Like addiction to food, addiction to the internet is a complicated disease.
We need food to live, just like we need the internet to excel in business, manage finances and even make a plane reservation without incurring a surcharge.
Unlike cigarette smoking, neither behavior is something you can quit cold turkey.
If you quit eating food you’ll die and if you permanently go “offline” you may as well quit your job and hide in a cave.
At least alcoholics and drug addicts can physically segregate themselves from the objects of their addictions to lessen the chance of relapse.
Another signal that internet addiction is a real thing is that we suffer real withdrawal when we go “offline.”
In fact, a recent study showed that the withdrawal symptoms are not unlike those suffered by drug addicts and alcoholics. Researchers at both Swansea University and Milan University conducted experiments for a study on PLOS ONE using young volunteers (the average age was 25). First, the researchers measured each subject’s degree of typical internet use. For example, some subjects were determined to be obsessive, while others continued their love affair with the Internet even when it interfered with their jobs and relationships. After fixing the degree of use, scientists asked the volunteers to use the internet for 15 minutes after which time their mood and anxiety levels were measured. The people who had been labeled “addicted” during the initial phase reported suffering from low mood and a period of “comedown” similar to what happens when a person’s drug high dissipates.
While “internet addiction” is not currently a disorder recognized by the DSM, the “bible” of psychiatric diseases, we can still identify the signs.
Here are three signs of Internet addiction, and also some possible ways to help recover.
#1 – Picking your smartphone over conversations
We’ve all done it. After getting settled in your seat at the restaurant and ordering your meal, you immediately reach for your phone to see if you have received any new calls, texts or emails during the time it took for you to walk from the valet stand. The practice is so commonplace that even the most ardent followers of Miss Manners would agree that a quick and discrete check of the phone is acceptable once or twice during a meal. However, an addict will continue to focus on the phone to the point where they have effectively checked out of any ongoing conversation and disappeared into the Internet. Not only is this situation extremely rude, but being unable to stay away from the internet for even one hour is a sure sign of a bigger problem.
Solution: If you find yourself engaging in this type of behavior on a regular basis, the best solution is to simply leave the phone in the car. Although we tend to treat all business-related emails as urgent, they’re really not. Situations that absolutely need to be addressed in less than 60 minutes are few and far between. And if you truly need to be available in case of an emergency, let your people know where you’ll be and they can contact you through the restaurant. You might be surprised to learn that this is how things were done before the age of the mobile phone.
#2 – Always preferring e-contact to phone calls
Many avenues exist for communication now: We can get a letter, an email, a text, a phone call, a tweet, an instant message or a Facebook posting, etc. Although many of us will use a combination of these modes of communication on a daily basis, especially when dealing with business matters, a true internet addict will insist on internet-based methods for all personal contact as well — even from Mom and Dad. It’s almost as if speaking on the phone hurts our jaws and our delicate ears can no longer process the sounds and tones that emit from the receiver. For those of us with an internet addiction, the reason is clear — speaking on the phone requires some semblance of undivided attention and we can’t surf the internet, respond to an email or tweet if we are yammering on the phone. Unfortunately, it can also be a sign that you prefer to be left alone and are heading into “anti-social” territory.
Solution: Schedule regular “update” calls with friends and family you don’t live near so that you are forced to communicate verbally at least a few times each month. You can certainly augment these calls with texts and emails in between, but the verbal call should be the time when major news is shared.
#3 – Social-site overuse during the workday
It’s a known fact that, adjusting for advances in technology, today’s worker is far less efficient than one 50 years ago. And studies show that a large part of this is attributable to the internet. Even when faced with the threat of termination for engaging in personal business on company time, most Americans routinely check email, text messages and Facebook while at work. Engaging in destructive behavior while under the threat of dire ramifications is a hallmark of addiction. We just can’t help but take a peek.
Solution: As with having to choose only healthy foods in the presence of the bread basket, this behavior is tougher to combat as it takes sheer force of will to avoid the part of internet that we don’t actually need to accomplish our jobs. What is needed here is a buddy who is willing to shame you into compliance whenever they witness you engaging in your destructive behavior. Pick a co-worker and give them permission to police your internet and smartphone usage during the workday. For those of us who don’t respond appropriately to shaming, perhaps develop a system of punishments for bad behavior such as having to buy lunch, putting a dollar in the “internet” jar or turning over your smartphone for the entire next workday.