Internet Addiction: Effects On The Brain, Signs, & Risks

a young boy playing video games while his mother is trying to talk to him

The use of technology and the internet has been ingrained into our society, drastically changing the way we live our lives.

People nowadays rely on the internet for just about anything, including work, socializing, shopping, music, and homework.

It can be difficult to determine whether or not you have an internet addiction, as going online on a daily basis has become a regular part of life. However, the trouble begins when internet activities, such as online shopping or checking social media begin to interfere with your daily life.

An internet addiction disorder can be divided into several categories, some of them being gaming, social networking, online shopping, and inappropriate internet use.

Although many people joke about having an internet addiction, research has shown that internet addiction is a real issue with serious consequences.

How the Internet and Technology Affects Our Brain

Even though using technology isn’t the same as abusing drugs and alcohol, the brain processes both additions the same way.

An internet disorder seems to affect the pleasure centre of the brain. The addictive behaviour triggers a release of dopamine, and over time more of the activity will be needed to release the hormone, causing a dependency.

Take people who are addicted to gaming as an example. When they first start playing, they will get a release of dopamine after a short period of time.

a model of the human brain

After playing for a longer time, it will become harder to get the pleasurable feeling, causing the gamers to play for an extended period of time until they get that feeling.

Excessively craving the dopamine release and using the internet to get it will trick the brain into thinking it no longer needs to produce it naturally, disrupting the brain’s chemical balance.

Unbridled use of the internet can also cause physical changes in the brain, diminishing the amount of grey and white matter in the brain. The grey matter is responsible for helping us process information and make good decisions whereas the white matter helps us think fast and focus better.

Other effects people experience are developing memory problems,  not being able to differentiate between day and night, and an inability to control impulses.

Signs You May Have an Internet Disorder

The signs and symptoms of internet addiction can be both physical and emotional, two of which can negatively affect your personal relationships, school/work life, and ability to perform daily tasks.

a man staying up late on his phone, addicted to the internetSome of the physical signs are:

• Insomnia
• Poor personal hygiene
• Poor nutrition
• Back and neck aches
Carpal tunnel syndrome
• Dry eyes and vision problems

Physical signs are more likely to develop quicker than emotional symptoms, although it will depend on the individual themselves.

a clock with the sticky note saying "later" on it

 

Some of the emotional signs of internet addiction are:

• Depression and feelings of guilt
• Anxiety
• Dishonesty and defensiveness
• No sense of time
• Inability to prioritize time/procrastination
• Mood swings

Individuals suffering from an internet addiction are likely to isolate themselves, putting a strain on all their personal relationships.

Serious financial trouble may also arise if the person begins to neglect their work or become bankrupt from all the money they spend on online shopping or gaming.

Treating An Internet Addiction

The first step in treating a person addicted to the internet is by recognizing that there is a problem in the first place. If the individual doesn’t believe that they have a problem, then they will not try to seek out help.

There is no set treatment for internet addictions, as the effects of the disorder vary from person to person. Some people may benefit from self-corrective behaviour while others require the aid of a therapist to help them use the internet in a healthy way again.

Many people who suffer from an internet disorder may suffer from an underlying condition, such as depression or anxiety. The underlying issue may have been the cause behind the excessive use of the internet, as technology may have served as an escape from reality and all their troubles. If this is the case, then treatment for the hidden issues will be needed.

If you or a loved one is struggling with internet addiction, it’s important to seek help as soon as possible. Our therapists at Capital Choice Counselling are here to help you get back on track and live an addiction-free life.

Reach out to us to learn more about addiction therapy and find the right counsellor for you today.