Lately, the question, “is Internet addiction real?” seems to pop up everywhere I go. But, it’s the wrong question, in my opinion. The real question (just as it is for other “behavioral addictions” such as gambling addiction, sex addiction, and food addiction) is: Does the behavior being done indicate the three C’s?
To review: if someone loses control of a behavior, continues the behavior in spite of adverse consequences and does the behavior, then I can safely say that the person is addicted to the behavior. It’s clear, for example, when someone uses heroin that he or she is addicted to using the drug. What are not so clear are behaviors such as using the internet. What’s key, and hardest to understand, is the compulsivity associated with a behavior. If someone behaves in response to the anxiety that results from NOT doing the behavior without conscious awareness, then it’s a safe bet that an addiction is presenting.
To go back to the internet question, if a person uses the internet for hours and cannot control his or her usage, is beginning to have problems that result from internet usage, and has to use the internet as a way to relieve the anxiety felt when not using the internet, then the person is probably addicted to internet usage. Non-substance related addictions are now referred to as, “process addictions.”
Process addictions follow the same trajectory as substance addictions and result is similar brain changes. That is, dopamine levels are increased to unnatural levels and more and more behaviors are needed to get the same payoff as in the beginning of the behavior that’s leading to an addiction. So, the question isn’t specific to any one thing; rather, all behaviors need to be assessed within the context of the hallmark features of addiction. if the three C’s are present, then an addiction is as well, regardless of the behavior. So, simply put: For some, I’m certain that internet addiction is real. As usual, it depends on the way it’s being used.