Digital addiction is similar to substance abuse

Digital addiction

Is digital addiction really a thing or are we talking about a mere dependence? For instance, as Internet is medium rather than an activity, it's more difficult to pin down a quantifiable, negative effect of Internet use. If you find you have a compulsive need to use your digital devices and to be online to the point where it is interfering with your life and keeps you from engaging in social activities or doing things you are meant to do, that's when this digital dependence becomes an addiction.

Whether you can't live without your phone, without interacting on social media or Internet in general, these are all categorised under the umbrella of digital addiction.

Phone addiction is a syndrome where users overuse their smartphones to the extent where it has a negative impact on their daily lives. Therapist Paul Hokemeyer said that this syndrome can be a manifestation of underlying behavioural health and personality issues. Some of these underlying pathologies include depression, anxiety and a socially challenged personality. As they are affected by these issues, they rely on their phones to find some comfort.

If you feel the need to document every aspect of your life on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat, then you are probably addicted to social media. Although there is no medical recognition of this addiction, recent studies have proved that overusing Facebook can decrease feelings of satisfaction and happiness.

Meanwhile, Internet addiction is defined as an impulse control disorder, which is also known as pathological internet use. People who are affected by this issue spend so much time online that they find it hard to differentiate between the virtual world and reality. This pathology increases the chances of overspending money online.

Before the days of smartphones and laptops, in 1997, psychologists were already testing the "addictive potential" of the World Wide Web. Even in its infant years, people who used the Net were already showing symptoms that manifest themselves with other addictions: trouble at work, social isolation, and the inability to cut back. What resulted so addictive about the Internet is the feeling of connectedness to something, rather than to an activity that could be accomplished via that medium.

Internet addiction started to be recognised as a real problem towards 2008, when The American Journal of Psychiatry published an editorial requesting the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) - also known as the bible of psychiatry - includes Internet Addiction.

Psychiatrist Jerald Block said that a decade of research had proven that the 1997 study was right in suspecting the Internet could inspired the same patterns of excessive usage, withdrawal, tolerance, and negative symptoms associated with substance abuse.

Black concluded, "Internet addiction is resistant to treatment, entails significant risks, and has high relapse rates." Accordingly, Internet addiction is a pathology that needs treatment just like any other.

Nowadays, Internet is more widely believed to foster addictive behaviours in its own right. One report from 2012, for instance, studied nearly twelve thousand adolescents in eleven European countries and found that 4.4% suffered from what the authors named "pathological Internet use" or used the internet in a way that had a negative impact on the subjects' health and life.

When you spend too much time online and that interferes with your social and professional activities, Internet use could cause mental distress and inability to function associated with pathological gambling. Most of the surveyed adolescents who abused Internet also suffered from other psychological problems including depression, anxiety, A.D.H.D., and O.C.D.

There was not enough data to include Internet addiction on the list of officially recognized behavioural addictions in DSM-V. The landscape might change as the number of problematic use of Internet has been rising in recent years.

Marc Potenza, a psychiatrist at Yale and the director of the school's Program for Research on Impulsivity and Impulse Control Disorders, said Internet can be addictive as a medium. "I think there are people who find it very difficult to tolerate time without using digital technologies like smartphones or other ways of connecting via the Internet," he said. It's the feeling of connectivity or the lack of it what makes constitutes a problem.

A recent study by San Francisco State University concluded that digital addiction increases loneliness, anxiety and depression. It also found that smartphone use can be similar to other types of substance use.