Learn about the different kinds and signs of internet addiction as well as what types of treatment can address the harmful effects of internet addiction.

Knowing what internet addiction is and what is not can be hard. Going online is now a regular part of life. The internet can help people travel, learn and talk with others. People with shared interests can chat online and make new relationships.

Sadly, some people use the internet to escape from their daily life. Others use it to engage in risky behavior. Even people who surf safely may suffer when their internet use becomes uncontrollable.

Growing internet misuse has led mental health experts to propose adding internet addiction disorder to the DSM because internet use can mimic drug addiction in some people. Those people can benefit from care plans modeled on substance abuse treatment.

Types of Internet Addictions

There are many types of internet addiction. The internet allows people to stream videos, play video games and use social media. Each of these can be addictive. Because the internet has so much to offer, addiction types vary from cybersexual to gaming.


Jokes about internet porn are common. However, some people develop a porn addiction. Porn is now more accessible than ever. A person can easily find it online in the privacy of their own home.

The vast sexual imagery seen online can have a strong effect on the brain. Watching porn can have the same effect on the brain as using drugs does. The effect can change the brain.  

Some online sexual addictions can be dangerous. People can end up in chat rooms with sexual predators or underage people. Other people may use internet chat rooms or sites to find new sexual partners.

Net Compulsions

Net compulsions resemble symptoms of OCD. People with OCD might constantly check to see if a door is locked or if the oven is off. People with net compulsions might check social media all the time or constantly refresh their email inbox. 

People may repeatedly check news, weather or financial sites. Having an interest in these topics is fine, but it can end up taking time and attention away from school or work. If online shopping is involved, people can end up spending lots of money.

Cyber Relationships

Social media is a big part of the internet. Social media can keep people connected and updated on what’s happening in the world. However, using social media too much can have the opposite effect. Using the sites too much can isolate people from their real-world relationships.

Many people turn to social media to help address a mental disorder. Chatting with people can become a portal to escape anxiety or self-doubt. People seek recognition on social media and doing so can easily become addictive.

People who are addicted to cyber relationships are vulnerable to irrational and impulsive behavior with those around them in their offline life.


People can become addicted to video games. Online gaming is the main cause of gaming addiction.

Players often praise video games for being “addictive.” There is a difference between using the term to describe a game that’s hard to stop playing because it’s so fun and identifying a real addiction. Gamer culture celebrates binging games for long periods. Many people healthily handle gaming by either finishing the game, losing interest or replacing game time with other hobbies.

Some people struggle with their game time. As gaming becomes their main interest, people with gaming addiction may stop going to school or work. Some may stop eating or bathing. In one case, a couple became so absorbed in an online game that their baby died of neglect.

Information Seeking

This type of addiction can happen unexpectedly because curiosity is encouraged in kids. Life-long learning promotes health and longevity.

It is not the nature of looking up info online that is the issue. The main issue is that doing so amplifies anxiety and overthinking.

Even basic decisions can get complicated. Keeping up with new facts can replace important tasks.

Signs and Symptoms of Internet Addiction

a growing amount of events. Internet addiction is defined in part by how long it lasts.

Most doctors test if an internet addiction exists by using a formula to those used to detect a gambling disorder. An addiction expert labeled six symptoms that indicate a behavioral addiction:

  • Salience: when one activity becomes more important than others
  • Mood modification: using an activity to fix or avoid a bad mood 
  • Tolerance: needing more of an activity for the desired effect
  • Withdrawal: experiencing unpleasant effects after stopping an activity
  • Conflict: having periods of inner and outer conflict as a result of the activity
  • Relapse: resuming an activity after avoiding it for a time

Internet addiction is a major concern in China and other Asian countries. Chinese researchers have studied it and in addition to the first four symptoms already listed, they added:

  • Lack of control: having unsuccessful attempts to control or reduce internet use
  • Loss of interest in other activities: ignoring other important activities in favor of internet use
  • Continuing despite consequences: not changing internet use despite having problems from internet use
  • Denial or minimization: hiding or lying about the amount of time spent on the internet

Internet addiction is a problem when a person regularly has negative side effects from their internet use.

Causes of Internet Addiction

Internet use triggers a sense of reward in the brain that leads to more use. A few people are very sensitive to this effect and it is why the people who go online day-to-day for work or school don’t ever develop signs of an addiction.

Some of the causes of this addiction can include using the internet too much as a kid and not having a parent watch online use. People with a recent traumatic event, high stress levels or a substance use disorder all face a high risk of having this type of addiction. Other risk factors are:

  • Being male
  • Having a mental health condition
  • Having poor moods
  • Having limited offline social time
  • Family conflict

Most of these factors point to an attempt to manage or self-medicate stress or discomfort.

Effects of Internet Addiction

Research shows that internet addiction affects the brain. People who spend a long time online may exhibit:

  • Dopamine surges that resemble ones caused by substance use
  • Abnormal amounts of gray and white matter in the brain
  • Altered brain activity regarding impulse control and motor coordination

Some experts think that chronic, heavy internet use can alter a personality and make people more aggressive, vain or impulsive.

Even people without internet addiction can be changed by regular internet use. Many people have said that their internet use has altered their attention span, so it’s harder for them to remember information. Others find they can’t read deeply and scan or skim for key points instead.

The effects of internet addiction can also be physical. Spending more time online leads to more time sitting and physical impacts like:

  • Weight gain
  • Stiff limbs
  • Back or shoulder pain
  • Poor vision
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome
  • Bad posture

In general, people with internet addiction are more likely to remain inactive for long periods of time. People can avoid the negative health impacts of internet use by taking regular breaks from use and engaging in physical activity.

Internet Addiction Withdrawal

Originally, “withdrawal” referred to the changes caused by the end of substance use. Internet addictions do not cause withdrawal symptoms like drugs and alcohol do, but they can still cause withdrawal symptoms.

In this case, withdrawal mainly affects mood and cognition. People who go online regularly may feel bored and anxious when they are not online. Other symptoms include:

In one extreme case, a person who spent eight hours per day playing the same online game for over two years experienced psychosis after stopping internet use.

Internet Addiction Statistics

Statistics reveal that this issue is a growing problem around the world. In the United States and Europe, 1.5% to 8.2% of people live with this addiction. One study found that 10% of Chinese youth have this addiction, while another study found that as many as 27% already do. A global survey indicated that 6% of people globally have an internet addiction of some kind.

Internet Addiction and Co-Occurring Disorders

Internet addiction and depression are common to see together, as are internet addiction and anxiety. A Korean study found that people with this disorder are twice as likely to have an issue with alcohol use, be five times more likely to have an anxiety disorder and be six times more likely to be depressed or have PTSD than people who use the internet moderately.

Each disorder can cause the other. People with depression or anxiety are likely to become socially distant and isolated, making the internet their only social outlet. This effect raises the chance of an addiction forming. Also, people who use the internet too much can develop anxiety and depression as a response to stress caused by their overuse.

Research suggests that substance use disorders often precede internet addiction, especially in young adults and teens, but the reverse can also be true. People who use the internet for long periods may start using one or more substances to enhance their internet use and remain awake and engaged online with others.

Alcohol use disorders are very common for people with internet addiction. Alcohol can make talking to people easier, and both alcohol and internet use can temporarily soothe feelings of isolation and anxiety.

Treatment for Internet Addiction Disorder

Fortunately, recovery is possible with the right care and help. Like people with substance use disorders, people with internet addiction can find help in peer support groups that provide help while reducing social isolation and shame or alienation. Internet addiction support groups include Online Gamers Anonymous, Computer Gaming Addicts Anonymous, reSTART and local groups run by treatment centers.

Internet addiction treatment can consist of outpatient or inpatient treatment at a facility that provides services for people with internet addictions. The same care plans that work for substance abuse also work for behavioral addictions. For example, CBT can help people reduce their internet use and maintain this change over time. In an integrated care plan, people who have co-occurring internet and substance addiction can address both at the same time.

If a substance addiction developed while trying to cope with an internet addiction, contact The Recovery Village. Call to speak with a representative about how professional treatment can help.

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Editor – Camille Renzoni
Cami Renzoni is a creative writer and editor for The Recovery Village. As an advocate for behavioral health, Cami is certified in mental health first aid and encourages people who face substance use disorders to ask for the help they deserve. Read more
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Medically Reviewed By – Stephanie Hairston, MSW
Stephanie Hairston received her Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology and English from Pomona College and her Master of Social Work degree from New York University. Read more
Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.