Internet addiction disorder: Signs, symptoms and how to avoid

In a move to curb the growing number of compulsive internet users, Visvesaraya National Institute of Technology (VNIT) cut down internet services to its hostels last month. The college also offered therapy sessions to those students who were addicted to the internet. While VNIT took a step towards curtailing this growing addiction among its students, there are many others who suffer from internet addiction, but are not aware of it.

According to a report by the Internet and Mobile Association of India and market research firm IMRB International, the number of users who have access to the internet in India is expected to reach 450-465 million by June, 2017. This figure is up 4-8 percent from 432 million in December 2016. The overall internet penetration in the country, is 31 percent. With India’s smartphone user base growing to over 300 million in December 2016, as per reports from market research firm, Counterpoint, internet access to most is just a touch away. While these figures paint a rosy picture about the growth prospects and accessibility to the internet, with increasing penetration comes worries and challenges – that associated with too much usage of the internet. A study done by telecom company Telenor, found out that 65 percent of Indians are self proclaimed internet addicts.

The side effects effects of internet addiction is not just limited to wastage of time. According to a study conducted by researchers from McMaster University, Canada, people who use the internet excessively are prone to mental health problems such as depression and anxiety, and this problem is higher in college going students and teens. While countries like the USA has already  classified Internet addiction as a health problem, India has just realized that dangers of it. The country set up its first de-addiction centre, SHUT clinic (Service for Healthy Use of Technology) run by the National Institute of Mental Health and Sciences (NIMHANS) in Bengaluru in 2014.

Symptoms and how internet addiction can harm you:
So, how does one identify internet addiction? Symptoms of internet addiction can be broadly classified into two types: Emotional symptoms which include depression, stress, withdrawal from society, feelings of guilt, inability to keep schedule, agitation, loss on productivity, a feeling of restlessness when not in front of the internet. The physical symptoms include drastic weight gain or loss, disturbance in sleep, backaches, head aches, strained vision, carpal tunnel syndrome.
Here is how excessive exposure to the internet and gadgets can be harmful:

Stress: A Swedish research team from the University of Gothenburg has found that people using Facebook constantly, and for long hours daily, are at a higher risk of developing stress, depression and mental illnesses. Social comparison, where the kind of photographs and posts of vacations, children or professional and personal achievements that friends put up, cause jealousy, the constant need to compare one’s social life with others, the need for likes and comments on posts and photos, cause stress and, sometimes, may lead to depression. Too much time spent online also leads to neglecting other duties, which again, can cause stress.

Radiation from gadgets: Almost all gadgets – cell phones, iPods and iPads, laptops, etc emit radiation. While studies have not proven any direct link between cancer and radiation from gadgets,  some research has shown that constant exposure to radiation, over a period of time, may affect human cells, that might possibly help tumours grow. While there are alternating theories to this, some studies have also shown that cell phones could possibly reduce sperm count, particularly for those who keep their phones in their pockets for a long time.

Insomnia: The constant exposure to the light emitted from gadgets such as mobile phones, laptops, iPads, and others, can interfere with our body’s natural ability to process daylight, and understand when it is time to sleep. The light suppresses the release of melatonin, which is the hormone responsible for sleep, hence affecting our circadian rhythm. This is the same with playing video games, or even watching TV before going to sleep.

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome: The repetitive motion which is involved while typing or texting on a cell phone, or laptop, can lead to Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. Also known as video thumb or swipers thumb, this is characterised by soreness or cramping in the fingers, wrist and forearm, which is often caused by the overuse while typing. This happens when a specific nerve that is located in a tunnel in the wrist gets squeezed by tunnels around it, which get inflamed. This results in pain in the hand and wrist, which can progress to the arm and neck, if not treated. Carpal Tunnel Syndrome is common in people who constantly use their fine motor skills.

Obesity: More and more children, right from a very young age, are getting addicted to gadgets, and often, prefer playing video games or browsing the internet, to going out and playing. The same is happening to adults as well. This sedentary lifestyle, coupled with unhealthy eating, can lead to obesity in the long run, which in turns causes a range of illnesses – from diabetes and high blood pressure, to cardiovascular diseases and even cancer.

Neck and back problems: The long hours spent sitting in a hunched position over your computer, or smart phone, can give you neck and back problems.  By bending your head forwards, your neck and back has to support all the added weight of your head, putting a strain on your neck and back, resulting in back pain.

How to deal with internet addiction

For starters, most do not realise or accept that they are addicted to the internet, hence identifying that you have internet addiction is half the battle won. Here  are some tips that will help you deal with internet addiction:

  • When you start to realise that you are at risk of internet addiction, set boundaries on how many hours a day you will access the internet, and stick to it.
  • Take a break from all gadgets – smartphones, laptops, iPads – if possible use the weekend as internet detoxification days were you avoid logging on, unless it is that urgent.
  • Enlist the help of your family and friends. Get them to help you stay away from gadgets that would get you online. If you can’t resist the temptation, you can ask your family members to set up passwords on your laptop and mobile and get them to open it only during the times that you are allowed to.
  • Find hobbies and activities that do not require the internet. Read a book, get involved in sports, drama, art, music – there are tons of activities that does not require technology.
  • Use the time  time that you spend in the morning in front of your computer to go out for a walk or exercise.
  • Go out with your friends, call them and talk to them instead of texting them.
  • Uninstall computer games, movies and all other recreational items from your computer, and use it only for work purposes.
  • Prioritise your work. If you are a student, don’t go online until you have finished your studies. Go to the library to source reference material, and rely on the internet only if you are unable to find anything.
  • Seek professional help if you are unable to resolve the problem by yourself.