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Internet is a worldwide computer network providing information and communication provisions made up of interconnected web using systematized communication arrangement. It has become a significant aspect of daily life and modern day tool for finding information, being in contact with family and friends, purchasing items, studying, and being aware of the world. The term ‘addiction’ has generally been used to describe a dependency on a particular substance, now used by researchers to describe compulsive behavioural disorders. As of now, Internet Addiction is generally described by amount of hours spent in technology-related activities which are unrelated to work.
Internet Addiction is a pathological disorder which does not indicate any usage of physical substance (Saikia et al, 2019).
Internet Addiction, subset of behavioural addiction, is a mental dependence on the internet, regardless of the activity (Erol & Cirak, 2019). Internet Addiction is still not mentioned under Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition (DSM-V) (Saikia et al, 2019). The only behavioural disorders included are online gaming and online gambling which will be discussed later.
Certain chemicals including dopamine is released in the brain increasing pleasure (Saikia et al, 2019) when using the internet to perform certain activities enjoyed by the brain. Satisfying addictions means taking time out from life that could have been dedicated to other beneficial activities such as relationships, academics, career, finances, healthy eating and sleeping etc. (Saikia et al, 2019) and (Erol & Cirak, 2019).
It can impact a person’s mental health leading to depression and loneliness and sometimes poor mental health can be a reason why such an addiction gets developed.
It can deteriorate a person’s physical health by not allowing the person to pursue any physical activities and jam their muscles. It can impact a person’s relationships with people as the addiction would not allow the person to take time off online. It can make a person not attend school or study or go to a job which can make result in poor academic scores and get fired from their job. The overuse of the internet is known to negatively impact mental and physical health (Erol & Cirak, 2019). Overuse to such an extent occurs when a person is unable to exert control on their internet usage and then it becomes a behavioural control problem (Erol & Cirak, 2019).
It has been claimed that people do not become addicted to the internet, which is the medium, but activities that can be performed on that platform like gaming, gambling, socializing, etc. (Erol & Cirak, 2019) but an addiction called ‘virtual reality addiction’ (to be discussed later) might contradict this claim. As per the Big Five Personality traits, openness, extraversion agreeableness, conscientiousness were negatively related and emotional stability was related positively with internet addiction (Servidio, 2019). Furthermore, Internet Addiction is associated with low self-esteem, social phobias, depression, anxiety, and difficulties (Erol & Cirak, 2019). Some people tend to use internet to escape their real lives due to its struggles or loneliness and experience nervousness when they attempt to decrease their internet usage (Erol & Cirak, 2019).
Internet’s popularity and benefits ignore harms of this technology (Mohammadi et al, 2018). Since internet is an integral part of daily life, it is practically impossible for an addict to let go of it completely and their addiction can be regained if they ever even begin to use it for their needs and then drift off as it is convenient to. Internet Addiction is further classified as normal, moderate, or severe depending on the test scores as per the questionnaire (Farahani, 2018). The four types of internet related addictions are Online Gaming Addiction, Online Gambling Addiction, Communication Addiction Disorder, and Virtual Reality Addiction.
Out of all the online behaviours considered and compared, gaming is the most associated activity with problematic use. Online Gaming Disorder is a consistent and present involvement with video games which leads to significant impairments psychologically, physiologically, socially, and academically (Schivinski et al, 2018). Internet Gaming Disorder has been classified as a behavioural disorder and put under ‘Conditions for Further Study’ as per DSM-V. It can impact a person’s mental health leading to depression and loneliness and sometimes poor mental health can be a reason why such an addiction gets developed (Schivinski et al, 2018). IGD has been linked to suicidal thoughts, depression, low attention span, socializing problems, poor academic performance, sleep problems, contradictory behavior, seizures, and death due to continuous exposure along with other negative outcomes (Zajac, 2017). Online Gaming Addiction may be classified as an internet addiction but both differ in terms of their treatment, intensity, risk factors, and prevalence (Zajac, 2017). Medicine used to treat depression proved successful in reducing addiction of online gaming when tested, thus, proving it as an actual condition (Zajac, 2017). One must meet five of the nine potential criteria identified under DSM-V which must occur within a 12-month period to indicate severe impairment due to the disorder (Schivinski et al, 2018). The criteria are:
Even with the nine criteria, the research on this subject matter is very limited. There are a wide range of negative results discovered at the behavioural and psychosocial level as per a research. Such outcomes were related to antisocial behavior, anger-management issues, low self-esteem, social phobia, poor academic scores, depression, anxiety, interpersonal problems etc. (Schivinski et al, 2018). The Motives discovered for online gaming were:
The Problematic Online Gaming was assessed as per six factors:
Online Gambling Addiction is the inability to put a stop to online gambling when the addiction starts to negatively affect the victim’s personal and professional life including career, job, finances, and relationships. It is identified as the first behavioural disorder and will be used as a base to conduct research on other similar excessive behaviours. This addiction is now even included in DSM-5 which is the same section as tobacco, alcohol, and drug addiction. This inclusion has been made as per the research that gambling activates the brain pleasure system with similar effects to drug abuse to a considerable extent. The factors besides the online realm that could enhance this addiction are personality, motivation to play, cultural/social conditions, and stage of development. The factors closely associated with online gambling addiction are situational aspects (availability / accessibility) and structural characteristics (immediacy, speed / frequency) (Gainsbury, 2015).
Online gambling has been found to be more addictive in nature in comparison to any other type of game and online gamblers tend to have higher rates of gambling addiction in comparison to offline gamblers. This new media has given the user a broader and farther reach than traditional gambling locations due to its convenience. Traditional gambling corporates have also started to provide online gambling games at their locations. More males are victims of this addiction and as a result, more male population tends to seek treatment. Females find it more challenging to seek assistance for pathological gambling and it needs to be studied from the perspective of gender. This addiction generally affects younger populations since that group is a more frequent user of online technologies and find that realm more attractive (Choliz, 2016). Additional risk factors this disorder are being a younger adult male, less educated, more in debt, and belonging to a culturally diverse background (Gainsbury, 2015). The increased legalization of online gambling is only producing more such victims and help seekers (Choliz, 2016).
Its addiction is particularly enhanced since it is mainly automated to be conducted in private using fast speed online network at any given time and place used to make large investments and receive immediate consequence. Additionally, it is a continuous process with easy accessibility. Online gambling use is predicted to expand as such platforms become a significant source of recreational and entertainment activities. There has been discovered a demotivating factor of internet gambling which include convenient to spend more money than expected. Online gambling addicts tend to report more disruption to their eating and sleep patterns which in turn could also be a factor that makes them gamble even more. There is a considerably low population of online gambling addicts that has received formal help. The number of online gamblers is also low in comparison to traditional gamblers and traditional gamblers tend not to gamble online exclusively. Online gamblers are considered to be more at risk than traditional gamblers for this disorder with other variables such as personality, motivation, location, demographics, and culture kept controlled for as it is known that internet gambling cannot be an individual factor in predicting online gambling disorder. However, gamblers, who gamble in both online and offline realms are more at risk of harm (Gainsbury, 2015).
Gambling disorder is a consequence of high involvement in the activity in terms of expenses, time, variety, and frequency. Those with low involvement screened negatively for gambling related problems. As the world becomes more digital and online gambling gains popularity due to advertisements and promotions, the next generation of gamblers will start to use online gambling earlier than the last, thus, increasing the number of people with online gambling addiction. Online gamblers are also at high risk for financial, social, legal, personal, physical, and professional problems (Gainsbury, 2015). Online gambling is also considered more dangerous than traditional gambling because:
Internet Communication Disorder occurs when people are unable to control their use of online communication and its tools which can lead to negative consequences in both the online and the offline world. The two main predictors of online communication abuse is social loneliness and minimum perceived social support. The psychological conditions that add to this condition are depression and social anxiety with individual factors like low self-esteem, prone to stress, and self-benefit. Online applications such as Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, Instagram enable us to communicate with individuals all over the world. Online blogs enable users to share their life and skills and receive feedback. Professional websites like LinkedIn allow the user to network with industry professionals to be able to get a job or enhance their career. These mediums allow the user to interact at opportunity (by connecting) and project themselves (by creating individualized profiles) as they want to be perceived to different types of audiences who consume user-generated content perception of interaction with others (Wegmann & Brand, 2016).
Convenience and use of smart devices only enhance the popularity of social networking sites. Posting content and reading posts are other activities that allow for exchange between users. Other reasons why these tools have gained popularity are impression management and self-entertainment. Group identification (being a part of the broader community and connecting at large maybe due to lack of desirable nearby offline community) and self-esteem are main reasons why people participate in online communication applications. There is an increasing number of people suffering the negative consequences (impaired job or school performance, relationships, friendships) associated with the overuse of such applications. The negative consequences further include feeling lonely, unable to socialize offline effectively, mental health and emotional well-being, and limited access to help required to decrease use of online communications for the sake of a healthier lifestyle (Wegmann & Brand, 2016). Online interactions with family and friends has a tendency to offset the positive offline experience and even decreases the offline time spent with them (Erol & Cirak, 2019).
The symptoms of this disorder are noticeable including tolerance, mood swings, lack of control, preoccupation, and withdrawal symptoms. There are specific uses for different platforms. A person’s core characteristics and cognition can influence their decision to use a specific online communication application leading to gratification and compensation for lack of real life. The personality, cognition, psychology, motives to use online communication tool, psychopathology influence a person’s coping strategies and internet biases such as expectations the user has for the use of the online application. One can relieve themselves from the real life and real world deficits, escape loneliness, and experience pleasure or positive emotions when online which makes it a significant mechanism for online communication disorder. People who use the online communication for the factors stated are more at risk for developing an online communication disorder than people who use it for recreational purposes. User expectancies and coping method mediate the consequences of personality and psychopathological aspects entirely. It is a relatively safe environment for introverted, shy, and socially awkward people but it also means that such people will not be able to improve their offline communication skills if they only keep indulging in online communication (Wegmann & Brand, 2016).
The augmentation hypothesis states that online communication helps positively with the offline communication improving social support and the mental well-being of the user. The displacement hypothesis states that the online communication deteriorates offline interactions and social support thereby, reducing the quality and number of offline meetings which has a negative result on the psychological well-being of the person. The hypotheses may be mediating as it depends on the user and their needs for the use of online communication applications. A user seeking to connect right at that moment may receive gratification but someone attempting to avoid being socially isolated could end up in a negative emotional state. Offline communication offers all benefits of online communication and avoidance of social isolation (Glaser, 2018).
The Online Communication Disorder can be calculated by combining both the hypotheses. Internet addiction leads to depression and anxiety especially among the ones who are shy, lonely, and lack social skills which can result in making the online the primary and significant source of communication. There have been reported higher levels of negative mental states with and without the use of online social platforms. It depends on the individual and their very subjective experience as to what makes a positive and a negative experience for them. Replacing online communication with offline for a shy and socially awkward person or someone wanting to avoid social isolation can become a cause for their negative but it can be a positive experience for someone who feels urges regularly to connect and at their own convenience (Glaser, 2018).
There is not sufficient research or evidence of the fourth known internet addiction known as Virtual Reality Addiction. It is often confused with internet addiction in general or other internet addictions mentioned previously but it is its own addiction as victims tend to dwell themselves into a new reality causing them to escape their lives. Virtual Reality Disorder is compulsive use of virtual reality despite its negative outcomes. Recent enhancement of VR has led to an increased mental dependence amongst people. Many of the major problems associated with this addiction are the same as the others such as anxiety, low attention span, depression, autism, etc. (Prajapati, 2018).
People tend to indulge in VR due to certain games such as Second Life in which a person can perform illegal activities which may not be possible for them in their real life, thus, providing them with great satisfaction and an escape from their daily regular life in which they may not be happy or unable to do certain things. People are also capable of changing the past and reliving their experiences. Individuals can also communicate with one another as if they are standing next to one another in a proper physical location. It has the tendency to mentally transport a person into another world. People can play games (shooting, sports, racing) as if they are the ones actually shooting with a gun or are present in the sports field or are really driving. People are able to involve themselves with deeper and more satisfying sexual experiences beyond the regular internet streaming pornography using VR as they can sense the touch, taste, communicate, and look at their partner as if they were physically present together (Prajapati, 2018).
One of the main reasons why individuals have a hard time keeping up with Virtual Reality is because it is recent and has not provided us with sufficient time to learn about it in order to make use of it effectively. Coevolution with other tools and environment in the past took hundreds of thousands and millions of years but Virtual Reality industry already has many societal uses and benefits that the industry expects the population to start using it immediately (Davidow, 2012). The body and the brain respond to the digital immersive environment in unexpected ways as the body and the brain have not been given enough time to evolve for this digital environment. Interestingly, Virtual Reality is being used to treat patients from their addictions. It can help people detox, engage with the viewer in terms of exercising and distracting the patient from their addiction by exposing them to other things they may be interested in, teach patients therapeutic skills and personalized therapy to cope with some mental health problems like depression and anxiety (Strauss, n.d.). One of the main fields that will be influenced the most is the sex field. People in need to engage in this activity at any moment desired can access a sex worker or sex robot to obtain assistance as VR is predicted to be a medium to sense and be sensed through it. People not suitable / accommodated to be part of conventional society such as mentally ill, physically disabled, criminals, may indulge themselves completely in this reality to escape their lives and to gain the virtual ability to do things they otherwise cannot such as conversing, running, and working. Not conducting further research and restricting the society in terms of the use of VR can cause the society to function effectively.
VR is also being used to treat mental patients and without sufficient research on this matter. Patients are provided to use this technology to give them a simulated reality that makes them face similar situations in it to help them in their real lives within a controlled atmosphere such as exposure to alcohol or stress-inducing experiences. The effects of VR appear to be ignored largely as the consequences that it will have on VR cannot exactly be predicted and can pivot the person’s mental state to better or worse. People recovering from substance use are exposed to substance smells, the way it looks, the way people smoke it to increase the survivor’s resistance to such things. People suffering from PTSDs are also exposed to situations that caused them to suffer from this disorder to make them realize that situations no longer exist for them and are not a threat (Dyer, 2016). This can cause the patients to be addicted to the VR as it constantly indicates to them that their life is now safer and better.
Internet Addiction Disorder is the excessive use of the internet consistently and emotional attachment towards the online activities available. The online activities available include socializing, playing games, surf the web for things of interest, and update oneself on the happenings in the world. Compulsive use of the internet is recognized as a disorder similar to Internet Addiction Disorder can come with visible signs such as constant thoughts of the internet, increased usage of the platform, unable to lower usage, negative mental state when not using the internet, problematic real life, and deteriorating relationships. Internet Gaming Disorder is the excessive indulgence in online gaming. Individuals suffering from this disorder obsess over internet games while forgetting about other activities and have a hard time detaching themselves from this activity and this obsession only keeps increasing. Individuals report to be unsuccessful in their attempts of removing themselves from this gaming atmosphere. Persons affected continue their usage despite negative consequences in their real lives and the negative real life could be the reason they indulge in this online activity to escape their real life. Online Gambling Disorder is a problematic use of online platform to pursue gambling constantly. Besides the online convenience, one may be pursuing this activity out of pure greed or to escape their real lives. Online Gambling, along with Internet Gaming, also has the same effect on a user’s brain as that of alcohol, tobacco, and drugs. Online Gambling Disorder is dangerous because it has convenient access to websites, money, and provides privacy and comfort to place bets. The user might even be at greater risk than traditional gambling given deceptive opponent practices and automated bots strategizing. Internet Communication Disorder occurs when an individual is unable to control their usage of the online communication platforms. The user may be indulging in this activity due to loneliness or less perceived social support. Some suffer negative consequences after using such platforms and others begin to use it to escape their real problematic lives. Online communication can be beneficial by providing with emotional support, brief detachment from the real world, and entertainment and it can also damage offline relationships by reducing the quality of their interactions. Virtual Reality Addiction is the least researched disorder as VR is not fully commercialized yet and occurs when people prefer the online world more than the offline in general. People may use it for pleasures that they may not be able to receive in real life due to restrictions and consequences such as indulging in sexual activity with someone halfway across the world or killing someone. It provides the user with an experience of doing something in real life. With new enhancements like being able to sense (touch, taste), the number of addicts should only increase.
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