Monthly Archives: October 2013

Technology Helping Teens In Crisis

It’s said that if you want to get through to young people, you have to meet them at their level. To say that today’s teens are “Internet addicted” and “text obsessed” is an under statement.  As the new preferred mode of communication among young people- along with all the other internet induced forms of communication like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram etc… it seems that a new texting hotline is making it easier for teens in crisis to seek help.

Picking up the phone can be foreign and uncomfortable for some young people- as unaccustomed as they are to this direct mode of speaking. So it’s understandably a stretch to imagine today’s teens picking up the phone to actually call a crisis hotline.

Technology to the Rescue

Crisis Text Line, a nonprofit hotline that launched in August, joined a handful of crisis centers around the country counseling young people via text. The group hopes to be able to direct any teen, anywhere, to their needed services without requiring a phone call.

The hotline is based in New York, but as they develop the service, Chicago and El Paso, Texas, are two cities organizers are also focusing on.

“Ultimately, we’re aiming to be as big and well known as 911,” said Nancy Lublin, the hotline’s founder.

Lublin, also CEO of, a nonprofit for teens and young adults interested in social change, saw a need for a text-based hotline after that organization started actually texting teens about opportunities to help out… And teens actually started texting back — not with questions about activism, but more significantly with calls for help.

Texts arrived each month from teens struggling with Internet and drug addiction, bullying, depression, eating disorders, suicide and forms of abuse. According to a 2012 report by the Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project, the typical young person sends 60 texts a day, or 100 for girls between ages 14 and 17. About 63 percent text on a daily basis, far more than those who talk on a (cell) phone (39 %) or socialize face to face (35 %).

Young people need to know there’s someone “ out there” who cares. And they need to have a way of contact these care givers in way that seems most natural to them.

Texting: A Call for Help

When someone texts Crisis Text Line with a problem, the message is routed to one of more than 50 counselors at crisis centers in Miami, Boston and Seattle. The counselors use an online chat-like program to text with teens, helping them to figure out what they need. Sometimes, that simply means talking through a problem. Other times, the counselor might refer a teen to another organization better able to help. Counselors will try to connect teens to other groups with text hotlines if that’s what they’re most comfortable with, however, if they think a teen needs to call or talk to someone face to face, they’ll absolutely do what they can to make it easier to take that step.

There’s a huge need for more centers, as most already in existence have trouble keeping up.

The sheer number of texts teens send isn’t the only reason some hotlines are trying to be more text friendly. The added benefit is that text conversations are private and discreet- unlike phone calls that might be overheard.  This also allows young people to feel – making it easier for teens to disclose information they struggle to talk about.

Texts also create data that’s easier to analyze than calls. Crisis Text Line is currently creating a team of researchers that will study how message wording, length and timing affect how teens respond. They’re waiting until they’ve collected more data to release results but have created a system that looks for keywords suggesting a risk of imminent harm and moves those texts to the front of the line.

Why it’s Working

Technology lets teens look for help and information without exposing something they might be uncomfortable revealing, particularly to their parents. Talking to a doctor and calling a hotline were among the least popular options. While talking to a friend is the most common choice, texting someone comes second. In an Internet addicted world it’s no wonder that young people would also rather use online tools like instant messaging or social media for help.  However, sometimes, the technology they’re comfortable using can lead to the wrong kind of advice, (such as websites encouraging suicide and eating disorders). This brings to light to how in demand crisis text lines are and how important it is to make sure young people can also find real assistance. The younger someone is, the less likely they are to use the phone hotlines or approach someone in person. These are people who probably wouldn’t get help any other way.

Crisis Text Lines & Post Wilderness Therapy

The therapists at Pacific Quest develop and present an assessment of a student’s needs in the next placement and transition. They work with families, students and educational consultants to determine the next best fit for the student. Students have the chance to talk to their parents and educational consultants about these plans, and discuss any struggles and challenges that lay ahead… challenges that will need specific and comfortable, known actions for young adults to take. Therapists usually provide student contracts and/or more specific transition tools if necessary and it’s very exciting to be able to add crisis text hotlines to the list.

Perhaps it’s time to spread the word… via texting, of course!


Internet Addiction & the Teenage Brain

Computing and internet technologies are still relatively new. However, they have proliferated like few technologies before them. Barely two decades ago, 500 web pages existed, ballooning to 3 billion pages by 2000. Today, 38 billion webpages are estimated to exist (as sorted on Google and Bing), and statistics show a 566.4% growth worldwide in internet usage from 2000-2012. With this kind of growth and increased access to the World Wide Web, people can get easily lost in all the internet has to offer.

With anything that is new, it can take years to fully understand any consequences or repercussions. Some of the first studies concerning internet addiction and internet usage disorders were conducted in China in the early 2000s and described them as a problem among Chinese youth. They noted symptoms such as fainting, eating issues, depression, muscle weakness, and a preoccupation with the internet. These studies also noted the teenagers had a lack of control over internet use, problems with real-life relationships, and difficulties in school. In response to the information, the Chinese government created and tried various rehabilitation programs.

In the US, internet addiction disorder (IAD) and internet usage disorder (IUD) are still under some debate and are yet to be classified as true addictions, but they are recognized as impulse control disorders. A person’s inability to resist the urge to do something harmful to himself or others characterizes impulse control disorders. It is a broad category that includes substance addictions, eating disorders, and behavioral addictions – such as compulsive gambling. People with an internet usage disorder spend an excessive amount of time online to the extent that it lowers their quality of life. When deprived of the internet or a computer, they can experience withdrawal-like symptoms, feel distressed, and involuntarily move their fingers as if typing.

Taking a Closer Look

Past internet addiction research centered on psychological assessments to determine effects of excessive internet use on people. Newer research conducted in the last few years in China looked into the physical changes on the brains of 17 teens diagnosed with internet addict using MRI scans. Those scans were compared with those of 16 non-addicted people.

“In the IAD-diagnosed teenagers, the scientists found evidence of disruption to ‘white matter’ nerve [fibers] connecting vital parts of the brain involved in emotions, decision making, and self-control.”  Some behavioral impairment could be caused by such abnormal white matter structure. Other earlier studies had already showed abnormal white matter structure in the brains of those exposed to substances such as alcohol, marijuana, cocaine, and methamphetamine. This is significant as it reveals behavioral addictions may have the same damaging effects as seen in those with substance addictions.

Also important is the location – the orbitofrontal regions of the brain – of the abnormal white matter structures found in the substance abuse studies. The orbitofrontal regions of the brain are involved in the decision-making process and also may have a part in assessing reward/punishment expectations in a given situation. Processing expected rewards/punishments with actual results is an important factor in adaptive learning. The human brain continues to develop until a person is in his 20s. Because of this, behavioral issues and addictions in adolescents and young adults, like internet addiction, are important to diagnose and treat early to ensure proper and healthy development.

 Addressing Internet Addiction

Despite any debate, facilities in the US and abroad – including China, Taiwan, and Korea – have sprung up in order to begin dealing with the issue of internet addiction. Treatment varies from weekend retreats to more long-term stays, such as outdoor therapy programs.

For adolescents and young adults, the internet provides an escape because poor coping skills may have led them to use the internet to deal with their issues. Wilderness therapy provides structure where they can learn life skills while also having access to medical doctors, therapists, and psychiatrists. Individualized care through individual and group therapy help focus on each participant’s needs, issues, and motivations. Through this program, participants learn new concepts and ways to handle areas of challenge. Given these life skills, they are able to return home with a better ability to deal with the everyday stresses they may face, including how to manage internet usage problems.

Wilderness Therapy : The Physical Toll of Internet Addiction

The Internet Age dawned only a relative few years ago, but it has affected the world in ways that may be greater than those of the Industrial Revolution. In 2000 Bill Gates wrote an essay entitled, “Shaping the Internet Age.” In it he describes the internet’s beginnings, its evolution through the World Wide Web, its current state (well, as it was in 2000), and its future as “one of the key cultural and economic forces of the early 21st century.”

Fast-forward thirteen years, and we are now living in that future. And, Gates was right: few would have predicted that the internet would play such a central role in our lives – from personal to business. Many people use the internet and find it an indispensable tool. At the end of the day, most can understand that the internet is a tool and feel fine putting it away when necessary. However, people with internet addiction or internet usage issues find it much more difficult to step away from and log off their computers. If few would have seen the full potential of the internet and World Wide Web in its infancy, then even fewer would have foreseen – let alone understood – some of the consequences of the lifestyle that can come of overusing them.

Any addiction takes a mental, emotional, and physical toll on a person. For anyone with an internet addiction or internet usage issue, the physical problems vary but can be just as serious as the mental and emotional ones and include

  • Weight gain
  • Decline in physical fitness
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome
  • Dry eyes
  • Eye strain
  • Migraine headaches
  • Back aches
  • Decline in personal hygiene
  • Changes in brain tissue/structures

These problems develop over time – possibly so slowly that one may not realize any changes for some time. Most often when using the internet, people are sitting at a computer. In the US and today’s knowledge-based economy, many jobs require people to be stationed for hours at a desk, then they go home and spend more hours sitting either at a computer surfing the web for entertainment or doing late-night work, or they sit in front of the television to stream Netflix or play video games. The result is a sedentary lifestyle not experienced by past generations and that leads to a host of health issues.

All You Have to Do Is Sit There

Being sedentary means more time is spent sitting and correspondingly less time is dedicated to physical activity, a combination that leads to a decline in fitness and weight gain unless something is done to combat the effects. A person will eventually suffer from extra pounds, and those pounds bring additional health concerns, such as heart disease, etc. And whether ones gains weight or not, minimal physical activity can bring on some of the same problems.

Carpal tunnel syndrome is a progressive condition caused by the compression of the median nerve, which runs from the forearm to the wrist and palm. This nerve controls some movement the in the thumb and fingers. Symptoms include tingling, numbness, and a feeling as though some fingers are useless; as it worsens, people may experience decreased sensation and/or decreased grip strength. Various factors can contribute to the increased pressure of the nerve, including work stress. Though there is insufficient clinical data to conclusively say that repetitive movements of the hand or wrists from work or leisure activities lead to carpal tunnel syndrome, people can experience hand and wrist pain and discomfort from long hours of computer work.

Prolonged periods of staring at a computer screen contribute to both eye problems and headaches. Eyes are forced to constantly move and re-focus as people look across the computer screen, down to papers on their desk, and back again. Computer screen light, glare, and flickers also mean extra work for the eyes causing headaches and eye strain. Overtime this can lead to poor vision or worsen vision.

Back, neck, and other pains can stem from sitting too long and improperly. Ergonomic chairs, desks, keyboards, etc., can help alleviate the cause of some pains, as can taking breaks and performing some stretches or exercises periodically. Overall physical strength can also help, as a strong back and good posture can alleviate any pain experienced.

Many of these physical problems are not exclusive to those with an internet usage disorder. Anyone who spends many hours sitting and working at a computer can suffer from them. Therefore, it is important to monitor computer usage, be aware of one’s body, and do something – like exercise – to prevent issues from occurring.

The Physical Aspect of Mental and Emotional Struggles

Internet addiction can lead to depression, which has its own physical effect and symptoms. As it is a mental disorder that affects emotions and moods, depression alters brain chemistry leading to issues throughout the body. People suffering from depression can experience physical aches and pains, decreased appetites, and chronic fatigue. Depression – as well as lack of sleep and proper nutrition – can lead to weakened immune systems leaving people more susceptible to illnesses and infections and worsen existing problems, like heart disease.

Seeking Help for Internet Addiction

Internet addiction is a serious issue that has far reaching effects. Adolescents and young adults are particularly susceptible to falling into an internet addiction as the Web offers them an escape from any social pressures, emotional struggles, and stresses they may be facing. And as habits are built over time, they can be difficult to break. With computers and the internet being ubiquitous, a Web-addicted teen faces an incredible uphill battle when wanting to break the cycle of addiction. Beyond dealing with the source of addiction, a young person must also learn to address the emotional, mental, and physical problems that have developed.

In-patient treatment offers an opportunity to get away from an addiction source, and medical and mental health professionals are available to aid in understanding the root issues that led to a substance or behavioral addiction. While no one form of treatment is the answer for everyone, an outdoor therapy program could be the option for a young person you know who is suffering from internet addiction. One of the leading centers is Pacific Quest located at Reeds Bay in Hawaii.

Unlike other wilderness programs that may focus on fun and adventure, Pacific Quest combines outdoor activities plus therapy to achieve whole-person wellness through a Sustainable Growth Model. Physical health is stressed as well as mental and emotional well-being as students learn life skills through organic gardening and horticulture and individual and group therapy to help them cope with the issues they will face once they graduate from the program.

Adolescents and young adults may not understand the ramifications of excessive computer use or recognize when they have a problem. Considering the physical effects that can stem from an internet addiction, helping a young person with a usage disorder and getting treatment early is important for long-term health, well-being, balance, and productivity.


Unplugging: Avoid an Internet Addiction

Internet addiction disorder and internet usage disorder are now recognized issues in today’s society. Because of work and school, it is nearly a requirement to have internet access and computers in our homes, plus a smartphone with a data plan in our pockets. Many projects and assignments cannot be completed without doing online research or communicating with coworkers or group members via email or instant messaging. In a world that is becoming increasingly connected by computers and the internet, how can we avoid the time trap that they can become?

Plopping down in front of a computer, watching TV, or playing a video game is easy, which is why one can slip into an internet usage disorder. But, you don’t want to miss life because you wasted it in front of a computer. Memories should be about the times you spent with family and friends. If you recognize that you may have an internet usage problem, try some of these tips and tricks for reducing the time you spend online. For adolescents and young adults, developing healthy habits early can set them up for success and avoid issues in the future.

  • Find a new hobby or activity. The key: the hobby does not involve the computer, internet, TV, video games, cell phones – well, you get the idea. Has photography always interested you? Grab a camera, go outside, and be creative. Join local clubs or sports leagues, take art classes, or attend community events. Rediscover your love of books. Exercise is known to have positive mental and emotional effects; learn yoga, or get friends together to do a mud run. Grab a skateboard or a bike. Learn to snowboard.
  • Do your homework. It can be so easy to get home from school and turn on the TV or surf your favorite websites. But before you know it, an hour or two has passed, and that homework pile is still waiting. Get it done early, and then the rest of the day is free. Also, before the internet and Wikipedia, there were libraries. Guess what. They still exist. Try to use books for research and references. Also, studying in the library could help you keep your focus, and the computers restrict access to certain sites.
  • Be more engaged with the people around you. Internet addictions take you away from face-to-face interactions and can cause personal relationships to deteriorate. Call up friends to go hang out at the bowling alley, go on a hike, or see a movie. Help your parents cook dinner, ask a sibling to help you walk the dog, or plan family time. Set up board game nights. Being with others can also help distract from the fact you are not online.
  • Limit your computer time. While this sounds ridiculously simple, it can be one of those things that is easier said than done. People with an internet addiction spend excessive amounts of time online and lose track of time. So, put away the laptop – “hide” it in a closet, and put some sort of cover over your desktop. Whenever you have to use the computer or internet, actively set a time limit and honor it.
  • Step away from the desk. This is everything from taking breaks to do something else (especially when you’re no longer being productive) to not eating at your desk. Breaks are important, an importance that is underscored by the scientific research linking health problems and risks to sedentary lifestyles.
  • Turn off notifications. Is it really that important to know when your best friend posts a new status on Facebook or breaking sports news? How many emails need your immediate attention? With smartphones that have internet access, it becomes even more difficult to escape the call of the Web, and notifications about every new bit of activity mean people constantly go online. These seemingly small distractions could lead to several minutes of browsing time.
  • Install applications that track your online activity or block access. Tracking your activity aids in understanding how you spend your time online, then you can start to change your habits. Other applications can block you from sites after a certain amount of them (which could come in handy if Facebook gets more time than a research paper). Parental controls can be used to block sites with sexual or explicit content, which is one thing that can lead to internet addictions.
  • Have a no-internet day. One blogger realized she had an internet usage problem, so she decided to spend one day a week (a full 24 hours) offline and use that day to do all of the things she enjoyed – from hanging out with friends and family to organizing her home or trying something new. The possibilities are endless. (Truly!) It may seem an extreme step, but just remember this: the World Wide Web has only been around for 20 or so years, and humans survived before it existed.
  • Get your ZZZs. How many hours have you wasted at night by surfing the web or streaming Netflix before you realize it is 2 a.m., and you have to wake up early for school or work? Good quality sleep is important to our health, so setting up a regular sleep schedule will help you avoid spending excess hours online.
  • Build a support system. Once realizing you may have a problem, tell your family and friends about it and what you are trying to do to help yourself. Have them remind you when you are spending too much time online, or ask them to do something with you so that you are not tempted to log on. Support is important whether you choose to make lifestyle changes on your own or if you have sought out- or in-patient treatment.

Employing any of all of these tips is beneficial for anyone with or without an internet usage disorder because they can also aid in avoiding the physical, mental, and emotional side effects of an internet addiction. Weight gain, back or neck pains, eye strain, and carpal tunnel syndrome can affect anyone who sits for prolonged periods of time at a desk and computer.

The Effects of Internet Addiction

Internet addiction is not something to be taken lightly. Beyond the physical ramifications of the sedentary lifestyle resulting from prolonged computer use, studies on internet-addicted young people have also shown negative effects on the brain structures that are involved in emotions, self-control, and decision making, which were similar to effects seen in people with substance addictions. The brain continues to develop until the ages of 25-30, so adolescents and young adults may fall into behavioral addictions more easily.

When You Have an Internet Addiction …

Recognizing internet addiction as a problem is an important first step, and seeking outside help and therapy can be a helpful option to help you regain your life, health, and time when the aforementioned lifestyle changes are not enough. Most importantly, know that you are not alone.  Adults and teens alike are susceptible to the same issue. Like a food addiction, an internet addiction is difficult to cope with because of how much of our everyday tasks may revolve around computers, and given life in the US, many people cannot simply give up using them.

Young people turn to the internet as an outlet for various reasons – social problems, coping issues, depression. Therefore, an in-patient treatment program that addresses all the underlying issues and not just the resulting addiction may be necessary. Wilderness therapy is one such option as it separates a person from the addiction sources and surrounds them with the people and means to aid in recovery and understanding why they abuse the internet. A whole-person wellness approach incorporates a healthy diet, exercise, and therapy with outdoor activities to achieve healing and balance. Students also learn tools and life skills that can be used throughout their lives, so they can be successful once they exit the program.



Internet on the Go

As anyone 30 years of age or older can attest, a lot about how we live life has changed, and we could list a multitude of examples. Let’s keep it simple: Think about the internet and recall what life was like just over 20 years ago. Yeah. Phones were still attached to the walls, and phone lines were just for phone calls. Personal computers were a luxury. By the end of the millennium, advancements in technology and production were already helping to make computers smaller, more affordable, more powerful, and more commonplace. And as computer systems technology improved, so did the technology that gave us cell phones.

All the while, the World Wide Web was being developed and would revolutionize computers and phones once again. People once marveled that a house’s telephone land line could connect them to the internet, but now people get frustrated when their “smart phones” don’t upload webpages quickly enough as they drive to work.

In a relatively short period of time, the internet became mobile. Now people use cell phones for more than phones calls and text messages; they can surf the web anytime and anywhere just by turning on their smart phones. Thanks to technology and internet access, phones now ring for every new email, social media posts, sports updates, and when it’s time to make a play in an online game, etc.

Because of this, many people have developed the habit of compulsively and perhaps even obsessively checking their phones no matter where they are or the situation. Ask yourself, when you receive a new message, do you automatically check your phone? Have you ever looked at your phone thinking you got a new message only to find you were mistaken? Have you ever done this while driving? Most people could probably answer “yes” to all of these – even though laws now restrict cell phone usage while driving.

These developments mean it may be more important than ever to teach people at a young age to manage their online usage properly. People can get lost in surfing the web and interacting on social media when at their computers, which could possibly lead to an internet addiction. Smart phones can become another avenue for this addiction.

Today many teenagers – even some young children – have their own computers and cell phones. Habits – good or bad – are built over time, and healthy internet habits become of paramount importance as teenagers learn and begin to drive. New, inexperienced drivers are more likely to be involved in an accident than older, more experienced drivers. Add in a person that is used to checking his phone at any notification, and he may be likely to look at and try to respond to the message while driving – laws notwithstanding. It can be nerve-wracking for any parent smartphone-internet-addictionas her young child attains a license and is on his own, but the added distraction of cell phones can make the new experience more dangerous.

Of course smart phones can be extremely handy. For example, phones’ GPS capability means people can simply type in a destination and let their phone tell them the way. However, this helpful tool becomes less helpful if a person has to glance down to look at their phone. Set teenagers up for success by adding hands-free accessories, like a device that attaches or the windshield or dashboard at eye level.

 Internet Addiction and How to Cope

While anyone can fall prey to the feeling or need to check one’s cell phone, an internet addiction increases the potential for danger. We know we should not use our cell phones while driving, yet we may do it anyway. Someone with an internet addiction feels a constant need to stay connected as his or her sense of self can become intertwined with an online persona, and this may override common sense more than it might for others.

Internet addiction or internet usage issues can cause a person to lose sleep, have headaches, withdraw from normal social and extracurricular activities, become depressed, etc. Growing up has never been easy, but today’s youth are experiencing stress levels like never before from a growing number of sources: social media, TV, advertising. If a young person in your life is struggling and talking has not been effective, seeking professional help or a wellness and treatment center may be an option. At a wellness facility, participants’ mental, emotional, and physical health are all taken into account with an integrated program. Learning life skills can help adolescents and young adults grow into healthy, balanced adults who are more self-aware and make better decisions – whether or not they are behind the wheel.

The Internet Age & Rise of Smart Phones

In the last half century, technology has advanced at a pace that has never before been experienced. The change in telephone technology and the rise of cell phones exemplify this rapid evolution. A decade ago, cell phones were beginning to become more affordable for the average buyer, but looking back two decades, they were in the hands of only a few who could afford the luxury.  However, their ubiquity now means it is not unusual to see adolescents and teenagers – even young children – with a cell phone.

And all the while, cell phone technology has advanced so much that they are now more personal computers rather than simply a phone. They have evolved into smart phones: small, compact machines that take digital pictures, capture videos, store music, act as a personal gaming device, and have internet access. The latter allows users to use their phones to surf the web, access email, keep up with social media, stream TV shows and movies, and even navigate. The internet was a revolution in itself. Who would have imagined we would be able to access the internet with personal mobile devices?

Society has quickly adapted to these rapid changes and has even welcomed them. Many people seem to like being able to reach others whenever and wherever they are and the fact anyone can reach them, too; it can be reassuring to have this level of availability. And with cell phones enabling internet usage from any location with a Wi-Fi signal or a data plan, people also get a sense of increased productivity. No longer will an important email have to wait until they get back into the office. People also love all the applications available – social media, games, news outlets. These can be set to notify us of any new activity. With all this information and stimulation at our fingertips, we wonder how we ever seemed to get by without the internet and cell phone addiction

However, the tradeoffs are just as great as the rewards. Because people can typically be found with their cell phones within reach, friends, family, and employers expect immediate responses. Personal space, privacy, and down time have been invaded, and people’s personal lives are being affected. Increasing numbers of people are experiencing anxiety over this constant deluge of messages and notifications and the demands these place on people’s attention and time. Internet usage issues can possibly to problems for people causing them to lose touch with the reality around them as they try to keep up with all the distractions at their fingertips. This can lead to emotional and/or mental problems or even the breakdown of personal relationships.

Dealing with Internet Use and Our Cell Phones

Maybe this situation is relatable to you. Maybe you have experienced this yourself or have seen a friend go through it. But whether it is familiar or not, the situation of internet addiction and internet usage issues is real, and smart phones enable these problems to progress. Cell phones and their increased functional capacity will not be going away, so we have to learn how to deal with the strain they could cause.

For the children growing up in a world where there have always been the internet and cell phones, this may be even more important. Parents should help them realize their lives do not have to be ruled by these technologies, and that nothing replaces face-to-face communication and interaction. Setting up rules and boundaries for cell phone and internet use may help to set in place healthy habits that they can continue to use into adulthood.

But for all people’s best intentions, they or their children can develop dependencies on their phones or the internet. When this happens, seeking help may be the answer and can aid a person in changing bad habits while also helping him cope with any emotional issues. Many options exist. For some, maybe a weekend away from technology is all they need. For people who recognize a bigger problem, treatment centers offer the time and support necessary to assist in recovery.

One example is wilderness therapy. For adolescents and young adults, this can be incredibly helpful. Wilderness therapy offers a hybrid therapeutic model that incorporates outdoor treatment as well and traditional residential therapy. Structured outdoor activities that require responsibility and accountability have shown to build life skills and a sense of self. Trained doctors, therapists, and psychologists provide participants with support and the skills and information to deal with their emotions, stress, etc., that can develop due to internet addiction or other issues.

It is all about finding a healthy balance with the realities of today.

How a Habit Could Be an Addiction

Addiction takes many forms – a substance, object, activity, or behavior – that are broadly categorized as either substance abuse or behavioral addictions. Substance abuse, the overindulgence of a substance, is not a new phenomenon and is a recognized mental disorder. But while one might first think of illegal drug use, people have abused prescription drugs as well. Recently, food addictions have become an acknowledged issue.

Many behavioral addictions, such as gambling, are well-known and recognized disorders. However, unlike substance abuse, behavioral addictions seem to be more abstract and therefore less clear or easily understood. It may be that people can more easily grasp how substances can alter the brain and thus become an addiction. Also, behavioral addictions involve actions or activities that many people do regularly yet never develop a problem with controlling themselves. For example, many people have gambled, and a number of people gamble regularly. How does gambling remain simply an activity for most but become a problem for others?

Habit vs. Addiction

A habit is characterized by choice. It is possible for a person to engage in some activity once or even frequently yet be able to decide to stop if and/or when he so chooses and will successfully be able to stop.

With addiction, a psychological component makes the ability or decision to choose to stop increasingly difficult. The psychological and emotional reasons for how and why a person becomes addicted are numerous and varied. But no matter the subject of an addiction, the person develops a dependency and needs increased amounts or longer periods of exposure to get the same level of pleasure.

It is important to understand this underlying difference of choice to determine if a something has become more than a habit for you or someone you know. As psychology has progressed and data is collected, more dependency issues are being identified. This has had some backlash: the impression is that everything has become labeled as an addiction. Internet addiction and internet usage disorder exemplify this issue.

Recognizing Internet Addiction

In 2013 it is difficult for those in industrialized countries to consider life without our technological and computerized gadgets. While the internet as known today had humble beginnings in the late 1950s, major public access to the World Wide Web did not come until the 1990s, and home computers were still finding their stride. However, the world now has a generation of children who have not known their homes without computers or smart phones.

This rapid change of the last 20 years may be one reason that makes internet addiction difficult to understand or accept as a true disorder. Millions of people across the planet use the internet on a regular basis. Some people even use it for prolonged periods of time. Because of this, making a distinction between those with an internet addiction or simply a regular habit seems like a grey area.

Therefore, it is important to watch for signs that might indicate a person has a problem with internet use, such as:

  • Increasing amount of time devoted to online activities
  • Obsessive worry or concern about online activities
  • Dishonesty about online activities
  • Neglecting activities he/she once enjoyed
  • Physical and emotional changes: weight fluctuations, loss of sleep, sadness, anger

In a world connected like never before because of the internet, a person can easily become isolated. For today’s adolescents and young adults, it is important to be aware of these and other signs that a basic habit has progressed into a bigger issue and to seek help so that they can grow to be physically and mentally healthy adults.

Treating Internet Addiction

Various methods of treatment exist, and no one method is better than another. It depends on the person. Researching the options available is important. Some people who realize they have a problem with internet usage might be able to resolve their issue with a digital detox – abstaining from technology for a single weekend or up to two weeks. They must have enough self-control and discipline to monitor themselves once they return home. For others that have greater dependency issues, more intensive treatments are available. Treatment centers can allow an escape from the addiction source. Medical doctors, psychiatrists, therapists and other staff members are available for patients to speak to and can help them discover the root problems and offer ways to deal with their addictions. Wilderness therapy  provides an outdoor setting during treatment providing life skills while also having the same clinical and wellness support.