BlessWorld Foundation International

Affecting the World Through Health
A Global Health Initiative

The 21st Century Internet Addiction



When you say the word addiction, people tend to think alcohol, marijuana, crack, opioids and the like; of course, they’ve caused a lot of deaths; opioids alone account for over 40,000 deaths (50% of all overdose deaths).However, to think that drug addiction is the only form of addiction is nothing further from the truth. The fact is that there are a lot of things one can get addicted to… thinking of it scientifically, one actually gets addicted to the reward system in the brain not the substance or action itself. These substances cause addiction because they cause a potent rise in the dopamine level in the brain; hence, the likelihood of a substance to cause addiction depends on the level of dopamine rise in the brain. This is why we don’t get addicted to other things like washing clothes or cooking. What this means in essence is that if something gives you as much or even greater dopamine rush as marijuana, it would probably lead to an addiction. Such is the case with internet addiction, the 21st century wave of behavioural addiction gradually eating into the lives of our youth particularly the adolescents and teenagers.

It is really difficult to comprehend the effects of internet addiction since it has not been recognised by the DSM or ICD as a distinct condition; however it is quite easy to see its impacts on the society. Why is internet addiction becoming an increasing problem? possibly the dramatic shift in social life of recent times in addition to the anonymity, affordability and accessibility of internet makes it very available and consequently, addicting. There are various forms of internet addiction including:

  • Online pornography: It is very easy to see why pornography can be very addictive knowing that sex is a primitive human drive. Individuals easily browse through videos of inappropriate sexual content eventually leading sexual problems like premature ejaculation and erectile dysfunction
  • Online video gaming: A long recognised problem particularly in Asian countries- here, individuals immerse themselves in virtual reality where they connect with multiple players anywhere in the world. With well-known recorded deaths of people playing games days without food, some countries like China are already placing restrictions to use and including it as a psychiatric condition
  • Social media: Here, individuals connect to friends via social media platforms like Facebook, Whatsapp, Twitter etc. However, due to the changing social system, individuals are relying more on social media even when there is room for tangible conversation; it is relatively common these days to see a group of individuals sit close to each other busy chatting online without exchanging a single word. There is compulsive and insatiable need to acquire more friends for their sense of ego and identity; mostly due to weak psychosocial support around the individual.

Whether its compulsive use of the internet for pornography or inappropriate sexual content, gaming, chatting etc, these behavioural addictions may actually develop as a form of escape from an uncomfortable reality, for example poor interpersonal relationships and psychosocial support system, the individual is confronted with. And of course, it makes to address this problem by building better support system in communities, in schools, religious gatherings and creating awareness of these problems to encourage parents to help their children build positive interpersonal relationships and avoid social exclusion. For individuals struggling with these addictions, there are also treatment options similar to other forms of addiction though they are not standardised as internet addiction is not yet recognised as a distinct disorder. There should be stronger advocacy to include this as a separate entity.

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