Social Networking or Gaming: What You Should Know About Online Addiction

Posted by on Jan 3, 2015 in Blog | 0 comments


Online Addiction

online addiction and internet gaming disorder


Your tween or teen is up in their bedroom with the door closed.  They come down for dinner and occasionally utter a grunt.  Then they go back upstairs.  What are they doing? Playing video games perhaps?


Are you worried that you or your child may have a problem?  Take this Quiz:


What is Online Addiction?

There are people whose online behavior or online over-use becomes out of control.  They can’t stop, just as a drug user can’t stop from getting the next fix or an alcoholic hides their bottle of booze in their dresser drawer at the ready to feed their craving.  

In China, online addiction is a recognized problem complete with boot-camps for those suffering.  Here in the United States, internet addiction is still being debated by psychiatrists.  However,  there are many that believe it’s a big concern for kids and parents today.  There are rehab centers available here in the United States to treat this problem.


Types of Online Addiction: 

  • Gaming – Internet Gaming Disorder is not an officially recognized by the psychiatric community as a disorder.  The American Psychiatric Association says it is a condition for further study.
  • Social Networking – Other areas of internet addiction issues, such as social networking, and texting are still being debated and studied.  A recent study out of the University of Albany found that not only is “social media (particularly Facebook) itself potentially addictive, those who use it may also be at greater risk for impulse-control issues like substance abuse.”


What Are Hallmarks of Addictive Online Behavior

  • The inability to control how often they engage in online activity or gaming even when they feel negative consequences.
  • The online activity interferes with everyday life and becomes the most important activity in the person’s life at the expense of school, work and social activities.
  • Other symptoms include trouble with work or school, social isolation, not sleeping and not eating.
  • Those addicted describe feeling “high” a buzz feeling.  To continue to get the “electronic buzz” the person affected spends more and more time online.
  • The person affected suffers from withdrawal when removed from the internet or game.
  • Several studies show shrinkage of the frontal lobe area of the brain that is responsible for executive functioning such as good decision making, judgment, impulse control, reasoning, and organization.
  • There has also been particular concern about damage to an area known is the insula, which helps kids develop empathy and compassion. This can have an impact on violent behavior and impact the quality of personal relationships.


The Dopamine rush for internet addicts

Other addictions, gambling, smoking, alcohol and drugs have existed for a long time. Anyone that’s suffered from addiction will tell you that it’s not easy to quit.  Internet addiction is no exception.   The neurotransmitter dopamine is the chemical that is released in the brain that causes an Internet addict to feel a sense of euphoria or dopamine rush when they go online.  To continue to get this pleasure feeling, they continue to go online.  Going online is like getting an electronic high.  Dr. Gary Small, a professor of psychiatry says that “Dopamine transmits messages to the brain’s pleasure centers causing addicts to want to repeat those addictive actions – over and over again, even if the addict is no longer experiencing the original pleasure and is aware of negative consequence.”

Many of the games that are associated with online addiction, like World of Warcraft or Minecraft, really suck kids in.  Getting to the next level is all important.  With each level achieved comes another dopamine rush and the associated feeling of pleasure.  How many of you have played Candy Crush?   Dopamine is associated with the pleasure center in the brain, so it feels great and is hard to stop playing.  It’s a bit like eating potato chips, it’s hard to eat just one.  Fortunately for a game like Candy Crush, there are built in breaks that the user can then self reflect about this activity and move on to something else.  Should game breaks be required in all games?


For many Addictions, the substance or catalyst can be removed

One of the most effective ways of treating those addictions is by identifying and removing the catalysts. Cancel the credit card for those that are shop-aholics, and get rid of the bottles for those that are alcoholics.  Avoid places, or parties where there is drinking.  Don’t go to casinos, or Los Vegas where there is gambling. With the Internet, though, that solution is far more problematic. The internet is pretty hard to get away from.  Computers and online connections have become an integral part of daily life.  Kids need computers for school. You can’t just pull the plug and expect to function.


Social networking more difficult to resist than alcohol or cigarettes

If asked, most of us would probably say that alcohol and cigarettes are addictive.  How do the desire of alcohol and cigarettes compare to the desire to engage in social networking?  Surprisingly “resisting the urge to check social networking sites for updates is more difficult than turning down a drink or the desire for a cigarette,” according to a study from University of Chicago.

U of Albany psychologist, Julia Hermes says, “new Facebook notifications or the latest content on your newsfeed acts as a reward. Not being able to predict when new content is posted encourages us to check back frequently.”


Online addiction isn’t as obviously harmful as drug addiction, gambling or smoking cigarettes

Internet addiction is subtle. Unlike drugs, cigarette smoking or losing all of your money gambling which results in obvious harm, the Internet is viewed as a necessary and largely positive resource. It’s easy to imagine a world without cigarettes. It’s not feasible to imagine a world without the Internet in today’s digitally dominated world. For many people the Internet is as essential to their lives as food. But like eating food moderation is the key.


Online addicts need help to stop

Most addicts of all kinds can’t stop with out help and this is also true of Internet addiction.  In one case a bright, promising student, an accomplished athlete and pianist, went off to college where he began playing online games for sixteen hours a day.  His parents were unaware until he flunked out.  His Mom, tearfully said that her son was a “shell of the son she knew”.  He was sent to a facility that treats online addiction and is now back on track.


Questions that may help you decide if you have a problem

Dr. Kimberly Young developed the following Internet Addiction Test, IAT to diagnose the disorder.  These are the types of questions asked.  Based on a scale after you answer 20 questions you will be able to find out if you may have a problem with Internet Addition.

  1. Do you feel preoccupied with the Internet (think about previous online activity or anticipate next online session)?
  2. Do you feel the need to use the Internet with increasing amounts of time in order to achieve satisfaction?
  3. Have you repeatedly made unsuccessful efforts to control, cut back, or stop Internet use?
  4. Do you feel restless, moody, depressed, or irritable when attempting to cut down or stop Internet use?
  5. Do you stay online longer than originally intended?
  6. Have you jeopardized or risked the loss of significant relationship, job, educational or career opportunity because of the Internet?
  7. Have you lied to family members, therapist, or others to conceal the extent of involvement with the Internet?
  8. Do you use the Internet as a way of escaping from problems or of relieving a dysphoric mood (e.g., feelings of helplessness, guilt, anxiety, depression)?

If your child’s Internet use is compulsive, interferes with daily activity, homework, time with friends and family, changes in behavior and restrictions cause severe agitation, seek professional help.  There are treatment centers available for those suffering from Internet addiction.  If you don’t know where to start, ask your pediatrician. In 2013 the first treatment center opened in Pennsylvania at Bradford Regional Medical Center in Pennsylvania.  You could certainly call them as a starting point as well.


What can parents do to help prevent internet addiction disorder?
  • Become educated.  Learn about what your child is doing online and the games they’re playing.  Are they known to be associated with addiction?
  • Limit the amount of time children can spend online. Are they doing homework or playing games?  ”Controlled and limited use can help prevent addiction.”
  • Keep computer devices out of the bedroom at night.
  • Monitor what your child is doing online and how long they are going online. Make sure your family Internet rules are being followed.
  • Monitor night time computer activity when your kids should be sleeping.
  • Be aware of known addictive games like World of Warcraft that draw kids in.
  • Kids that are at higher risk for addiction like kids with ADHD, or those with psych-social problems should be monitored more closely.
  • Make sure your kids are doing other activities outside of the home such as sports, a school or other community activity.
  • Help your child develop a hobby that doesn’t involve electronic devices.
  • Unplug during dinner time, reading time, family time and vacation time.  Kids don’t always know what they’re missing. They think social networking is the be all and end all of life. They really don’t need that computer when they go on a trip to the Caribbean or the mountains of Colorado. They need to grow and experience life and the wonderful world they live in.
  • Teach your kids about the consequences of Internet addiction and the effect it can have on their brain and their lives.

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