USA Today just published an article about a teen in China who cut off his hand because of his Internet addiction. The incident speaks to the severity of Internet addiction among adolescents in China, Taiwan, and other countries around the world. The young adult also knew the intensity of his addiction, and as a means to put it to an end, cut off his own hand.
Fortunately, teens in the United States aren’t having as severe a problem with Internet addiction as they are in Asia. However, there are some growing concerns around Internet addiction and the use of technology overall for US teens. Experts in the field of psychology are recognizing the ways in which the use of technology is affecting a teen’s mental health and daily functioning. For instance, attention, concentration, and learning are affected by a teen’s frequent checking his or her phone or Ipad.
In Asia, the problem for teens is spending too much time online. About% of China’s teenage youth are addicted to the Internet, according to the USA Today article. In fact, there are rehabilitation centers to help teens wean off of the Internet and slowly heal from the addiction. China has about 250 Internet addiction healing centers. The country sees Internet addiction as not only a significant problem for adolescents, but a clinical disorder. To help with the problem, Taiwan has also established a fine for any parent who allow their children to spend too much time online.
The United States does not see Internet Addiction as a clinical disorder…yet. However, the American Psychological Association (APA), the publisher of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) does include a definition of addiction to behaviors and not only substances. In other words, the DSM explains that the activation of the brain’s reward system is the key to addiction. Although drugs and alcohol can have a physical and psychological addiction, it is possible to develop an addiction to other behaviors and any activity that become the sole focus of one’s life to the exclusion and detriment of other life-activities. According to the APA, there is evidence that points to behaviors, such as gambling, having the same high, or rush in the brain, that is similar to the use of drugs. In that way, addictions can resemble the physiological symptoms that the use of drugs and alcohol might create. And this is also true for addictions to the Internet.
Typical signs of Internet addiction include:
- Difficulty Completing Daily Tasks
- Academic Performance Decreases
- Losing Track of Time
- Isolation from Friends and Family
- Experiencing Euphoria with Internet Use
At times, Internet use can also serve as a coping mechanism for teens who are feeling depressed or anxious, or who are experiencing sexual excitement. In fact, research indicates that teens are more likely to become addicted to Internet use if they are depressed, have social phobias, or have been diagnosed with ADHD.
Sadly, recent research has pointed out that for those adolescents who have an bona fide Internet addiction, as described above, they are more likely to admit to drug abuse. A study surveyed 1,271 students ages 14 to 19 about their Internet use, substance use and personality. The study included an “Internet addiction test,” which asked how often they stayed online longer than they had intended, how often their grades suffered because of the amount of time they were online, and how often they were bothered if someone disturbed them when they were online. The results of the study pointed to the fact that those teens who reported substance abuse also had significantly higher than average scores on their Internet Addiction test.
Research indicates that 1.4% to 17.9% of adolescents around the world are addicted to the Internet. Addictions to Internet use are not as prevalent in the United States as they are in other countries, however, evidence suggests that boys are at higher risk for an addiction than girls, especially boys who spend more than 20 hours per week online.
If you feel that you might have an addiction to the Internet, or a compulsory relationship with the use of the Internet, share it with a teacher, parent, or school counselor. If you don’t feel comfortable with approaching someone you know, contact a mental health professional.
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