Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash

2020 and 2021 will go down in history, for many of us, as a time spent at home—home alone, home with our significant others, home with our pets, home with our children, or all of the above. And, for most of us, this time affectionately—or not-so-affectionately—also means lots of time at home with our mobile devices and our computers. Yeah, the elephant in the room we’re really referring to is the INTERNET. 

Maybe you’re feeling grateful for the internet right now, or maybe you just want to throw your laptop, your desktop, and/or your smartphone into the river. Either way, we feel you. By the same token, we also know that excessive internet use can swiftly turn into compulsive internet use, which looks frighteningly similar to addiction.

We’re not going to try to convince everyone reading this that they need to ditch their computers. Or Netflix, for that matter—c’mon! But, have you examined your time online lately? Because compulsive internet use is becoming increasingly recognized as a mental health concern, and it ain’t always fun to look at. 

Reports indicate that “internet addiction” could affect up to 38% of certain populations

While not a formally recognized disorder, “internet addiction” affects up to 8.2% of the general population in American and European cultures, while other reports indicate up to 38%. As for Indonesia where Kembali Recovery Center is located, a recent statistic suggests it hovers around 14.4% which is very likely on the lower scale.

Internet use has spiked during the pandemic

While no one is studying every human being’s internet habits (nor is it anyone’s place to claim what constitutes compulsive usage), our dependence on it is still undeniable. During the Coronavirus pandemic alone, studies have cited a 52% increase in internet usage in Indonesia alone, while a recent Forbes article suggests a 70% increase globally. 

Do keep in mind that a lot of this is just because people are working from home, and friends or family are connecting via video chat on apps like Zoom and Facetime. This is all good stuff (and we can’t argue with the movie streaming, either), but the overall increase in usage is still rather alarming. And, pandemic aside, there are many folks out there who could probably use some scaling back when it comes to time spent online. 

So, is your internet usage actually compulsive?

So, with all of the above being said, how can you determine if your internet usage is bordering on compulsive, or even teetering on the edge of becoming an addiction? If you identify as an addict, this is definitely something to be acutely aware of, particularly during a time when so many of us are feeling our emotional stability waver. 

Let’s start with some of the obvious:

  1. Are any of your relationships (family, friends, romantic) in jeopardy as a direct result of your excessive internet usage?
  2. Have you ever lost a job due to your compulsive browsing habits (or, are you at risk of losing a job because of it)?
  3. Do you feel restless, irritable, moody, or depressed when you attempt to cut back on your internet time?
  4. Have you lied to family, friends, significant others, or therapists to conceal how much time you spend online?
  5. Do you use the internet as a way of escaping your problems or your feelings of guilt, anger, depression, helplessness, fear, or anxiety?

If you answered “yes” to any of the above, then you probably don’t need us to tell you that you might have a problem. 

Compulsive internet use activates the brain’s reward center

Compulsive internet use has been shown to activate the brain’s reward center, much like drugs, alcohol, and other compulsive behaviors or process addictions do. When the brain’s reward center is activated, dopamine and other chemicals are produced. Over time, these receptors can become impacted, thus potentially leading to an increased need for reward center stimulation to avoid withdrawal symptoms.  

Engaging in online activities that involve things like pornography, video games, online dating, or gambling can be particularly dangerous. This is because they support unpredictable variable reward structures where the reward experienced is intensified with mood enhancing or stimulating content. Pornography, for example, results in sexual stimulation, while online gambling can lead to financial gains (and, more often, losses), and dating sites enhance romantic fantasies. 

Not everyone uses the internet compulsively, but as addicts, it’s very important to keep our behavior in check. But, how does one achieve this if and when compelled to go down the internet rabbit hole, time and time again?

For starters, we can apply the principles of just about any recovery program we might be working (if we happen to be in recovery for other addictions). Tools like the twelve steps, for example, can be applied to compulsive internet behavior with success if practiced consistently. 

Self-help, practicing abstinence in relation to specific problem applications and behaviors, and counseling can all be helpful as well. Psychological approaches like the bio-psycho-social-spiritual model which utilizes strategies of self-awareness, trust, empathy, education, and informed intuition can also be quite useful. 

Finally, we know that while the internet can be a contributing factor where certain bad habits are concerned, we’re also well aware that it’s a lifeline for a lot of people right now. Many of us in recovery have been attending online meetings, connecting with friends and loved ones, and working remotely online. NO ONE is suggesting cutting these out. Don’t. 

Compulsive internet usage is never going to be a black and white issue like drug addiction and alcoholism, so there’s not a black and white solution, either. Total abstinence is not the answer. The key here is awareness. Abstinence from problematic applications, combined with more controlled and balanced internet usage, might be just what you need. Everyone is different. The first step is to become aware of your limits, and if you think you have a problem, don’t be afraid to seek help. 

Kembali Recovery Center can Help

If you or someone you know is struggling to get sober from drugs or alcohol, or if you’re dealing with other process addictions like compulsive internet use, Kembali Recovery Center can help. Contact us today for the latest updates regarding travel to and from Indonesia during COVID-19, and to get more information about our treatment program. Our counselors are available to address all of your questions and concerns. Remember, you never have to do this alone.

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