addicted individual socializing far less. Internet use, like other addictions, can also contribute to health conditions including obesity, or insomnia. In particular, teens may feel a lack of self-esteem surrounding identity development. This can result in depression, feelings of loneliness, and shame.
The physical symptoms of teenage internet addiction are much like other types of addiction. Adolescents may experience the onset of depressive symptoms, irritability, and general emotional heaviness when online games, the internet, or social media begin to dominate their lives.
Other physical symptoms associated with internet addiction include:
- Body aches
- Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
- Vision problems
- Weight loss
What are the psychological causes of internet addiction?
Certain mental disorders can make someone more susceptible to the internet, social media, and gaming addictions. Some of these include:
- Impulse-control Disorders (ICD)
- Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
- Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)
- Substance Abuse Disorder
If you or your child has one or more of these disorders, they are considered more susceptible to internet addiction.
What Makes Internet Addiction a Mental Disorder?
Much like other mental health problems, internet addiction can cause mood modifications. Examples include antipathy, agitation, and aggression. Clinical research shows that anxiety, social media use, and poor impulse control are also all closely connected. While many people may not instinctively associate excessive internet use with mental health. The symptoms and treatment are one and the same. It is noteworthy that those struggling with internet addiction may suffer withdrawal symptoms. This can result in emotional troubles during breaks from the internet, social media, and gaming. Again, this closely mirrors the experiences of those with substance abuse disorders. It is crucial to recognize internet addiction for what it is: a mental disorder.
What are the Adverse Effects of Internet Addiction?
For someone who has internet addiction, it affects nearly every aspect of their life. Addiction often leads to depression or feelings of restlessness. It may even render someone unable to work or go to school. Just completing the daily routine may become difficult. It is in these tough times that someone with an addiction may use time online to fill the void. Maladaptive behaviors like constantly checking social networking sites or using a phone or computer to disconnect from the world may be present. Other facets of life may yield less enjoyment.
Relationships with family and friends may suffer due to self-defeating behaviors, including:
- Asserting constant control
- Procrastination of necessary tasks
- Over-dependence on others
This addiction is one to take seriously. Severe emotional and social problems can occur when a person is unable to deal with the urge for the internet or social media. Depression, stress, and even narcissistic traits affect people who refuse to accept the issues surrounding the digital abyss that this addiction has created for them.
Dangers of Teen Internet Addiction
“Screen time replaces the very things we know to be critical to brain development: bonding, movement, eye contact, face-to-face verbal interactions, loving touch, exercise, free play, and exposure to nature and the outdoors. Reduced exposure to these factors negatively impact brain integration, IQ, and resilience in all children.”
Passing too much time interacting with digital media can lead to unhealthy behaviors and compulsivity with internet usage. Here are some warning signs that you should pay attention to.
Warning signs that may indicate a problem:
- Internet use causing strain on relationships
- Internet use causing dysfunction in major areas of life.
Why should parents be concerned about teen internet addiction?
Addicted teens do not experience the same mental and emotional welfare as other teens. This can lead to them withdrawing from ordinary life. Internet addiction can also lead to other problems. The anxiety surrounding internet addiction can motivate addicted teens and children to engage in unsafe compulsive behavior. It is easy for teens and parents to ignore these issues because, after all, internet use is essential. In fact, 95% of teens now report they have a smartphone or access to one. That said, although the world seems to revolve around internet usage, it becomes unhealthy in some cases. If this sounds familiar to your family, it might be time to have a conversation with your child and maybe even consider treatment.
How Can Therapy Support Teens with Internet Addiction Issues?
Internet addiction treatment often focuses on improving the preoccupation caused by internet, gaming, and social media. It is also designed to establish coping mechanisms. Along with promoting good habits and treat co-occurrences like anxiety and depression. Therapy can get to the underlying reasons why the addiction started.
Treating Internet Addiction in Teens
Not every treatment is effective for every child and teen. However, the right internet addiction treatment can help a patient to live life better. It can do this while also reducing at-risk behavior and alleviating emotional distress that it causes. There are many options when it comes to treatment.
- Mental health practitioner – a licensed therapist can provide treatment. This treatment has been proven to be effective in treating addiction. Examples include cognitive behavioral therapy, motivational interviewing, and dialectical behavioral therapy.
- Psychiatrist – can prescribe medication. This medication can treat co-occurring mental health conditions like ADHD, depression, and anxiety.
- Residential Treatment – these are mental health treatment facilities where the patients will live and engage in various therapies. Residential programs are, by definition, inpatient programs. Yet, these programs take place outside of a hospital setting in a designated facility. Therapies include traditional talk therapy, group therapy, and living in a structured environment. The combination can help limit impulsive behaviors.
- Outpatient Treatment – This consists of regular mental health appointments while living at home. The structure of outpatient therapies varies widely in terms of the number of appointments and duration of the program.
- Wilderness Therapy – Wilderness therapy is a mental health treatment strategy for adolescents and young adults with maladaptive behaviors like internet addiction. Wilderness programs combine therapy with challenging experiences in an outdoor wilderness environment. This allows clients to disconnect from distractions like the internet, social media, and gaming. Clients start to develop skills to help connect more with others. They learn to engage in healthy behaviors. These healthy behaviors replace the consistent need to search online. These programs are often individualized. They can treat the whole person since addiction affects everyone differently. They do this while providing a full, accurate assessment of what is going on. This can lead to better treatment outcomes when this kind of assessment is completed.
What Kind of Professional Should You See About Internet Addiction in Teens?
The type of internet addiction treatment should be as unique as the individual. Some programs like Outback Therapeutic Expeditions have master level clinicians working with your child every day. They have experience treating people who have had this type of addiction. They have had successful outcomes that have transformed lives. Seeking treatment from programs or practitioners who have had results with internet addiction specifically can help with the process. Programs that are effective for teens often go beyond “talk therapy.” They focus on the combination of many modalities. This allows them to provide individualized treatment plans.
What Should You Look for in an Internet Addiction Rehab Program for Teens?
The right treatment for internet addiction disorder should reduce the compulsive behavior of addicted teens and children, along with adverse emotional and mental effects of their addiction. Applying therapy in a controlled setting is often the best way to overcome internet addiction. Outpatient treatment is usually less disruptive, and therefore popular. They often do not produce the same long term effects. This is because the patient is still returning to the same environment. They will have access to the same triggers for addictive behaviors. When choosing a program for your child, it is important to ensure that the program is accredited by reputable organizations. Some accreditors include the outdoor behavioral health council, or the association for experiential education.
What are the Most Promising Kinds of Treatment for Internet Addiction in Teens?
Well-designed intensive wilderness therapy can mitigate internet addiction’s impact. It can do this in a shorter period due to a variety of important factors. First, patients in a wilderness therapy program are isolated from potential triggers like phones, computers, and social media. Second, patients in a wilderness therapy program are engaged in therapeutic activities all of the time, instead of just during therapy sessions. Finally, patients in a wilderness therapy program are gaining additional beneficial experiences by engaging in physical activity and a social group environment. All of this is in addition to assessment and treatment under the care of a masters-level clinician. Wilderness therapy can also include the family in the process. This is often recommended for the client to rekindle or strengthen relationships. They can also build a support system to help them stay on track.
Outback Therapeutic Expeditions Provides:
- Family therapy
- Parent coaching
- Optional Three-day family expedition
- In-person parent seminar
- Therapeutic lessons designed for parents
- Stratified Layer of Clinical Oversight: Multiple Clinicians working with each student
This comprehensive approach is effective in helping the family unit heal and move on from the harmful effects of internet addiction.
Therapeutic modalities are also critical when addressing internet addiction. Most programs that have success with treating internet addiction will use Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) as one of the therapies. In this type of therapy, the objective of treatment is to understand the user’s behavior and online activities. Through understanding a teen’s or child’s social media, gaming, and internet addiction, CBT can help prevent relapse. They are giving them a chance to form a healthy and sustainable lifestyle. CBT treatment centers work well for teens and children. Especially those who have depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, or internet addiction. Studies show that CBT reduces the progression of dissociation from addiction compulsions.
What do the Best Programs for Internet Addiction Rehab Have in Common?
Psychiatric and psychosocial approaches to mental health and addiction recovery aim to reduce the tendency of negative behavior that contributes to the severity of mental health disorders and addictions. Programs that combine these approaches often are the most effective in treating these types of addictions.
A promising treatment program should provide parents with an at-home treatment plan. This can help teens and children track their internet use. This can help them during this recovery and limit the hours spent online.
Choosing the Best Internet Addiction Rehab Program for Your Teen?
The best evidence-based treatments for internet, gaming, and social media addiction are CBT and group therapy. CBT offers a cognitive-based approach. This involves the patient, a psychologist, a psychiatrist, or a trained therapist. It’s designed to help the patient increase their recognition and awareness of how their behaviors affect their emotional well-being.
CBT has been used to treat anxiety, depression, compulsive gaming, and a whole host of other disorders. CBT is a psychotherapy that is about the in-depth discovery of personal understanding in relation to a mental health disorder. Upon which recovery from the disorder is possible. When combined with other therapeutic techniques, like wilderness therapy, CBT can help promote a positive attitude, higher self-esteem, healthy social function, and increased life satisfaction.
If your child is showing the signs and symptoms of internet addiction, it may be time to reach out for help. Outback Therapeutic Expedition’s Unplugged program can get your child back on the right track. This is because it is specially designed for teens that have faced struggles related to this addiction.
The Goal of Wilderness Therapy is to Provide:
- Therapeutic assessment
- Intervention and treatment of problem behaviors
- Safety & stabilization
- Lasting change
Outback provides the tools necessary for you and your child to move past the negative effects of addiction. The benefit of this program is that you know your child will be getting treatment from an experienced master-level clinician with a well-rounded approach that can help your child thrive.
About Outback Therapeutic Expeditions
Outback Therapeutic Expeditions is the nation’s premier wilderness therapy program for teens struggling with social media, internet, gaming, & technology addictions. Our Social Media Addiction Treatment Program provides the highest level of clinical care by embedding master’s level therapists in the field with each and every group. This highly sophisticated therapeutic method allows us to infuse evidence-based psychological practices and provide a state of the art, clinically informed model unlike any other wilderness therapy program.
Our innovative design allows for:
- each department within Outback to be led by master’s level clinicians
- every student works with more than 1 therapist with daily access to therapists
- all families work with a dedicated family therapist
- and purpose-driven adventure therapy is integrated into programming to focus on transition readiness.
Since our founding in 2001, our dedication to bringing families BACK together has helped thousands of young people gain a stronger sense of self, reconnect and re-engage with family, and get their lives back on track through a deepened sense of purpose. Please contact us today to learn how we can help your family.
About the Author
McKay Deveraux, MSW, LCSW, is the executive director of Outback Therapeutic Expeditions
McKay has over 17 years experience working with troubled teens in wilderness therapy. Before becoming the executive director at Outback Therapeutic Expeditions, McKay received his Masters of Social Work from Brigham Young University, worked as a field staff, field director, program director, and as a primary therapist at Outback. He is honored to have served as Battalion Operations Sergeant in the U.S. Army Reserves and is a combat veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.