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.


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