Reviewed by Laura Angers, LPC
Internet addiction affects large amounts of people across the globe, and in this digital age, it can be difficult to determine whether or not we are spending too much time online. This article will learn about the signs of internet addiction and how you can get tested for it.
What Is Internet Addiction Disorder?
Whether it’s for work, education, shopping, or entertainment purposes, people worldwide depend on the internet for various things every day. However, there is a fine line that is drawn between normal and problematic usage of the internet.
Compared to many other mental health conditions, internet addiction disorder is one of the most modern ones. It’s estimated that up to 8 percent of the general population struggles with it. 
While it continues to become a growing problem, diagnostic criteria still have not been published yet in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual or the International Classification of Diseases by the American Psychiatric Association, respectively.
However, this doesn’t mean that the condition isn’t real or that people can’t get help with it. It is currently grouped in with impulse control disorders, but there is growing evidence that it can one day be classified as its condition, like gambling and substance use disorders.
Internet addiction can be defined as “excessive or poorly controlled preoccupations, urges, or behaviors regarding computer or mobile device use and internet access that lead to impairment or distress.” 
Browsing the internet can seem harmless on the surface, but it has the potential to become an issue that ruins a person’s life. It can become detrimental to relationships, affect a person’s work and academic performance, and have financial consequences. It can also affect a person’s physical and emotional health.
Here are some of the symptoms that people with internet addiction can have:
- Poor time management
- Skipping school or work
- Appetite and weight changes
- Sleep difficulties
- Carpal tunnel syndrome
- Vision problems
These symptoms can arise starting at a very young age and worsen over time, and in the next section, you will learn about some of the different types of internet addiction people can experience that lead to these issues.
Types Of Internet Addiction
Because the internet is such a vast place for people to browse, some people might become overstimulated by different aspects. Currently, there are five types of classifications that people can have. 
People who have compulsions related to internet use might find themselves excessively shopping, gambling, or trading stocks online.
The internet makes all of these activities easy to carry out. Those affected by internet addiction disorder might run into some relationship and financial troubles due to overspending and potentially losing a lot of money.
Another very common form of internet addiction involves the chronic use of adult-related online material, including pornography, webcams, and chat rooms.
This type can cause online infidelity and severely hinder a person’s ability to try to form real relationships and distort their perceptions of romantic and sexual relationships. It can also lead to financial troubles as well if an individual frequently spends excessively on these materials.
ONLINE RELATIONSHIP ADDICTION
This form of internet addiction has some similarities to the previous one in that it can involve some of the same communication methods. Still, in this case, the word relationship is a term that’s used in a looser and more general sense of the word.
The intentions are also different, and people with this addiction will spend a lot of time on social networking sites, and chat rooms and these online interactions can be the entire basis of their social lives. Sometimes it can be built on a persona. Thus, it can also make it difficult to form real-life relationships due to weakened social skills and distorted expectations.
One of the main benefits of the internet is the ability to research virtually anything due to the sheer amount of knowledge and information.
Those with this type of internet addiction might develop a compulsive need to gather this information and even organize it. This can cause significant productivity issues, and prioritizing these behaviors can lead to neglecting essential tasks, leading to losing a job.
Lastly, gaming is one of the most common forms of online addiction, and it has been around ever since computers were developed.
It continues to grow as online gaming has become more advanced and realistic, and many depend on social interaction to complete goals and earn rewards. Because of this, there can sometimes be an overlap between this subtype and online relationship addiction, leading to problems ranging from reduced productivity at work and school and damaging relationships or the ability to form them.
Are You Addicted To The Internet?
Although there aren’t any DSM or ICD diagnostic criteria for internet addiction disorder, people can still be diagnosed and treated for the condition with a computer or screen addiction test.
There are a couple of methods that have been proposed and are widely used by mental health professionals. They have largely been adapted from the diagnostic criteria used for gambling disorder.
One of the first examinations is a questionnaire created by Dr. Kimberly Young in 1998. It involves a 20-question self-report assessment where people can respond with Not Applicable, Rarely, Occasionally, Frequently, Often, and Always.
Each response in this computer addiction test has a numerical value attached to it ranging from 1 to 5, based on the Likert scale. At the end of the test, the points will be tallied and depending on what a person scores, they can be placed as:
20–39 = average Internet users,
40–69 = potentially problematic Internet users, and
70–100 = problematic Internet users.
Another popular and simpler diagnostic test for internet addiction was devised by Dr. Keith Beard and Dr. Eve Wolf, where they described eight traits of internet addicts. If an individual meets at least 5 of these, they can be diagnosed: 
- Is preoccupied with the internet (thinks about the previous online activity or anticipates the next online session).
- Needs to use the internet for increasing amounts of time to achieve satisfaction.
- Has made unsuccessful efforts to control, cut back, or stop internet use.
- Has stayed online longer than originally intended.
- Is restless, moody, depressed, or irritable when attempting to cut down or stop internet use.
- Has jeopardized or risked losing a significant relationship, job, or educational or career opportunity because of the internet.
- Has lied to family members, therapists, or others to conceal the extent of involvement with the internet.
- Uses the internet as a way of escaping from problems or of relieving a dysphoric mood (e.g., feelings of helplessness, guilt, anxiety, depression).
In addition to these two questionnaires, you can also take this free internet addiction quiz. Like the previous ones mentioned, it’s also brief. Once you receive your results, it is highly recommended that you reach out to a mental health professional to discuss your concerns and start getting treatment.
Treating Internet Addiction
Although there aren’t any specific guidelines for treating internet addiction, some strategies can be similar to treating impulse control disorders, gambling disorder, and even obsessive-compulsive disorder.
To address internet addiction, intervention and therapy are typically required, and addicts will need to learn how to manage the time they spent online and develop better time management skills overall and find healthier coping ways. Sometimes this can involve not taking your mobile devices wherever you go.
Depression and anxiety are commonly seen along with internet addiction. While it can certainly cause these disorders, it can contribute to the addiction as well, and people who are depressed and anxious will depend on the internet to escape from their issues.
Therefore, in many cases, therapy and medication will often be recommended for those suffering from these comorbid disorders that can cause internet addiction.
Importantly, individuals with internet addiction will need to find non-online activities that they enjoy doing or are more productive. This can help fill in any gaps left by not using the internet, and it can satisfy the urge to go online due to boredom or loneliness.
Suppose you or a loved one seems to be struggling with the symptoms of an internet addiction disorder. In that case, hopefully, the information in this article, including the assessments provided to you, can help you identify the problem and reach out for help. The effects of the disorder can be devastating, but people can heal and overcome it with assistance and the right strategies.
- Cash, H., Rae, C. D., Steel, A. H., & Winkler, A. (2012). Internet Addiction: A Brief Summary of Research and Practice. Current psychiatry reviews, 8(4), 292–298. https://doi.org/10.2174/157340012803520513
- Shaw, M., & Black, D. W. (2008). Internet addiction: definition, assessment, epidemiology, and clinical management. CNS drugs, 22(5), 353–365. https://doi.org/10.2165/00023210-200822050-00001
- Hoeg, N. (2020, September 18). 5 Types of Internet Addiction. Retrieved from https://www.addictioncenter.com/drugs/internet-addiction/