Internet addiction does not involve substances that one ingests nor does it involve compulsive shopping, eating disorders, or other process addictions. This does not minimize the effects of an Internet addiction. This addiction is not listed in the current edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) but is seen by some professionals as an impulse-control disorder.
Individuals with an addiction to the Internet might develop relationships online that are based more on fantasy than reality. These relationships “meet” on social networking sites, chat rooms, or virtual communities. Many individuals can use these social sites periodically and not think twice about their use. The issue with an Internet addict is the lack of social interaction that exists, as their primary friends are those who they have never met. Some Internet addicts might also develop an emotional attachment to online friends.
As with other addictions, there is a preoccupation with using the Internet and the amount of time spent on the Internet increases to achieve a certain satisfactory state of mind. There are also repeated yet unsuccessful attempts to cut back or stop using the Internet and feelings of depression and irritability when not able to connect online. Many Internet addicts can spend hours online and even at the detriment of their jobs and other significant relationships. The social relationships one has online become more important than jobs, families, or other responsibilities. Internet addicts can also become involved in extramarital affairs online and other types of relationships.
Using the Internet is not an addiction by itself otherwise millions of individuals would have a problem. Most of us use the Internet today for our jobs, to pay bills, or to take a course at an online college. The difference between this type of user and the Internet addict is that the “normal” user does not feel compelled to lie about their Internet use nor will they cover up or justify their Internet use to others. There are even users who spend a great deal of time on a computer for work or school activities but again, the use is purpose-driven and necessary for work or school. An Internet addict will spend countless hours online; however, neglect other responsibilities at the same time.
The Internet addict uses the Internet to escape problems or to relieve uncomfortable feelings such as depression, anxiety, or anger. There are similarities of an Internet addict and a drug addict in terms of personal, family, academic, financial, and occupational problems that arise from use. Just like the drug addict or alcoholic, there is help available to the Internet addict who wishes to address their addiction and enter a program of recovery.