Teenage Internet Addiction Symptoms Treatment Help

Teen Internet Addiction Overview

It’s no secret that many teens are big fans of video games and the Internet. But for some young people, what started as an interest in technology, a means of entertainment, or a way to keep in touch with friends may morph into a serious behavior disorder.

Teen Internet addiction is much more than just a strong desire to be online. As is the case with other behavior disorders — such as compulsive gambling — teen Internet addiction is marked by a progressive loss of control over one’s ability to avoid, regulate, or limit a behavior. In this case, the behavior in question is spending time on the Internet.

Though some people continue to regard teen Internet addiction as little more than a parenting issue, many experts in the field of addictions and compulsions have identified teen Internet addiction as a real issue that is deserving of continued study. In fact, Internet addiction was seriously considered for inclusion in the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V).

Though teen Internet addiction did not make it into DSM-V, the substance-related disorders work group (which evaluated proposed changes to the DSM) recommended that Internet addiction be included in the appendix of DSM-V, and called for further research on the topic.

Causes of Internet Addiction

As is the case with other compulsive behavior disorders, no one cause has been identified as definitively leading to teen Internet addiction.

As is also the case with other addictions and compulsions, teen Internet addiction is thought to be more prevalent among teens who are also struggling with disorders such as depression, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), anxiety, poor self-image, and low self-esteem.

For teens who become enamored with online MMORPGs (massively multiplayer online roleplaying games) such as World of Warcraft and Everquest, the likelihood of addiction may be greater because these games never end. With new quests and adventures continually being added to the game, the user never reaches a point where the game has been mastered or otherwise completed — thus, there is always the enticement to return for more.

For those who are at risk of developing teen Internet addiction, the rush of playing triggers a release of endorphins (brain chemicals associated with pleasure) that mimics what occurs in the brains of individuals who are addicted to alcohol and other drugs, or to behaviors such as gambling.

For teens who are struggling with other mental health or behavioral challenges, and who have difficulty with “real life” social situations) the power, sense of community, and adrenaline rush of online gaming can be extremely enticing.

Symptoms of An Internet Addiction

The core components of teen Internet addiction are similar to those of any other addiction or compulsion. Young people who struggle with teen Internet addiction are likely to meet many if not all of the following criteria:

  • Tolerance — Needing to play more and more in order to experience the same “rush”
  • Obsession — Spending most offline time thinking about past online experiences and planning for future online sessions
  • Frustration, anxiety, and/or irritability when not able to go online
  • Abandoning friends and other hobbies in order to focus on online activities
  • Continuing to spend time online even after negative repercussions (such as school problems, deteriorating relationships, and even health problems)

The following are among the specific signs that could indicate the presence of teen Internet addiction:

  • Most non-school hours are spent on the computer or playing video games
  • Falling asleep in school
  • Falling behind with assignments
  • Worsening grades
  • Lying about computer or video game use
  • Choosing to use the computer or play video games, rather than see friends
  • Dropping out of other social groups (clubs or sports)
  • Being irritable when not playing a video game or being on the computer

Physical symptoms associated with teen Internet addiction may include the following:

  • Carpal tunnel syndrome (associated with repetitive motions such as excessive keyboard use)
  • Insomnia
  • Poor nutrition (failing or refusing to eat in order to remain online)
  • Poor personal hygiene (again, neglecting this important issue in order to focus on online activities)
  • Headaches, back pain, and neck pain
  • Dry eyes and vision problems

In short, if a teen demonstrates an inability to stop spending time online — or cannot limit his/her time on the Internet — especially when Internet use is creating problems in other areas of his/her life, then teen Internet addiction may be to blame.

Treatment for An Internet Addiction

Determining the optimal course of treatment for a young person who is struggling teen Internet addiction depends upon a range of factors, including the teen’s age, the nature and severity of the compulsive behavior, and the presence of co-occurring disorders.1

Some teens may respond best to outpatient therapy (such as weekly sessions with a counselor or therapist), while others may be best served by enrollment in a therapeutic teen wilderness program or a residential program for teens.

Specific therapies and therapeutic activities will vary from teen to teen, but the following may be among the many options that will have the best impact on a young person who has been dealing with teen Internet addiction.

  • Structured and closely supervised schedule with little or no access to Internet-connected devices
  • Individual, group, and family therapy
  • Behavior modification
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
  • Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT)
  • Equine therapy
  • Expressive arts therapy
  • Recreation therapy