Is Internet Addiction a Mental Disorder?

Internet addiction disorder

Internet addiction disorder


There is no recognition of internet addiction in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). However, the DSM-5 does include internet gaming disorder, which is similar, as a condition for further study. Internet addiction, in the manual, is highlighted as a developing area of specialty.

While pathological internet use is still being studied as far as setting diagnostic criteria, we know a fair amount about behavioral addictions. Behavioral addictions can include internet, gaming, and social media addiction. Other behavioral addictions are compulsive shopping, gambling addiction, and sex addiction.

Just because researchers need to learn more about addictive behaviors to include them in the DSM-5 doesn’t mean these behaviors don’t cause you distress. 

Behavioral addictions affect your brain in many of the same ways as different types of addictions to substances like drugs and alcohol. As a result, they often require professional treatment.


What is a Behavioral Addiction?

If we talk about addiction relating to online activities, it will fall into the larger category of behavioral addiction.

  • For people with internet addiction or other behavioral addictions, it can take over their lives. 
  • You may seek out increasing opportunities to engage in the behavior. 
  • The compulsive behavior that you’re addicted to is your top priority. 
  • Other things in your life suffer, including your career and relationships.
  • You can also go through withdrawal symptoms. 
  • Gambling addiction is the only behavioral addiction officially recognized in the DSM-5.

Behavioral addiction is also known as a process addiction. A process addiction follows the same patterns as an addiction to substances. The problems stemming from process addictions affect your life in many ways, similar to being addicted to drugs or alcohol.


Signs of a Behavioral Addiction

Signs and criteria for internet addiction and behavioral addictions include:

  • Spending most of your time doing the behavior or thinking about it. You may also spend significant amounts of time planning to do the behavior.
  • You’re depending on engaging in the behavior as a coping mechanism for emotions and to feel normal.
  • You continue to engage in the behavior even though it causes negative consequences. 
  • Someone with a behavioral addiction may want to stop or cut back, but they can’t.
  • You neglect other priorities in your life.
  • You can go through withdrawal symptoms such as irritability and depression if you try to stop the behavior.
  • Often someone with a behavioral or process addiction will minimize or hide the problem.

We’ve touched on a few, but some of the most common behavioral addictions and impulse control disorders treatment providers see include:

  • Exercise addiction
  • Pathological gambling, including online gambling 
  • Food addiction
  • Compulsive internet use 
  • Porn addiction
  • Food addiction
  • Shopping addiction
  • Video game addiction/online gaming addiction
  • Work addiction
  • Tattoo addiction

Even if we don’t call compulsive behavior an addiction, it can lead to significant problems and distress.


Symptoms of Internet Addictive Disorders 

Getting a diagnosis for internet addiction can be tricky since it isn’t formally recognized. However behavioral health experts tend to see some common elements in people with internet addiction. 

Symptoms of internet addiction may include:

  • Excessive or problematic internet use: If you’re concerned about your excessive internet use, there are a few things to think about. Do you stay online for longer than you mean to, or are other people often complaining about the time you spend online? You might think to yourself that you’re just going to be a few more minutes when you’re online, or you could hide your usage. You might also try and ultimately fail to reduce your online time.
  • Withdrawal: We most frequently talk about withdrawal from drugs or alcohol, but the symptoms can occur in behavioral addictions too. You may feel tense, angry, or depressed when you can’t go online because of internet dependency. 
  • Tolerance: One of the defining symptoms of drug or alcohol addiction is tolerance. Your brain becomes used to the stimulus of whatever it is you’re doing. Then, you need more of it to keep getting that high you’re chasing. You could see this play out in an internet addiction as you spend more and more time online. Eventually, you could find yourself centering your entire day around using the internet.
  • Adverse effects: If there weren’t harm stemming from addiction to anything, we wouldn’t see it as a problem. There is though and the internet isn’t an exception. Your performance at school or work could begin to suffer. Internet addicts might not have the energy to devote to other things in their life. Your finances and quality of relationships can suffer. You can also have adverse health effects like carpal tunnel syndrome, insomnia, neck pain, and weight gain.


Screen Shot 2021 12 28 at 20.09.59


Types of Internet Addiction

Internet addiction can become a catch-all term, and there are subtypes of this compulsive behavior.

For example, one subtype is compulsive information seeking. You might seek information online to the point that it becomes obsessive-compulsive. When you’re amid compulsive information seeking, it can impact your work productivity and performance.

Pornography and cybersex addictions can arise. These compulsive behaviors can impact your ability to form meaningful relationships in your own life.

We’re seeing a rise in internet gaming addicts currently. 

Social media addiction is also a big one getting a lot of attention. You might get addicted to the dopamine you feel when someone likes your post. This creates a feedback loop, and it can be damaging to multiple areas of your life, including your self-esteem and sense of self-worth.


Internet Addictions and Co-Occurring Disorders

As with other types of addiction, when you compulsively use the internet, it can co-occur with other psychiatric disorders when you compulsively use the internet. 

Which clinical disorder comes first can vary. For example, you could be more pre-disposed to internet addiction if you have other psychiatric disorders like anxiety or depression, you could be more pre-disposed to internet addiction. Your use of the internet could be a coping mechanism or a way to self-medicate and deal with your psychiatric symptoms. 

In another situation, internet use behaviors could contribute to developing a mental health disorder.


Treatment for Internet Addiction

While a mental health professional might not have a set of criteria to diagnose an internet addiction from the DSM-5, that doesn’t mean they can’t help you.

If you’re struggling with online use, including gaming, social media, or anything else involving the internet, a therapist can help you work through what’s going on.

There isn’t one specific treatment for internet addiction. The treatment can depend on a variety of individual factors. For example, how severe are your behaviors, and how do they affect your life?

Therapy is one of the most common types of interventions for internet addiction. Treatment should also address co-occurring disorders such as anxiety, depression, or obsessive-compulsive disorder.

In some instances, medication may be part of treatment, especially if there’s an underlying mental health disorder.

To learn more about aftercare treatment for an addictive disorder, please call 866-600-7709 and reach out to the team at Anchored Tides Recovery.