When The Internet Becomes An Addiction: What Counselors Want You To Know

Although Internet use can be a positive experience when properly managed, it may disrupt one's life and create problems if taken to extremes. Some individuals are unable to mange their time on the Internet, and this may lead to compulsive activities such as involvement in cyber-relationships, impulse shopping or gambling. If you believe you or a loved one may be subject to an Internet addiction, counseling may help.

Recognizing the Signs of Cyber Addiction

Have your online activities spiraled out of control? If you believe this is the case, it's important to recognize the following signs and symptoms of an Internet dependence:

  • Pleasure away from the Internet has become increasingly difficult to find: Does your joy in life come solely from spending time online? If you find it has become harder to find pleasure offline, you may have developed a dependence on the Internet.

  • You are finding less time for family, friends and previously enjoyed activities: Are you spending most of your time on the Internet to the exclusion of friends and family? Have previous hobbies and pastimes taken a back seat to your online time? If so, you might want to seek a form of Internet therapy or counseling.

  • Your work performance and responsibilities are suffering: Has your online time interfered with your job and home life responsibilities? This is another sign your Internet use has become out of control.

  • You have become preoccupied with the Internet when you're not online: Are you constantly craving a social networking fix at work or while dining out? Do you constantly daydream about finding bargains on the Internet? You might have an unhealthy dependency.

  • You've developed wrist, neck, shoulder or back pain: Repetitive motion strain from spending too much time online via your computer may be causing this discomfort. You may also have experienced frequent headaches due to eye strain.

Take Action Through Counseling

A counselor experienced in Internet addiction or compulsive behaviors may be able to help. The first course of action is typically identifying the reason behind your addictive behavior. Your counselor or therapist may ask if there has been a recent traumatic experience causing you anxiety. Trauma or anxiety may cause some individuals to seek an "escape" through a distracting activity such as obsessive Internet usage.

In such a case, your counselor may suggest ways of helping you cope with your stress. Various methods of therapy might be helpful, including the following treatment options:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): Although CBT has been widely used for obsessive behavioral disorders, Internet addiction is relatively new in the field of counseling, and it is not as widely recognized or treated. However, studies have been conducted on the use of CBT for Internet addiction and these have been met with a degree of success.

    With the hands-on approach of CBT, you may be able to modify your thoughts and habits in a constructive way. Your counselor may help you recognize what compels you to depend on the Internet. Once the driving factor is identified, you may be shown ways to counteract your compulsion to go online. For instance, you may be encouraged to visit a friend the next time you feel the urge to use Internet chat or to go for an exhilarating walk rather than shop online for a new pair of shoes.

  • Support Groups: Support group therapy may be another way of dealing with your problem. Hearing from others with similar issues may be helpful. Learning how others deal with these issues may provide comfort and practical solutions.

Don't underestimate the negative effects of Internet dependency. If left unchecked, it may impact your life in a significant way. Through self-help and counseling, you can get back on track and begin to live a more healthy and constructive life.