INTERNET AND SCREEN ADDICTION
How do you know when there’s a problem?
I am a Louisiana Licensed Addiction Counselor (since 1996) who completed Ph.D. training as a scientist-practictioner in counseling psychology with post-doc training in neuropsychology. I am experienced in behavioral health program development, implementation and management including outpatient and intensive outpatient programs for adults as well as adolescent and adult intensive residential substance disorder treatments programs. (I have over 20 years’ experience working with substance-related problems and compulsive behaviors).
What are some of the challenges mental health clinicians might see from someone who has compulsive Internet or screen behaviors?
Compulsive behaviors of any kind, such as drug use, smoking, overeating, excessive hand washing, hair pulling or excessive Internet use, are difficult to stop because of the reinforcing nature of the behavior. An individual engaging in excessive Internet use or social media connection will experience anxiety when separated from the activity. Resuming the Internet use will alleviate the anxiety temporarily but ultimately causes more anxiety if daily responsibilities are neglected due to excessive Internet use.
Self-imposed restrictions are difficult to maintain with behaviors that are considered everyday activities such as online use because it is often a required activity across multiple life areas such as at school or work.
How can you engage in responsibilities that require web-based interactions while at the same time move away from harmful Internet use?
It is a tricky situation that requires significant self-regulation and support. Individuals who find themselves in these situations often do not have the coping resources or self-regulation abilities to reduce Internet activity on their own.
How can excessive screen time impact someone emotionally and/or socially?
Excessive screen time can negatively impact someone emotionally by reinforcing negative self-views. For example, someone who is feeling bad about themselves can look through social media and find evidence that other people appear better or happier, reinforcing unrealistic views of self and others. Additionally, someone who is not really having any significant emotional distress can begin to question themselves, their lifestyle, achievements or activities by looking at images of what others appear to do or have on the Internet and feel bad about themselves.
There is a level of confusing loneliness and disconnection that people who spend excessive amounts of time on the Internet experience because while they may appear to be interacting with many other individuals, there is often no real emotional or intimate connection through social media contact.
Excessive time spent on social media reduces other life activities, including actual social interactions with live human beings that fosters a sense of belongingness and intimacy at a level that is not obtained through Internet contact.
Research already shows a correlation between elevated levels of social media use and depression as well as anxiety.
The newest generation of Americans born after 1997 (iGen) who have never known a world without Internet connections are rated as the most anxious generation. They struggle with social interactions at a level not seen in previous generations and redefining our understanding of excessive technology use.
What are signs that a parent or someone else can be on the lookout for if their child or loved one is exhibiting an unhealthy relationship with the Internet or computer use?
• Neglecting basic responsibilities due to Internet activity.
• Stays online longer than intended regularly.
• Ineffective attempts to cut back time spent online.
• Argumentative and minimizing of time spent online.
• Has lied about the amount of time spent online.
• Willing to risk significant relationships to get and stay online.
• Uses the Internet as an escape from stressors or negative feelings.
What are some treatment modalities that can be used to manage this disorder?
Treatment efficacy is still under investigation, but there appears to be some promise with behavior modification therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, dialectical behavior therapy and some art therapies.
Is there any progress or movement that you’re aware of in having compulsive computer use or Internet addiction disorder formally recognized or researched?
It appears that there is significant investigation into formalizing the definition of what is considered excessive use as we do not have a professional agreement yet. There are guidelines from the American Pediatric Association for recommended screen times for children by ages as well as other organizational recommendations for adults.
There is significant research in process evaluating the potential generational differences in the use of technology and what is excessive or normal based on generational differences in experience.
A good rule of thumb to remember is that any activity which gets in the way of daily responsibilities, enjoyment of regular activities or interferes with relationships can be considered an issue.