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Internet Addiction

Julia Bursten & Mark Dombeck, Ph.D. Updated: Apr 28th 2016

Twenty years ago, the only people who spent a majority of their leisure time on the computer were paid members of the technology industry. Today, however, surfing the Web has become a pastime as social and marketable as bar hopping or going to the movies. As the web has become a part of mainstream life, some mental health professionals have noted that a percentage of people using the web do so in a compulsive and out-of-control manner.

For better or for worse, this phenomena of compulsive Internet use has been termed 'Internet Addiction' based on its similarity to common addictions such as smoking, drinking, and gambling.

hand on computer keyboardIn a true addiction, a person becomes compulsively dependent upon a particular kind of stimulation to the point where obtaining a steady supply of that stimulation becomes the sole and central focus of their lives. The addict increasingly neglects his work duties, relationships and ultimately even his health in his drive to remain stimulated. In some cases of addiction (such as addiction to alcohol or to heroin), a phenomenon known as tolerance occurs, wherein more and more stimulation is required to produce the same pleasurable effect. A related phenomena, withdrawal, can also occur, wherein the addicted person comes to be dependent upon their source of stimulation and experiences dramatically unpleasant (and even potentially lethal -- as can be the case with alcohol) reactions when he goes without it. Sources of addictive stimulation can be chemical (as is the case with addictive drugs such as alcohol, cocaine, nicotine and heroin), sensual (as in sex) or activity based (as in gambling, shopping, pornography, internet use, etc.). What all sources of addictive stimulation have in common is that they provoke a strong, usually positive (at first) reaction in the potential addict, who then seeks out the source of that stimulation so as to obtain that feeling on a regular basis.

While many people like to engage in sexual relations, or gamble, or have the occasionally drink because of the pleasure to be had, clearly not all people who do so are addicts. Rather, the term addiction only applies when someone's stimulation seeking gets to the point where it starts interfering with their ability to function normally and non-neglectfully at work and in relationships.

Mental health professionals are split as to whether or not Internet addiction is real. No one disputes that some people use the Internet in a compulsive manner even to a point where it interferes with their their ability to function at work and in social relationships. What is disputed is whether people can become addicted to the Internet itself, or rather to the stimulation and information that the web provides. The controversy surrounding Internet Addiction is precisely whether people become addicted to the net itself, or to the stimulation to be had via the net (such as online gambling, pornography or even simple communication with others via chat and bulletin boards).

Some psychologists do not believe in addiction to the Internet itself, but rather in addiction to stimulation that the Internet provides. They suggests that new Internet users often show an initial infatuation with the novelty of the Web, but eventually lose interest and decrease their time spent online back to a normal, healthy amount. Those users who do go on to show compulsive Internet utilization, for the most part become compulsive only with regard to particular types of information to be had online, most often gambling, pornography, chat room or shopping sites. This is not an addiction to the Internet itself, but rather to risk-taking, sex, socializing or shopping. In essence then, the chief addictive characteristic of the Internet is its ability to enable instant and relatively anonymous social stimulation. “Addicted” Internet users are addicted to a favored kind of social stimulation and not to the Internet itself, although it is also true that the Internet has made it vastly easier and more convenient for someone to develop such a compulsion.

Because the Internet is used by many people as a normal part of their career or education, knowing how to separate excessive from normal use becomes difficult and cannot be accomplished using simple measures such as amount of time spent online in a given period. Most fundamental in differentiating normal from problem Internet use is the experience of compulsion to use the net. Normal users, no matter how heavy their usage, do not need to get online and do not neglect their occupational duties or their relationships with family and friends to get online.

Help for Internet related addiction is available from multiple sources. Anyone concerned about serious problem Internet usage should consider consulting with a local licensed psychologist, social worker or counselor, specifically one with experience treating addictions. Cognitive therapy based approaches are recommendable due to their systematic and direct focus on reducing problem use and preventing relapse, and the strong scientific support for the approach. Marital and or family therapy approaches may be useful as well when an individual's Internet Addiction is affecting their larger family system (such as might be the case when a husband uses Internet-based pornography as his sole sexual outlet, leaving his wife frozen out). More than a few books and self-help resources (such as audio tape sets) are also available for those who want to educate themselves on the problem. Our Internet Addiction Treatment article provides further detail.


Reader Comments
Discuss this issue below or in our forums.

Child Neglect whilst on forums. - Utherverse - Oct 1st 2013

I used to be semi-addicted to a forum designed to discuss an online game/social site. It got to the stage where the forums themselves were more important than the reasons I originally arrived/joined.

On this particular forum there are a group or rude aggressive people who's sole purpose seems to be to wait for someone to post something slightly silly so they could in unison mock and belittle the poster.

In a way I got sucked in and became one of a few standing up to them. To cut a long story short I realised this wasn healthy for me, or for my children so I stopped posting almost completely.

I still look in on these forums and am always astounded that no matter how long I leave it to quickly browse (this can be a couple of days, a couple of weeks or months) that no matter what time of day (I can work strange hours) a few of them are always there. One particular woman who is a mother of 3 children is always on, always posting. She admits in threads that she also frequents other forums and has since being aged 17 (she is 27 now).

In a way I want to politely say something to her but I know she wouldn't take kindly to anything being said. I've seen her attacks on others who have commented and she can be extremely and relentlessly vicious. 

But though she is one of the nastiest meanest people on that forum I feel pity some pity for her and extremely sorry for her children.

Internet addiction - Anni Bufton - Nov 25th 2012

My husband is addicted to the Internet, he spends at least eighteen hours a day on line.  He no longer lives in the real world and totally ignores anything and everything that could take him away from his blogs, forums and chat rooms. He will not leave the house without his smart phone and tablet.  He is constantly on those when we are out.  He says there is not a problem.  Our relationship has become a joke, his personality has changed and he has become angry, rude vile and abusive if he is away from his Internet.  He has his Internet fix at work so he is not too bad there. I hate computers and the Internet for what has happened, I would leave home if it would make any difference, but he would not even miss me as long as the computer stayed on line.

destroying our society - - May 16th 2010

I believe the digital age is destroying our society.  Maybe it's because of the novelty, but I feel like we are immersed in digital media.  People can now watch TV whenever they want, you can keep in touch on Facebook, you can get sexual gratification online.  I am only 26, but I have decided I don't ever want a smartphone.  I don't want my children to have TV's or computers in their rooms.  When  you lose your skills on how to interact with people socially in "real" life, you isolate yourself and open the door to a whole range of other problems.  I think we all need to unplug ourselves sometimes and go for a walk, so sit in the coffee shop, go meet people face-to-face.  It is scary the effects that something that was just supposed to make communication a little easier has had on our day-to-day lives as a whole.

How nice.... - Angelica - Mar 18th 2010

 how nice  to read the effect or about internet addiction.. to know what we can do in the feature...

Irony - Riley - Mar 16th 2010

Is it ironic that this article is posted online? And that people become addicted to 'googling' their own symptoms and treating themselves on websites such as these?

Thanks a lot!!!!!!!!!! - shekhar - Jan 22nd 2010

This sites helps a lot in providing a lots of information. I liked to thanked the information management team of this and the web builder.

Student - - Oct 14th 2009

All people have some sort of challenge in thier life!Their will always be tests, trials and tribulations for the rich, the poor and the in betweens. I would like to suggest that you begin to perceive these situations as an opportunity to thrive.Remember each individual is  unique and you are not alone. We all make mistakes but, we should continue setting goals, having rules and  standards by which we live.

To Sarafina - - Oct 3rd 2009


You are not going to find a solution to your issue which compels you to fill a void of sorts through compulsive internet use, by searching the internet.  You need to look somewhere outside of the internet.  It is much like someone who struggles with alcohol going to a bar room for help with his struggles.  It doesn't much matter what science says about the "addictability" of a specific activity, such as the internet.  If you have a problem with it, you have a problem with it.  I suggest however, that it has nothing to do with the internet itself, but rather has to do with something you find relief or comfort from or use as a distraction of sorts to something that you do not know how to face otherwise, or are afraid to face or are afraid there is no real solution to.  What is your internet use proving to yourself or others?  Did those feelings exist prior to internet use?  You are bad?  Unworthy?  ill-equipped?  Figure out what you are looking for - love, approval, acceptance, or one of many other things.  If your life, by your own standards, is fulfilling, than you would have no reason to avoid it or distract yourself from it through the internet.  Don't place your emphasis on the internet.  Place it on yourself and what it is you want and feel you don't have or what it is you have and feel you don't want.  

Best of luck

How do I find someone who thinks this is real - Sarafina - Oct 2nd 2009

I have struggled with this for a long time.  I am sick of being pulled in by this obsession.  This is NOT a research project this is my LIFE.

How do I find someone who understands the REALITY of the situation?  The humiliation of this is unbelievable and each day lost to this bosession is painful and another day I haven't lived.  What a mess.  I feel like I am broken and useless.

How can I be an example to my kids? I can't even set and live by my own boundaries let alone set boundaries for them and hold them to it.  That would make me a hypocrite.

Published. - Lee - Jul 21st 2009

When was this article originally published?

Editor's Note: Publication/Update dates are printed at the base of the page. 

published? - - Jul 14th 2009

great articles i am going to use it in my research paper but i was wondering if this article was published anywhere else or just on this website?


Editor's Note: This article is unique to this website. 

other view - Mr. Mitchell - Jun 14th 2009

isn't there still some arguement as to whether Internet Addiction is indeed a true addiction or just a syndrome or other issue?.

Thanks! - Franziska - May 27th 2009

Had to work on this text in school some minutes ago. Great text, thanks for sharing!

Yeah! - Anna Belle - May 19th 2009

Yeah, man, this article helped me with my research project... ;)

thanks :D

Project~ - syafiqah*Malaysia* - May 9th 2009

Thanks for the article!! It help me a lot for my project on school about 'internet addiction'

M SAVED!! - lapyndap - Apr 30th 2009

Hey thanks alot........really helped me alot.............keep up the good work......hope to hear from u again!!!!God Bless UUUUUUUUUU!!

wow - Jane - Apr 20th 2009

this site helped me a lot with my assignment thanks:)

internet - sara - Apr 12th 2009

internet is a unique invention for us

VERY HELPFUL - Enola - Feb 14th 2009

Thank you very much for writing this article...It may be useful in my project on cyber addiction.

Thanks :) - Khulood AL kaabi - Dec 28th 2008

i had a reaseach paper about about Internet addiction and internet impact on UAE society , what i read here helped me a lot as an entroduction to the paper , so thanks alot ^_^ .

Parents limit screen time - Kerry - Dec 25th 2008
The American Academy of Pediatrics's recommendation that parents limit screen time to no more than two hours per day includes television, videos/DVDs, and video games. Parents should limit Internet surfing, chatting and game playing to a time and duration appropriate for each child. As for me, I control on-line activity using internet filtering software Ez Internet Timer

Thanks for the info :) - Natasha - Nov 17th 2008

I had report assignment about Internet addiction. I had no idea about it, and this article helps me a lot. Thank you :)

brilliant - john - Jul 26th 2008
i am sure i could make use if this article in my dissertation[internet abuse and addiction-a reflection on nigerian youth]. it seems there are no references here....

Thanks - Staci - Jan 22nd 2008
this is totally perfect 4 my research project on internet addiction.

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