A new study suggests internet users who become dependent on being online have showed signs of changes in the brain similar to alcoholics and cocaine addicts.
Professor Mark Griffiths says psychotherapy or drugs may be the solution: "It is very important to make the distinction between people who are addicted to the internet, and those who have addictions online.
"I believe it is a very different thing to be addicted to certain applications online, such as gambling, gaming, shopping or online sex - these are addictions on the internet, rather than to the internet, and should be treated differently.
"As with any treatment, it is essential to understand the underlying causes of the addiction.
"One person, for example, could suffer from low self-esteem which leads them to create an online persona instead of interacting offline. In this case, any treatment should focus on increasing their sense of self-worth.
"Another person who is very good at online gaming could get rewards from their success; they will be praised by their peers for being the best at it. In this case, they should find other activities which give them the same rewards.
"There are a wide range of treatments available for addiction, from taking drugs like Prozac to treat the symptoms and cravings, to cognitive behavioural therapy, through to psychotherapy where they talk about underlying problems.
"There is no evidence to show that one treatment is better than any other, and most people will take a multimodal approach."
Signs that you may be addicted:
Losing track of time: Hours can fly by without your realising because you are so absorbed in the activity. If a plan to spend a few minutes on the internet regularly turns into hours you may have a problem.
Irritability when interrupted: If you regularly get cranky if you are interrupted online it could be a sign you are spending too much time on the internet.
Feelings of guilt: If you feel guilty about the amount of time you spend online or if you often find your partner or family nagging you about the time wasted it is possible you have an addiction.
Isolation from family and friends: Is your social life suffering because of the amount of time online? Losing touch with friends and family is a sign that you are becoming addicted to the internet.
A sense of euphoria when online and panic when offline: If you feel euphoric or only calm when you are online while you feel anxious and cut off when offline there is a chance you could be spending too much time at the computer
Dry eyes, aches, weight gain or sleep disturbances: Any physical changes as a result of spending too much time online are obvious signs that something is wrong.
Tips for breaking an internet addiction:
Ask yourself, “What am I missing out on when I spend so much time on the Internet?” Write down these activities and decrease your Internet time to pursue some of them.
Set reasonable Internet use goals and stick to them. Take frequent breaks, at least 5 minutes each hour, and do some other activity.
Alter your routine to break your usage patterns. If you spend evenings on the Internet, start limiting your use to mornings.
Seek out friends and acquaintances who “couldn’t care less” about the Internet. Take time to appreciate the fact that all life is not yet online.
Stay connected to the offline world. Visit newsstands, book and music stores, and participate in entertainment such as museums, music, and live theatre. Novels and poetry readings are hard to experience online.
Treat the Internet as a tool. Stay focused on the fact that the Internet is a means to an end. Plan your strategy—whether you’re looking for information or entertainment—with the end in mind and you’ll save valuable time.
Source: University of California, San Francisco