Internet addiction is a growing problem. New research indicates internet addiction may be related to substance abuse.

Seeking validation and gratification via the internet is becoming increasingly common. This trend has led to a widespread issue referred to by some professionals as internet addiction. Researchers and treatment professionals are seeing an increase in co-occurring internet addiction when treating other disorders.

Substance use disorder is a mental health condition that frequently co-occurs with internet addiction. Perhaps one of the more startling findings has been that young people who display internet addiction behaviors are more likely to use drugs. As internet addiction worsens, so does the probability of developing a substance use disorder. When internet addiction and substance abuse co-occur, both disorders must be addressed in treatment.

Effects of Drug Abuse on Internet Addiction

Internet addiction and substance abuse can isolate people from their loved ones and cause damage to many areas of their lives. Studies show that the two types of addictions seem to progress together. As one addiction worsens, so does the other. When trying to stop acting on one addiction, if the other is not also addressed, relapse becomes more probable.

Similarities Between Internet Addiction and Substance Addiction

Like the way drug use restructures the reward system in the brain, compulsive internet use causes changes in brain functioning. Studies on internet addiction and the brain mirror those on drug effects on the brain. Compulsive internet use, like drug use, begins to become more rewarding than other, healthier activities. As a result, a person may stop participating in other leisure activities in favor of internet use.

Internet addiction withdrawal symptoms are like the psychological withdrawal effects of many drugs. Compulsive internet users may experience agitation, depression, anxiety and mood swings after stopping internet use. They also reported experiencing strong urges to use the internet. Some compulsive internet users have even stated that they find the urge to use the internet unbearable, much like descriptions of the urge to get high by individuals with drug addictions.

Statistics on Internet Addiction and Substance Abuse

The expansion of the internet and its accessibility have increased at an exponential rate in recent years. In 1995, a mere 0.4 percent of the world’s population was using the internet. Figures from June, 2018, show that 55.1 percent of the world’s population now uses the internet.

As more people access the internet, the rate of personal internet use has also increased. In 2000, the average person spent 9.4 hours online weekly, with only 3.3 of those hours being at home. New data shows that the average internet user now spends nearly 24 hours online each week with 17.6 of those hours occurring while at home.

These statistics demonstrate the increasing problem of internet overuse. While there are few statistics on co-occurring internet addiction and substance use, drug and alcohol use may put an individual at a higher risk of developing an internet addiction, and vice versa

Treating Internet Addiction and Co-Occurring Substance Use Disorders

In cases of co-occurring disorders, it’s best for internet addiction treatment to occur in conjunction with substance abuse treatment because both addictions influence and drive one another.  By treating substance use disorder and internet addiction simultaneously, individuals can understand the roots of their conditions, develop better coping mechanisms and increase the chances of long-term recovery.

If you or a loved one experience a substance use disorder co-occurring with an internet addiction, contact The Recovery Village today for more information on treatment options available to you.

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Editor – Thomas Christiansen
With over a decade of content experience, Tom produces and edits research articles, news and blog posts produced for Advanced Recovery Systems. Read more
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Medically Reviewed By – Denise-Marie Griswold, LCAS
Denise-Marie Griswold is a Licensed Clinical Addictions Specialist. She earned her Master's Degree in Substance Abuse and Clinical Counseling from East Carolina University in 2014. Read more

Cole, J. I., Suman, M., Schramm, P., & Zhou, L. “Surveying the Digital Future.” UCLA: Center for Communication Policy, November 2000. Accessed January 8, 2019.

Internet World Stats. “Internet Growth Statistics 1995 to 2018 […]lobal Village Online.” (n.d.) Accessed January 8, 2019.

Nemati, Z., & Matlabi, H. “Assessing behavioral patterns of Interne[…]high school students.” National Center for Biotechnology Information, January 25, 2017. Accessed January 8, 2019.

Condliffe, Jamie. “The average American spends 24 hours a week online.” Technology Review, January 23, 2918. Accessed January 8, 2019.

Weinstein, A., & Lejoyeux, M.“Internet Addiction or Excessive Internet Use.” NCBI, September 2010. Accessed January 8, 2019.

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.