Internet addiction is a very recent concept, which is easily understandable as the internet has been widely available for only the last two decades. This trouble with this uniquely modern struggle is that many people don’t accept it as a true problem.
Internet addiction is not yet considered a true addiction, but studies are showing that spending excessive hours online has some very real consequences.
The Medical Basis of Internet Addiction
Researchers have compiled a lot of data supporting the idea that people can develop a dependency on the internet and the devices that keep them connected – computers, smartphones, and tablets. The constant connectivity plus the instant feedback of our online activities elicits a positive response in our brains because of dopamine, that brain chemical that gets released when something good happens and is thought to be one contributing factor to substance abuse addiction. This feel-good cycle continues because we crave that the next dose of dopamine and stay logged on.
Many people overuse digital technology with only a small percentage suffering from true internet addiction. Still, it’s good to know the signs.
Becoming Aware: Identifying the Red Flags of Internet Addiction
- Compulsively checking messages or browsing the web, perhaps unaware of your behavior
- Experiencing withdrawal symptoms, like irritability and depression, when away from your computer or forced to turn off a device
- Inability to set limits even when other aspects of your life begin to suffer, such as job/school performance and personal relationships
Health issues are also linked to internet addiction due to long hours of inactivity: physical issues such as joint pain, obesity, and even diabetes. Lack of sleep has its own set of consequences. Plus, constantly being connected can lead to increased levels of cortisol, the stress hormone that sets you up for anxiety or other stress-related illnesses.
Wilderness Therapy: Getting Away and Getting in Control
Adolescents and young adults may be more susceptible to developing internet addiction because their generation has always known a world with the internet. Increased numbers of adolescents have their own phones and computers, and unless parents monitor their behavior, unchecked internet use can cause problems.
One key to getting back in control is regulating internet use – much easier said than done when so much of modern life seems tied to technology. A digital detox – going away, perhaps to a treatment facility, for a weekend – can be an option for some. For others, a more prolonged remedy may be necessary, especially if internet addiction is the manifestation of something more. Wilderness therapy for troubled adolescents and young adults is one such option. They get away from their troubles and get to interact with nature.
Pacific Quest is a wilderness therapy program located in Hawaii. Organic gardens are used as a therapeutic source; students learn by doing. As they work at building and maintaining the gardens, they gain a sense of self, purpose, and confidence. Gardening and being in nature have been shown to help with anxiety and other mood regulation issues.
The Pacific Quest wilderness program immerses students in a supportive community setting but also creates individualized care plans for each person. Individual and group therapy enables students to explore their feelings, get feedback on their struggles, and share their new accomplishments and growth. Pacific Quest stresses sustainable growth and change. Internet addiction doesn’t end with the wilderness program, so Pacific Quest aims to provide adolescents and young adults with the tools and life skills that will serve them once they get home as well as long into the future and in any tough situation.