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.