Social Networking

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.

The Real World Leads To Real Happiness

On a lowly Saturday night, many of us have been guilty of being sucked down the Facebook black hole. Hours later you may find yourself in the same position on the couch without an ounce of productivity. For an activity or behavior that seemingly draws us in as social media does it can also leave us disoriented, hollow, and unfulfilled.

In our Internet laced world, we are constantly looking for a source of stimulation, whether through our smart phone or our friends’ own activities. Social media sites are an exciting avenue to discover new interests. Our News Feeds are constantly updated with new content and additions to engage with and other’s personal lives to inspect. However, this is where depression can find its way into our lives.

One of the many inaccuracies that teen depression, young adult depression, adolescent depression, wilderness therapy programsocial media attempts to display is that it presents the truth to viewers. Websites such as Facebook and MySpace are specifically designed to have their members put their best foot forward to the world. Members intentionally choose what aspects of their lives they want the rest of the world to witness. From profile images, to photos, to what they post and like, all content is shared for a specific purpose and through a specific filter.

Hidden behind the superficial facades of self imagery, and constant check-ins are struggles and battles we never witness. Instead, things are shown to us deemed appropriate to share: smiles, exotic vacations, and wild nights out on the town with friends.

While in photos life seems carelessly happy, fun, and harmless; they can lead individuals to some dark places. Why would such jovial evidence lead to this? Competition and comparison lead to depression.  With social media there is a sense of social comparison. Comparing your life to the facade of your friend’s page can leave you feeling disconnected, inferior, and even exhausted. A rule of thumb to follow is, “Don’t judge your insides by other people’s outsides.”

A positive way to combat these feelings of insecurity and depression is by limiting your time on social media websites. Research has found that people who spend their time with friends in the “real” world and less time socializing online felt happier and more fulfilled than those that spent the majority of their time forming relationships in cyberspace. Whether you set limits on the time you’ve allotted for yourself or, make a routine excursion with a friend for a couple hours; take necessary measures to limit your time on social media. Engage with the “real” world to make “real” connections.

A Smartphone Can Connect to Internet Addiction

For many of us it’s fair to say that we compulsively check our smartphones. This compulsion grows the more we use and fuels that urge to instinctually monitor it.

In the waiting room of a doctor’s office. On the bus on our way to work. Laying in bed before falling asleep. Even while at dinner with family or friends. Our smartphones have literally become an extension of ourselves, another limb if you will. Smartphone and Internet Addiction - wilderness therapy programAs many individuals who lost limbs can contest to sensations of ghost pain or the belief that their limb is still present, we cling or grab to our smartphone in fear that we will lose it or for the comfort that it is still with us.

The new trend in our society is sitting with friends at a restaurant, their presence and company is no longer enough. Groups of individuals sitting across from one another do not converse, they peruse their smartphones to find much more engaging stimuli or to discover what other individuals are participating in.

Checking our phone, email, Facebook or Twitter has become almost as natural as breathing. In a recent study, it has been found that 70% of users say they check their smartphones within an hour of getting up, 51% say they check continuously while on vacation, and 44% say they would experience a great deal of anxiety if they lost their phone and couldn’t replace it for a week. It’s apparent many of our habits and social eccentricities have changed since the arrival of the smartphone.

Are you a smartphone addict?

Here are a few indicators that you’re addicted to your smartphone:

  • You can’t go five minutes without checking your email or social networking account.
  • You have more than five email accounts.
  • You respond to messages in the middle of the night.
  • When your inbox says, “No new messages,” you refresh your account just to make sure.
  • Checking email constantly provides you validation that you’re “Always on top of things.”

Managing your smartphone use

We understand for some occupations and individuals that giving up your smartphone all together would spell disaster or would be simply ridiculous. Here are a few steps to help control your usage:

  • Be conscious of the situations and emotions that spark you to use your smartphone. Is it boredom? Loneliness? Anxiety? Insecurity?
  • Be strong when your phone alerts you. You don’t always have to answer it.
  • Be disciplined about not using your device in certain situations (such as when you’re with children, driving, or in a meeting) or at certain hours ( for instance, between 9 p.m. and 7 a.m.).
  • Be independent with how you interact with your smartphone. Go out for a walk or spend time in nature without the company of your device.

Smartphone addiction in teens and young adults

One of the fastest and largest groups to become addicted to their mobile devices are teens and young adults. They spend much of their time on social networking sites, messaging one another and finding themselves easily bored in certain situations. Much of this exposure and time spent on a smartphone can lead to them having an internet addiction.

A successful way to manage and control this behavior is with a wilderness therapy program. Nature can often provide the best remedies and open an individual’s eyes to what is true, real, and necessary.

At a wilderness therapy program, teens and young adults learn to be more independent and self-aware, qualities of themselves they may not have been able to notice and achieve without the distraction of a mobile device constantly in their face. Smartphones and Internet usage are kept to a minimum, allowing students to focus on themselves. At Pacific Quest, individual and group therapy sessions help teens and young adults unearth and understand those feelings and emotions that drive them to use their smartphone in an unhealthy manner.

Take a moment and listen, no it’s not your phone alerting you, it’s nature and your life calling. Answer, text or message. Regain your life and independence back, and make a different kind of connection.

Social Networking- Meet Internet Addiction

I wonder what Douglas Engelbart would think about our nation of teens and adults alike, who have become obsessed with, and even addicted to, social networking. Engelbart was the inventor of the computer mouse who passed away on July 2 at age 88. His visionary computer scientist’s work in the 1950’s and 60’s was so prescient and influential in so many ways; In an era when interacting with computers involved feeding punch cards into a mainframe and most of the people doing the interacting were scientists alone, Engelbart saw computers as a way for ordinary human beings to augment their intellect. Then he set about building the necessary tools to make that not JUST possible, but easy.

In 1959 at The Stanford Research Institute, he spearheaded groundbreaking work on graphical user interfaces, hypertext, video-conferencing, networking and other fundamentals of personal computing that were later to be commercialized in Silicone Valley and elsewhere.

Hmmm, so, computers augmenting our intellect hunh? Well, in April 2009, Oprah Winfrey finally logged on to Twitter, she sent her first “tweet,” taking online social Internet addiction & social networkingnetworking out of the hands of the computer-savvy and into the living rooms of every American. And these days it seems like everyone and their grandma has a Facebook page, Twitter account or LinkedIn profile. However, teens and adolescents especially seem to be logging on every day, obsessively updating their profiles and checking the status updates of their online friends. Sure it’s a fun way to pass the time and stay in touch, but can these sites be dangerous for possible addiction? Can we become addicted to social networking?

Social networking is not a new concept, it’s been around as long as we have. A “social network” means simply the structure of relationships among individuals. Isn’t everyone on the planet is part of one big social network?  But we also belong to smaller, more distinct “sub-networks”. We define these sub-networks by criteria like: our families, friends, jobs, schools, hobbies and more. You have a social network at school, work, even at the dog park by your house. The list goes on and on, and many people in your network may overlap. Actually, our contacts multiply all the time, as we meet new people through the people in your existing networks. Social networking Web sites really just evolved from these face-to-face networks.

Online sites are powerful because they harness the strength of the Internet to manage and map out your relationships. It’s a visual thing and we are visual creatures. You can physically see your network — your friends, your friends’ friends, and so on — and how you connect with all of them. Social networking sites allow people to manage their relationships as well as find new ones. Once you join a social networking site, you may find yourself spending a lot of time there. Is it all in good fun, or can online social networks be addictive? Today’s kids spend a lot – if not too much- of time in front of digital screens. In 2008, the American Journal of Psychiatry published an editorial in support of naming “Internet addiction” as a bona fide mental condition.  Even though it’s not formally classified, many treatment and rehab centers worldwide now offer services for Internet addiction. This includes treatment for cyber porn, online gambling, online affairs and eBay addiction. Of course, these are all behaviors with serious consequences. The hallmark of an addiction is determining/ admitting whether your actions are affecting yourself or others in a negative way.

So, is hanging out on Facebook any different from talking on the phone for hours, or gabbing with your friends over coffee? Experts claim that if you’re spending abnormally large amounts of time doing social networking, you could be damaging your relationships and even your health. It seems that a lack of face-to-face contact can affect you both socially and physically. Significant eventual damage can occur…Depending upon a computer screen for human interaction might undermine the ability to follow social cues or understand body language. Besides, we’re also genetically predisposed to physically benefit from being face-to-face with another human. There’s even an online test you can take to see if the time you spend online might be a problem (which won’t be accurate if you’re addicted to online tests, of course).

Once we’ve had the social networking bite and have had a taste of how all encompassing it becomes, what is it that compels us to keep logging on?

Reason #1: Web sites are a product, and any product pusher wants return customers. When more visitors keep returning to a site, it means more ad revenue… more ad revenue means more money for the company that owns the site.

Reason #2: Programmers design every element on a social networking site to suck you in and keep you coming back. But how do they do this you ask? Sites like Twitter and Facebook offer “status updates” where users can enter a few short phrases about what they’re doing at that very moment. Users may find themselves constantly checking their friends’ updates, or changing their own updates on a regular basis. If you comment on someone else’s photo or update, sites will generate an email to let you know. You can reach out and “poke” a friend, take a quiz or survey and compare the results with your friends or upload a photo of your new puppy doing something cute so everyone can ooh and ahh over him. You reach out to the site and it reaches out to you — keeping you coming back from a few to a few dozen times a day.

Reason #3: With the increasing popularity of wireless devices like the BlackBerry and iPhone, iPad — devices that can move lots of data very quickly — users have access to their social networks 24 hours a day. Most social networking sites have developed applications for your mobile phone, so logging on is always convenient. It’s a quick fix. Social networks also tap into our human desire to stay connected with others. The rush of nostalgia as you connect with your former grade-school classmate on Facebook can be so awesome.

Reason #4: The main reason we find these sites so addictive? Plain old narcissism. Seriously. Teens especially are completely self-obsessed at their stage of development. We broadcast our personalities online whenever we publish a thought, photo, YouTube video or answer one of those “25 Things About Me” memes. We put that information out there so that people will respond and connect to us. Being part of a social network is sort of like having your own “Entourage”.

In 2008, researchers at the University of Georgia studied the correlation between narcissism and Facebook users. It is not surprising that they found the more “friends” and wall posts a user had, the more narcissistic he or she was. They noted that narcissistic people use Facebook in a self-promoting way, rather than in a connective way. It may be an obvious theory, but it also suggests that social networks bring out the narcissist in all of us.

Reason #5: Here’s another quick fix- Social networks are a voyeuristic experience for many users. Following exchanges on Twitter or posts on Facebook and MySpace are akin to eavesdropping on someone else’s conversation- or even watching from a windowed view. It’s entertaining and allows you to feel like a “fly on the wall” in someone else’s life Social networking sites also publicly list your “friends” or “followers” — giving you instant status. How many people do you know online who spend all their time trying to get more friends, more followers, more testimonials? We work hard in real life to elevate our statuses, make friends and search out boosters for our self-esteem. Ummm, Internet social networking provides this to us, and we don’t even have to change out of our sweatpants to get it.