Internet Addiction Treatment

Internet Addiction is not an official disorder, and many mental health professionals are not certain if it ever should be considered a real disorder. Nevertheless, compulsive Internet use is a serious problem for some people, and there are methods that can be helpful in alleviating this problem. Discussion below will describe some of these methods.

Internet addiction is a problem of compulsive stimulation, much like drug addiction. Because of this similarity, well studied treatment procedures known to be useful for helping drug addicts towards recovery are adapted for use with Internet addicts when the need arises. The techniques we describe below are drawn from a popular school of therapy known as 'cognitive-behavioral' therapy. Cognitive behavioral forms of therapy are well studied and known to be helpful as applied to many different mental and behavioral difficulties. They are also very practical and focus directly on reducing out of control 'addict' behaviors, and preventing relapse. They are not the only valid forms of therapy, however.

In treating drug addiction, frequently the goal of therapy is abstainence. An alcoholic, for example, is often best off if he or she ceases to drink alcohol entirely and to maintain a sober lifestyle. While this makes sense for a drug like alcohol which we might argue is a at best a luxury recreational indulgence and not a necessity, but it doesn't necessarily make sense for Internet over-usage. Much like the telephone, the Internet has become an essential part of modern business. To ask people to not use the Internet at all could be a significant burden for them. Instead of abstainence, then, a reasonable goal for Internet addiction therapy is a reduction in total use of the net. Because Internet addicts by definition will have difficulty moderating their use on their own, therapy techniques can be employed to help them to become more motivated to reduce their use, and to become more conscious of how they get into trouble with the Internet.

Motivational Interviewing may be employed to assess how motivated Internet addict may be to change their behavior and to help addicts to increase their motivation to make a lasting change. To accomplish the latter, a therapist may help addicts to develop genuine empathy for the people who are hurt by their addiction (e.g., family and friends, employers, etc.). By helping addicts to see how their actions affect others they care about or are dependent on economically, therapists can help increase addicts motivation to change.

Therapists will also generally help addicts to identify 'triggers' that lead to episodes of uncontrolled Internet use. Naive addicts of any type typically believe that their indulgences “just happen” and that they played little or no role in an episode happening. A more realistic appraisal of an addicts true situation will often reveal that a particular unconscious set of events occurred involving 'triggers' that prompted an addict to binge. Like a noun, a trigger is a “person, place or thing” that is a step in a chain of events that leads towards a relapse into addict behavior. To provide a fictitious but realistic example, a first trigger might be boredom, or horniness, or even a bad mood brought on by a fight. Addicts seek out their stimulation of choice in response to these triggers, most of the time without ever being all that aware of why they are acting as they do. Therapists will often discuss in detail episodes of indulgence with addicts so that they become conscious of their triggers and can choose to act in an alternative fashion when they next become vulnerable. They will also help addicts to generate lists of safer, more functional alternative behaviors they can engage in when they realize they are in danger so that they do not default to their addictive behavior.

Part and parcel with identifying triggers, is helping addicts to set realistic goals for their Internet use. It may be that Internet use is important at use, but needs to be restricted at home. It may be that particular websites need to be avoided, but other uses of the Internet are okay. Therapists work with their patients to set realistic and measurable goals for their Internet usage. Patients are then asked to actually record their Internet usage in a log which is used in therapy to track progress. For example, to help reduce the amount of time spent of the Internet, or one specific portion thereof, a user will set a maximum allowed time per day or week. The goal is to keep under this maximum--the farther under, the better. To ensure this goal is met, users can rely on timers or alarms, to monitor how long they have spent online. For example, if an Internet user feels he is spending too much time in chat rooms, he may set a goal to spend no more than two hours per week using the Internet for this purpose. He sets a thirty-minute timer for each of the four times per week he wants to use the Internet for chat rooms, and as soon as his timer goes off he exits the chat room. He also records his actual usage on the log so as to see how well he is able to conform to his goal.

As anyone can quickly surmise, conforming to goals and logging your behavior is hard, disciplined work that is difficult for many people to sustain on their own. Therapists help patients to sustain this disciplined work by having them give weekly progress reports (either in individual or group therapy settings), or setting up (healthy) rewards that patients can earn when goals have been met for an agreed upon amount of time. Since one of the main draws of the Internet is the secrecy it appears to give, sharing online experiences in the context of offline relationships may discourages a user from 'hiding' in the Internet. Sharing progress in a group therapy session, with a therapist, or with a family member can help motivation to cut back on Internet time.

Even with the best intentions, it is easy for an addict to 'forget' to record a lapse, or to simply not bring it up in sessions. Denial and people's desire to please can be powerful forces to overcome. Objective monitoring can be useful when self-discipline and self-reporting are not enough to keep an addict on the straight and narrow. Regular urine, blood and hair samples are used for this purpose when dealing with drug addicts. With regard to Internet addiction, it is possible to install computer programs designed to monitor where someone surfs and how long they spend there to provide an accurate and objective report of someone's surfing behavior. PC software such as Spy Buddy, SpectorSoft Spector Pro, Pearl Echo, Cyber Snoop and others will monitor the kinds and number of websites a person uses and the amount of time spent Web surfing or checking e-mail. Such programs can help compulsive Internet users supervise their own Internet use, but only if they are installed so as to be hard to tamper with.

The therapy techniques described above are best delivered by a trained mental health professional in the context of a therapy relationship. A fair amount of self-help literature in the form of books and websites are available for those whose problems are not so demanding, or those who simply wish to be more educated about this problem. See the reading suggestions below, or the Links section of this topic center for suggestions.

The bottom line when dealing with Internet Addiction is to identify triggers that lead to problematic use, to set realistic goals for reducing use, and to then stick to and monitor conformance with those goals, sharing this conformity data with someone else to encourage honesty and sticking to the plan.

Comments
  • Anonymous-1

    I knew something was not right. Thank you.

  • Kate

    I think I'll try the log. I spend too much time on the internet.

  • Anonymous-2

    very true .. this is indeed a problem and we have to acknowledge it ..does not seems to be an addiction but we have to admit it is and that it can have a devastating effect on our lives if it is not curbed or curtailed

  • Maria

    I did not know such resources, such as the computer applications one can install, were available. Thank you very much for publishing this article where everyone can access it.

  • Susan

    I've known for years that I am addicted to the Internet. First it was just new and for fun, then sex became a part of it, when that wore off I just use it to escape my depression, my loneliness and anxiety. It keeps me having to go out in the real world and interact. I don't even really chat with people any more. I'd like to take an axe to it and never see it again. Then I would have to change since I couldn't afford to buy another one.

  • J

    It's such a sad, frustrating addiction in a way. It's not like it's ever gotten me fired or ruined a relationship, but it does lower my job performance and probably interfere with me achieving my potential. I always get by, never let myself go beyond the pale, do the bare minimum I need to do to keep up an ostensibly normal life, but it eats up so much time and prevents me from doing so many things. One thing that's hard to tell sometimes is whether the addiction causes the problems or is just a symptom of a larger problem of avoidance. For one thing, my internet compulsion isn't just toward any one type of site. It's not porn, or discussion boards, or shopping, or music, or youtube, but it's any and all of those things at any given time. And when I don't have internet, I often compulsively waste time in other ways (although it's much harder to lose yourself so thoroughly in anything else).

  • Anonymous

    It is easy to get addicted to making contributions to user-edited online encylopedia websites such as Wikipedia. You start doing 20 minutes a day of posting to a few articles, then you start increasing the amount. Soon you find yourself spending hours each day writing articles for the websites, and thinking about the articles. It is sort of like a "crack cocaine"-like instant result with Wikipedia, because you can write an article and instantly it is available on the Internet for 1,000s of people to see. It is very gratifying, and it gives you much quicker results than most "normal" activities outside of the Internet. For example, if you submitted an article on paper to a magazine, it would take several weeks for it to be reviewed, and then it may or may not be printed. But with Wikipedia, you type the article, press "Save", and instantly its on the Internet. .........The ideas on this site are very helpful (think of the people you are hurting or ignoring from your excessive Internet use, develop motivation to change, track your use).

  • DH

    I'm struggling with my wife who's a gifted web designer and "professional-level" consultant in her area of expertise. The problem is that she's more interested in making sure that her web-site is current and appealing to others than she is in making sure the house work gets done. She doesn't get paid to do this web-site and it consumes all her time. While I'm at work (and commuting), I suspect that she's in front of her computer 6-7 hours and when I get home following dinner (which she prepares) she'll spend another 4 hours before going to bed. I'm afraid to confront her because she gets very defensive - but I need to do something. We literally have trails through our house between piles of stuff.

  • nidhi

    i cud feel things were not right wen i started neglecting work.thanks for help.

  • Christine H

    For me, Internet addiction is not my core problem. It is a result of other disorders. I suspect this is true for many other people as well.
    Internet addiction first became a major issue for me several years ago, when I went through a serious clinical depression. I was incapable of most activities (especially social ones), so I took refuge and tried to avoid loneliness online. As well, I have inattention-predominant ADHD that went undiagnosed until very recently, and that is probably a large part of why I continue to use the Internet to procrastinate. It also looks as if I'm towards the milder end of the autism spectrum, and that makes Internet socializing much easier than offline socializing. 
    In my case, I doubt that treating my problem as Internet addiction would have had any beneficial effect whatsoever. Recovering from my depression moderated my Internet use somewhat, and the social skills I learned on the Internet have actually helped me develop more of a social life offline. I am hoping that treating my ADHD will help considerably more, as my tendency to hyperfocus on the Internet and procrastinate on everything else will lessen. 
    I encourage the person who is a compulsive time-waster to look up the criteria for inattention-predominant ADHD and get tested for it. Many people with the disorder are never diagnosed as children, especially those who (like me) are not hyperactive and are intelligent enough to do well in school despite their disorder. I suspect it is the root cause of many Internet addictions.

  • Anonymous-3

    I think internet addiction is always the result of an underlying issue. I don't believe a person who goes on the internet because he/she enjoys it is addicted. This is just an average American. But the person who feels like they 'have' to go on the internet and panic if they don't is addicted.

    I am very glad I read this article because I most certainly have a very bad internet addiction. I do school on the internet but this has nothing to do with my addiction because this is an obligation. My addiction when feeling depressed and hopeless I always go to certain websites.

    The reason for my depression is because I have a very strange hearing disability. In a nutshell, my ears can't filter through noises in order to hear or concentrate. This doesn't have much stigma, but it is overwhelming and severe enough that certain living/work environments are impossible.

    So whenever I can't cope with the effects of my disability, I mindlessly look up coping strategies and therapies to overcome this problem. I will look for hours and have revisited some websites numerous times. In my imagination, the internet, being a resevior of information, will retrieve that one article which shows me the cure, shows me how to live a better life. But this is not true. To me, the internet might have once been helpful for my disability, but now it's just a desperate addiction. It consumes my mind just like my disability consumes my inability to do things.

  • Lisa

    I have finally got my husband of 21 years to admit to his chat room addiction. He's been doing it for years. most of it sexually involved. I'm having a HARD TIME dealing with this! Crying all day, not eating. He sees a counselor in 2 days, I'll go next week. Any advice?

  • Anonymous-4

    Thank you for providing such information. The techniques of reminding yourself about negative consequences on people close to you could be very useful to me. I generally agree that internet addiction could be part of a larger problem, because I have other problems before such as seeking comfort by spending hours in reading fantasy novels, or porn before the internet era. It seems that people have weaker willpower or psychological skills developed addiction more easily. All mothers of internet addition might want to post their kid's photo on their computer and think of their children before they wander off online.

  • Anonymous-5

    I have tryed to get my wife off line now of over a year now. I have told her that I fell like I have a room mate not a wife. Well that did not seem to make her change any thing about her on line use. This is how her days go. She gets up at 5:00am and gets on line tell 7:00am then get ready for work. Comes home from work at 5:15pm makes dinner then gets back on line tell 10:00pm. The only time she moves away from it is to go have a smoke when that takes place one of the kids run in to the room to get on line and as soon as my wife comes back from her smoke she kicks the kids out of the room so she can get back on line. We never talk and I am sick of living like this. I have told her more than one time that this has got to stop but she tells me that she is not on line as much as I think she is. She has no idea how long she spends on line. I could uses some help on this

  • Acunga

    Very Helpfull article. And special tanks to the lady which mentioned autism.

  • Sandra

    Dear Kingwood Pines Hospital

    2001 Ladbrook Dr. Kingwood, TX 77339.

    My daughter went into inpatient care at the end of December, she was taken to your hospital by my husband and myself. She has first abused a prescription for Lorazepam, next she took to many flexeril, then she stole 60 1mg tabs of Xanax from me that she tried to over dose on by taking too many and drinking alcohol. She also was smoking marijuana and who know what else. She stayed at your hospital for a few days to detox and now she sees you on outpatient basis. My daughter is 19 so even thought her care is being paid by our insurance her information is private, and that is O.K. with me. I was looking at my insurance information and the bills from the hospital and I noticed that she was on several prescriptions, Trazodone, for a sleep aid, Naproxin, (for back?) smz-tmpds tab (urinary tract infection) Gabapentin aka Nuerotin. (off label use for Bi-Polar disorder) Carbamezepine aka Equerto,

    She has also been prescribed Robaxin to take three times a day and Larazepam 2mg two times a day. My daughter has never had a history of mental illness or back problems. My concern is that I sent her to your hospital to detox, not to have prescriptions for the very type of drugs that she tried to overdose on. While she was in your hospital she was diagnosed with Bipolar a mood disorder, I can assure you that it was a drug induced mood disorder. Bipolor is a chemical imbalance in your brain yet Dr.’s diagnose it with a questionnaire. This just happens to be one of the easiest diagnosis to get in America. My concern is that she says she is trying to live a clean life now, but she doped up on the very same types of prescriptions that she tried to abuse. Also I am aware of all the amazing stories she tells and the drama she produces with her stories to get what she wants, and to make you feel sorry for her she is quite a player. I was also noticing that you are giving her 60, 2mg tabs at a time of Lorazapam, I am retentively sure that is enough to kill her, the next time she wants to take high numbers of multiple prescriptions and drink alcohol and use prescription drug to the point she passes out. I am only looking out for my daughter, I do not blame you because I do not know all the facts, because she is 19 and has her privacy, for instance giving her lorazapam for a detox medicine after she tried to kill herself with Xanax would in my opinion would not be such a good idea, But maybe if she was trying to detox from Xanax and say herion, well mabey that is a better choice. Anyway my point of view rather it is right or wrong, due to circumstances that I am unaware of, I sent her to you for an alcohol and prescription drug problem and ten-thousand dollars later she has a prescriptions for the very same kind of drugs she was “addicted” to, and taking more medication than she has every taken in her life, and she calls this clean living?????????????

    Please advise!

    I want you to know I am keeping track of what you are doing.

    Sandra

  • Anonymous-6

    ok i am addicted to the computer so what right ? wrong i have been getting bad grades and no chore money from my parents beacause of this

  • sharon-anne

    i just found out yesterday that my boyfriend has been having sex chats with people/women and i dont know what to do i feel so hurt and betrade in what he has done,he has had this problem for 3 years now and i really want him to stop with what he is doing. In my eyes i feel its cheating and that i cant seem to trust him no more please help yours sincerley Miss Sharon-Anne

  • No name

    Their families want them to be available for them if they are needed and not online with other people but these people who want the addict available will not be available to them if they need to talk. No one listens. Ive met a lot of people whose families hate them being online so much but are not there for them. It is like the family expects them to just be at attention just in case they need something.

  • James Town Tango

    My wife is addicted to the internet and/or social sites, mainly my space.

    It started out slowly then quickly got out of control. She is always on. Our family is falling apart. She knows there are problems but doesn’t see why. Our kids are suffering and not doing well in a number of ways. They need their mother. We don’t talk anymore, we just live in the same house. It’s ironic, she majored in psychology yet she denies it’s a destructive problem. It’s an insidious problem because we all need the internet these days,she does it all through her iphone so she has total autonomy. I’m worried about the health of our family and our future. I’ve fallen into an affair. This makes me feel even worse. It started out a friendship but quickly turned into much more. I have just started to end it now but it just felt so good to be needed and wanted. Is there any thing I can do to help my wife to see what she’s loosing/lost??? Is there any help out there? Help!!

  • Anonymous-7

    Hello,

    I need help. I can't stop talking to other people's wifes and girlfriends. I send them money trying to let them know how much I care about them yet I never get anything back but talk. They tell me that I'm crazy and that it will never work out but they take my money anyways when I send it,like a gift. I think they just playing and being nice but I don't know the truth from fiction. Are these girls just playing me for money? Or is it true love to me it is but I must be stupid like they say behind my back when they tell their REAL boyfriends? They tell me that their boyfriends don't care that they talk to me coz I send them money and they both think its funny but I believe its because the girls really care about me. They say they never are going to marry me but we can still talk coz they feel sorry for me but I want them to mary with me. What should I do? I just want to know the truth.

    Please help me email me at rupert.foxiv@us.army.mil

  • Mike

    I have a hard time getting off the internet since my job requires for me to be on the internet. I try to get other things like going biking or walking. Been online that makes my work performance to be poor. I am deciding to take up meditation and so positive things like reading. I suggest people learn meditation. It helps the deep issue which is usually depression. Also going outside really helps. I have learned depressed people have low levels of vitamin D. Even in the winter time I go outside to get sunlight exposure. http://www.naturalnews.com/004840.html http://www.naturalnews.com/020611_depression_food_foods.html

    Dr. Dombeck's Note: For those interested in Meditation, we suggest our article, "Meditation for Stress Reduction", and this facinating Wise Counsel Interview with master meditator and teacher Shinzen Young.

  • Anonymous-8

    Link to link to link.... it never ends.... 24 hour news... and all the news of the past..... and wikipedia... and stocks.... and shopping for the absolute best prices... & monitoring those prices like the stock market because they may go lower.... and not working at work... and staring into a computer when I could be out in the world as a real participant taling to real people.... it's all too easy now... fast computers & fast internet... and wifi... wifi is everywhere, even at my local grocery store... can I get my life back... I must... but how... is google the greatest or the worst thing ever to happen.... I can relate to the comments of others... you're not alone

  • Pierluigi

    I think one component in this (as well as all addictive behavior) which isn't mentioned here is what people are avoiding or hiding from when using the internet. In the absence of truly knowing how to cope with certain things or face certain responsiblities there lies an opening or a void which is filled by what we refer to as "compulsive behavior", such as internet use. Therefore, it only makes sense that in one's strive to resolve his issue, a person identify what those things are that he feels unable to cope with or be responsible for. Only as one example, people (including health professionals) often mistakenly identify child neglect as a result of a parent's addictive behavior, when in truth, a parent first feels incapable of coping with his parental responsibilities, and therefore drinks, uses the internet, works too much, and so on. Therefore the source of one's compulsion is mistakenly identified as the symptom and the treatment ends up being as inaccurate as the assessment of the issue at hand.

    I personally do not think that the intervention by a professional is as necessary as people are led to believe. I think that much of our solutions to such problems are inherently available to us - but we are distracted by misconceptions, propaganda, and unsound professional advice.

  • Greg Chant

    The internet in the infomation age is a necessity than luxury. In some ways it can be likened to food and compulsive overeating. The compulsion to play games or impose round the clock presence in social networking sites can have serious effects physically, emotionally and socially -- especially to the young.

  • anonymous

    I have a wasted the last year of my life on the internet, it started when I was made redundant, looking for jobs etc. I'm going cold turkey from this moment on....

    I have no underlying issues, or other addictions.

  • Anonymous-9

    I just can't seem to pull myself away. I joined a forum for stay-at-home mothers. It was innocent enough, but I slowly got sucked in to sitting in front of the computer all day and most of the night. My house is a wreck. My two year old expects me to sit in front of the computer. My husband has given up on our relationship.

    I still can't pull myself away. I can't believe I'm ONLINE talking about how I'm addicted to being online. -__-

  • Anonymous-10

    I have been married for 6 years and have lost two children. I feel that I get on the internet to avoid my feelings of remorse and guilt. My husband knows of my addiction and desperately wants me to stop. I have recently stopped my addiction to a game that I play. This game to me is very addictive and I find myself going thru withdrawal if I don't play this game. I know why I play the game but how do i stop? I can't find any therapists in my area that deal with video game addiction. How do I get help if i can't find help???