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Prisoners of the Net

By: Ivan Olegario, MD, MDevComPrisoners of the Net

It has been said many times — the Philippines is the social media capital of the world. Corollary to this prestigious/notorious title is the fact that Filipinos, therefore, are almost constantly online—despite the fact that we have dismally slow internet speed. This is no small deal. Other data reveal that internet-connected Filipinos spend over 6 hours a day online using a laptop or tablet, and another 3 hours on the mobile phone. That’s more than a third of the day, and more than half of their waking hours.

Internet addiction: what is that?

Internet addiction can be defined as “excessive Internet use that interferes with daily life.” This condition was first proposed in 1996, and experts then started to debate whether this condition should be included in the psychiatrists’ bible called DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders). In 2013, the 5th edition of the DSM (DSM-V) included the condition termed Internet Gaming Addiction as a type of addiction, but this was limited to excessive gaming over the internet.

To be considered an addiction, this condition should be characterized as:

(1) many hours spent in non-work-related Internet use;

(2) a preoccupation with the Internet;

(3) an inability to control the amount of time spent on the Internet;

(4) improvements in mood with Internet use;

(5) anxiety and other negative emotions (withdrawal symptoms) when the Internet is not used for a time;

(6) negative effects of Internet use on other aspects of life (family conflicts, reduced social life, or poor school/work performance); and,

(7) continuation of Internet use despite this behavior causing problems.

There are many theories about why the Internet could be addicting. One theory states that it is used by some people to escape reality, which they find disappointing or painful. Others suggest that it could merely be a symptom of another mental condition, such as an anxiety disorder, depression, or a compulsion disorder (inability to control impulses). Additionally, another theory proposes that Internet use, like television, can produce entertainment that provides satisfaction, thus triggering the “reward” centers of the brain. The brain eventually looks for this reward, thus leading to addiction.

Are you addicted?

Try to answer the following questions as honestly as possible:

1.    Have you ever thought about previous sessions on the Internet?

2.    Have you ever looked forward to the next time you could use the internet?

3.    Do you notice an increase in the amount of time you spend on the internet over time?

4.    Have you ever tried to control, reduce or stop your use of the Internet, but failed?

5.    Do you get restless, moody, depressed, or irritable when trying to stop or lessen your use of the Internet?

6.    Have you stayed on the Internet longer than you initially planned?

7.    Have you ever experienced problems with work or school because of your internet use?

8.    Have you ever gotten into disagreements with others due to your internet use?

9.    Has somebody ever told you that you use the internet too much?

10.  Have you ever lied or tried to hide your use of the internet to anybody before, including family members or therapists?

11.  Have you gone to the Internet to escape problems?

12.  Have you ever used the internet to improve a bad emotion, such as feelings of helplessness, guilt, anxiety, sadness or depression?

If you answered “Yes” to at least six of these questions, it is highly suggestive that you could be addicted to the Internet. A consultation with a therapist, psychiatrist or other mental health or addiction professional would be helpful.

How to unplug yourself

Like many kinds of addiction, getting unhooked from Internet addiction could require the help of a professional. Do not be ashamed to ask for help—professionals can help you, and your family and loved ones can support you towards recovery.

In addition to following the advice and treatment of a professional, these additional tips could help you cope:

  • During the times you usually use the Internet (e.g., after work or before going to bed), plan ahead to use that time instead for other activities, such as spending the time with your family or loved ones, reading a book, or praying and meditation.
  • Set a time limit for yourself, and once your limit is up, switch immediately to your alternative activity to keep yourself busy.
  • Identify internet apps that you find extremely difficult to resist, and delete them.
  • Write down the disadvantages/harms of internet addiction, and read these frequently.
  • Talk to others, including family members and friends, about how they can help you cope with your addiction.
  • Try to identify the reasons why you turn to the Internet, and try to address any issues you identify.

Unlike other addictions, the goal of treatment in Internet addiction is not complete abstinence, but controlled use.

Lastly, I challenge you to have an AHA moment — Awakening, Honesty, and Action. Have an awakening by recognizing that you could have a problem. Be honest in acknowledging the negative effects of Internet addiction. Then act — seek help from family and professionals in overcoming Internet addiction, and finally having freedom.

The Internet addiction family

Internet addiction has a number of other relatives. Some experts would consider them as separate but related conditions. Others would consider them as offshoots of internet addiction. Regardless, one should be aware and wary of these other conditions:

  • Internet pornography addiction  – Compulsive use of the internet for cybersex or pornography
  • Cyber-relationship addiction  – Over-involvement in online relationships (assumes that the relationship is primarily conducted over the Internet that in real life). This could include social networking in all forms, where one’s interpersonal relationships are conducted almost solely via social networking sites or applications. This could involve “catfishing” where a person deliberately creates a fake personal profile online that is used to engage in cyber-relationships.
  • Online gambling addiction – This can be more problematic than offline gambling addiction because it is easier to gamble online in a covert manner.
  • Stock trading addiction  – Like online gambling, stock trading online can provide an addictive rush that predisposes to addiction.
  • Video game addiction  – This is a widely recognized condition that could affect a wide range of age groups, from children to mature adults.
  • Communication addiction disorder – this is when a person feels the compulsion to communicate with others even without any practical reason to do so. The Internet has facilitated this, as social networking sites make it easier for individuals to reach out. This is slightly related to cyber-relation addiction, with the addiction limited to the need to communicate.
  • Cyberslacking – The use of the Internet to waste time in the workplace or other scenarios
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