Internet addiction is a growing problem in the United States, particularly among adolescents. A 2012 study noted that studies in America and Europe, estimate that the prevalence of internet addiction disorders range from 1.5-8.2% of populations.

Another study conducted in 2014 reported that 93% of adolescents ages 12-29 regularly used the internet. Of the adolescents using the internet, 26.3% met criteria for internet overuse. These and more internet addiction statistics are staggering and suggest that internet addiction is a widespread phenomenon, especially in younger generations that grew up using the internet.

Besides internet addiction alone, there are associations between internet addiction and alcohol dependence. When a person struggles with both internet addiction and substance abuse, including alcohol abuse, their mental, physical and emotional health can immensely suffer, ultimately leading to personality changes. To develop the best treatment options for individuals struggling with these co-occurring disorders, it is important to understand their underlying causes.

Relationship Between Internet Addiction, Alcohol, and Depression

In a study conducted in 2018, college-aged students with a history of substance abuse were asked about how often they used the internet. This study found that internet addiction not only can be linked to alcohol dependence but that individuals with both addictions are more likely to develop other substance use disorders.

Several personality traits are common in individuals struggling with both alcohol dependence and internet addiction. Namely, in a study involving college-aged students, those who exhibited higher fun-seeking (rewarding) behaviors were at a greater risk for developing co-occurring alcohol dependence and internet addiction. These behaviors were linked to increased serotonin release, a neurotransmitter involved in the brain’s reward system which causes people to feel happy, excited and accomplished.

The reward-seeking behaviors in people who struggle with addictions to both alcohol and the internet are also linked to comorbid factors, like depression. A low level of serotonin is a common problem in clinically depressed patients. An individual engaged in certain reward-seeking and addictive behaviors may do so subconsciously to feel the neurological effects of serotonin release.

Why Internet Addiction and Depression Are Intertwined

A study from 2017 found that individuals with poor self-esteem and motivation are more likely to use the internet over their peers. In the same way, people with depression may be drawn to electronic media to overcome interpersonal difficulties that are troublesome in a face-to-face setting.

Filling the void of unmet social needs through the internet can be a coping mechanism for depressed individuals. The internet can become a source of self-reward for people struggling with depression and addiction. Such interactions can become disabling for the person, especially when they are forced to interact with others in face-to-face, not virtual, settings.

Dangers of Internet Addiction and Alcohol Dependence

Spending hours on the internet can harm a person’s mental, physical and emotional health. Internet overuse can affect someone’s interactions with friends, family, coworkers, and classmates.

Individuals who exhibit fun-seeking behaviors are more prone to indulging in activities that stimulate the release of serotonin (e.g., substance use and abuse). Eventually, an internet addiction and co-occurring substance use disorder will amplify a person’s existing health problems.

Multiple physical and behavioral health problems are associated with excessive internet use and alcohol consumption. These include:

Co-occurring internet addiction and alcohol dependence are significant factors in the development of depression. Additionally, having pre-existing depression can lead to greater dependence on alcohol and the internet, creating a vicious cycle. These individuals may have greater difficulties in their personal, work and social lives than people experiencing alcohol use disorder, depression or internet addiction alone.

Internet Addiction, Depression and Alcohol Dependence Treatment

Treatment for co-occurring internet addiction and alcohol dependence is multi-faceted. Whether a patient is also diagnosed with clinical depression, called a dual diagnosis, will impact their treatment. Several different kinds of psychotherapy exist which focus on modifying a person’s behavior. One of the most common types of individual psychotherapy is known as cognitive behavioral therapy or CBT.

In the case of treating co-occurring internet addiction and alcohol dependence, CBT focuses on a combination of features, including:

  • Limiting internet use
  • Replacing time using alcohol and the internet with more productive hobbies
  • Greater socialization in a physical (non-virtual) setting

Pharmacological interventions, particularly for addressing depression and anxiety, may be helpful for certain individuals with alcohol and internet addiction. Antidepressants and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) may be beneficial to stabilize a person’s serotonin levels.

Key Points: Alcohol and Internet Addiction

Some points to remember concerning alcohol abuse and internet addiction include:

  • Alcohol dependence with co-occurring internet addiction is a significant problem among adolescents and young adults
  • Both alcohol dependence and internet addiction impact individuals with certain personality traits and neurobiology
  • Internet and alcohol addiction can negatively impact a person’s physical and behavioral health
  • Alcohol and internet addiction can be treated together

Are you or a loved one struggling with co-occurring internet and alcohol addictions? Speak with a representative at The Recovery Village today for more information on how to treat both disorders.