Internet Addiction Symptoms and Treatment

Getting Help for Internet Addiction

Internet Addiction Symptoms & Treatment

August 10, 2016

Smart phones, tablets, and computers are pervasive in the lives of young people day. Their work, school, relationships, and interests all intersect with these devices and the internet one way or another. When a teen finds that they have trouble stopping themselves from constantly checking messages, websites, social media, online games, or other apps, this dependence can prove damaging to his or her developing mind. 

Often known as “internet addiction,” problematic internet use is a behavior that feels uncontrollable and can be damaging to a teen’s mental, physical, and emotional health. It is not a psychiatric disorder, but many in the mental health field are advocating for its official recognition. 

Christy found Elk River Treatment Program after an exhausting search online for a program that treated internet or computer addictions. Her teenage son had fallen into a depression, had suicidal thoughts and eventually dropped out of high school. He spent his nights playing video games in the basement of their home and his days sleeping. His weight grew to a point that he could no longer wear anything but sweat pants.

Taking a leap of faith, the family intervened and admitted their son in Elk River's residential program almost 800 miles away from their home in Texas. The program changed his life - not only helping him lose 100 pounds, but he was able to identify what was driving his addictive behaviors. Once identified, he began to recognize the triggers and replace the negative responses to positive responses.

Internet Addiction Statistics

Christy's son is not alone. Researchers estimate that 10 percent of teens or higher may experience some level of internet addiction. Dependence on the internet via smart phone is also commonly referred to as “nomophobia,” or the fear of being unable to access one’s cell phone. 

Internet Addiction Symptoms in Teens

  • Excessive internet use
  • Feeling angry, anxious, or depressed when unable to access the internet
  • Isolating from others to use the internet
  • Need to acquire latest technology, software, games, etc. 
  • Negative consequences of Internet use including conflict, poor functioning at school or work, lack of energy, and lying about use

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends two hours or less of “screen time” per day, including computers, phones, TVs, etc. For teens that access the internet many hours a day, research hints at connections between excessive internet use and multiple problems. These can include: 

  • Increased stress and anxiety
  • Sleep disturbances and daytime drowsiness
  • Decreased ability to concentrate or be creative
  • Worsening attention deficit disorders
  • Depression and loneliness
  • Problems at school or work
  • Aggressive behavior
  • Interpersonal conflict 

Why do teens get addicted to the internet? Sometimes they may use a computer or smart phone to cope with other stressors in their life, while others may simply be dependent on the device or the content they’re accessing online. Teens can become absorbed in virtual relationships and forsake real life friendships. "Our son truly believed that he had a lot of friends, but they were all online," Christy said. Teens can become addicted to online gaming, social media checking, or watching videos. Regardless of what draws them to the internet, there are concrete interventions that can encourage them to decrease their use and live a healthy, creative “offline” life. If these interventions fail, parents should consider removing the child from his or her comfort zone and moving them into therapeutic treatment.

Internet Addiction Help

Designate “internet-free” times and spaces.  Researchers tell us that most people are never more than a few feet from their smart phone at all times. So making space to move away from devices can prevent internet addiction. Maybe the kitchen or meal times are “phone free” spaces and times. Encourage your teen to charge their devices in a different room or keep them of reach when they’re sleeping or interacting with others. While older teens may have access to their smart phone at all times, that doesn’t mean that you can’t model healthy family interactions that don’t depend on checking the internet.  

Encourage deleting. If your teen has a stressful time coming up, such as an exam, a competition, or a new transition, they might be more susceptible to becoming hooked on a game or accessing the Internet. Encourage them to delete distractions or block sites that prove tempting.  Come up with a fun reward together to celebrate their success at home and school that doesn’t involve going online. 

Introduce healthy ways of coping. Encourage your teen to plan or engage in activities that don’t require the Internet. Maybe it’s going to the community pool or talking a walk together around the neighborhood with your phones turned off. Make a list together of things you each can do when you feel frustrated or anxious that don’t involve going online, and display this list in a prominent place. The whole family benefits when you take active steps toward self-care. 

Ask for help. Because internet use can be a form of behavioral addiction, your teen may require therapeutic treatment to address and correct harmful behaviors. Learning healthy coping skills for life’s challenges is an underlying theme at Elk River Treatment Program. Teens are taught that they need AIR to live: Accountability, Integrity and Responsibility.

You may not realize it but your teen is paying attention to your behavior. When you model limited internet use and encourage “offline” living, you provide your teen with examples of successful coping skills. Above all, don’t be afraid to brainstorm together to reduce problematic internet use. Rather than lecturing or punishing, encourage your child to be imaginative and generate his or her own solutions for reducing internet use.