An Introduction to Internet Addiction Recovery
Welcome to ITAA! We’re glad you’re here. This worksheet is intended to help you arrive at a clear and effective plan for recovery from compulsive internet and technology use. We encourage you to answer the questions below in order and to be searching, honest, and open-minded. A printable pdf of this document can be found here.
Before starting, you might consider setting a five minute timer to meditate or sit in silence and focus on your breath.
May I be willing to be honest with myself today. May I sincerely seek to identify my behaviors, motivations, triggers, needs and aspirations. May I find the courage today to write that reality on paper. May I see the truth.
1. What are the clearest examples of compulsive, self-destructive internet and technology use in my life today?
For example, what are the behaviors that drove me to seek help in ITAA? What are the behaviors that when I start I don’t know when I’ll stop, that I keep returning to despite attempts to abstain from them, or that violate my personal values? Are there specific sites, apps, behaviors, or devices that I cannot reliably use safely?
2. What are the internet and technology behaviors that occasionally become compulsive or unhealthy for me?
For example, are there behaviors I anxiously turn to when I have a free moment? Which behaviors have ever led to a binge (even just once)? Which behaviors feed my desire to turn to the activities I listed in question 1? Which behaviors do I turn to for distraction or to numb my emotions? Are there behaviors I’m not sure whether I can responsibly do? Appendix A at the bottom of this document lists examples of some of the most common compulsive tech behaviors.
3. What other compulsive behaviors do I engage in?
Examples might include overeating, binge-reading, overspending, alcohol or drug abuse, codependence, compulsive sex- or romance-seeking, overworking, etc. In Appendix A there are some possible examples.
4. What are the various needs I’m attempting to meet when I engage in each behavior I listed in questions 1–3?
Examples could include our need for fun, pleasure, relaxation, connection, creativity, learning, meaning, challenge, contribution, etc. We benefit from applying this question to each behavior individually. Appendix B has a list of possible needs we can reference.
5. What situations or emotions bring up the urge to use the behaviors I listed in questions 1–3?
Examples might include deadlines, family or relationship struggles, financial insecurity, failure, rejection, travel, sadness, stress, fear, illness, or experiencing HALT (Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired). Another way to ask this question is to consider the situations in which we feel difficulty meeting the needs we listed in question 4. Appendix C has some examples.
6. Which internet and technology behaviors help me live a healthy, meaningful, and sober life?
For example, this may include internet and technology behaviors that we need to use for work, education, finances, health, recovery, creative expression, or soberly connecting with people we love. It can also refer to use that is purposeful, healthy, conscious, minimal, or aligned with our values. Some of us found it helpful to answer this question by identifying the bare minimum of technology behaviors we need to live functionally. Examples might include work communications, online banking, scheduling doctor’s appointments, online recovery meetings, calling loved ones, etc.
7. What are healthy, non-compulsive, offline activities that can bring me fun, pleasure, relaxation, connection, creativity, learning, meaning, challenge, contribution, or any other needs I listed in question 4
Examples might include singing, spending time with friends and family, going into nature, napping, taking a class, exercising, recovery meetings, live music, volunteering, a fulfilling career, etc. Don’t hold back! Try to come up with at least 20 ideas. Additional examples can be found in Appendix D at the bottom of this document.
I am grateful for this opportunity to grow in humility and acceptance today. I know I still have much more to learn about myself and my relationship with technology. May I see the truth more and more clearly each day.
Summary of the questions answered:
- Our most compulsive internet and technology behaviors.
- Occasionally compulsive internet and technology behaviors.
- Other non tech-related compulsive behaviors we struggle with.
- The needs that we seek to meet with the behaviors we listed in questions 1–3.
- Challenging situations and emotions that can bring up the urge to use.
- Positive or necessary internet and technology use.
- Healthy, non-compulsive strategies to meet our needs and live fulfilling lives.
A Path To Sobriety
May I be open-minded and courageous as I explore what a safe and sane relationship with technology could look like. I surrender control and fear. May I be willing to try suggestions and give my recovery and wellbeing the attention they deserve.
Having completed this worksheet with honesty and vulnerability, we now have a deeper understanding of ourselves, and we can apply what we’ve learned to guide us towards sobriety. We benefit from calling members with stable sobriety, reading what we’ve written to them, and asking for their feedback. We find that connecting with experienced members is an essential part of the process, giving us a broader perspective and helping us move towards a personal understanding of sobriety. We also find it helpful to regularly review our answers to these questions, acknowledging that our understanding of sobriety and our own recovery needs evolve over time.
There is no fellowship-wide definition of abstinence in ITAA, and the only requirement for membership is a desire to stop using internet and technology compulsively. With the help of other members and a Higher Power of our own understanding, we are each invited to discover whatever approach to sobriety can best help us live a full and thriving life in recovery.
We can translate what we’ve written into top, middle, and bottom lines by using the format below. Once we’ve arranged our answers into this format, we can further refine what we’ve written so that it aligns with our intuitions and the guidance we receive from other members and our Higher Power.
The answers we wrote in question 1 are bottom lines for us. Bottom lines are the behaviors, websites, and apps that are compulsive and self-destructive for us. They are the things that once we start we can’t stop, and once we stop we can’t stay stopped. We abstain from our bottom lines. If we wish to keep a day count, then we might choose to do so on the basis of abstinence from these behaviors.
The answers we wrote in question 2 (occasionally compulsive use), question 3 (non-tech related compulsive behaviors), and question 5 (triggering situations) are middle lines for us. Middle lines are the behaviors and situations that feed our urge to act out. We seek to abstain from middle line behaviors whenever possible and we benefit from reaching out for support when we have to engage in a necessary middle line behavior, or find ourselves in a middle line situation. Middle line behaviors tend to pull us towards our bottom lines, so we don’t treat them as safe or acceptable alternatives to our bottom lines.
The answers we wrote in question 7 are top lines for us. Top lines are activities that are positive for us, enhance our self esteem, and help us maintain sobriety while meeting our needs in healthy, functional ways. We may also reference what we wrote in question 6 to include healthy or aspirational practices around our internet and technology use, such as using only when necessary, having a plan before using, or keeping our use as minimal as possible.
We don’t choose our top, middle, and bottom lines. They are like a map to a landscape that’s waiting to be discovered, and as we explore it we come to understand the nature of our addiction and our recovery needs more intimately. Bottom lines are the swamps and ravines where we get painfully trapped in obsession and self-destruction, middle lines are slippery slopes that can send us tumbling downwards, and top lines are wide, rolling plains filled with abundance and security. As we clear out the fog and begin to see this inner landscape more clearly, we’re better able to take wise action that leads us more and more towards a healthy, serene, and loving way of life.
As we traverse this landscape, we may find it helpful to stay clear not only of our core compulsive behaviors, but also of occasionally compulsive activities and our other middle lines as much as possible. When we flirted with these risky behaviors, we often found ourselves rolling the dice with our sobriety. We were like the owner of a car whose brakes usually work—as long as we kept taking it out for a spin, we were going to keep crashing. If we wanted to stay sober in the long term, we had to quit gambling with our sobriety.
We have found it essential to develop not only a practice of abstinence, but also a positive vision for our technology habits and our lives. For example, some of us might seek to use internet and technology only as “necessary,” such as for work, education, finances, health, recovery, creative expression, or sober connection with loved ones. Or we might find that other words serve as better guides to our aspirational use, such as “conscious,” “intentional,” “minimal,” “purposeful,” “healthy,” “spiritual,” or “values-aligned”. By simply defining what is healthy for us and sticking only to that, we clear out the loopholes, justifications, and accessory behaviors that enable our compulsive tendencies. And by bringing greater awareness to all of our internet and technology use, we build a wide, strong buffer that can prevent us from straying into a binge.
We let our Higher Power shape our ideals, and we recognize that each of us will have a different vision for what sane and healthy technology use looks like. Broadly, we seek to use internet and technology in service of a higher purpose or goal, and to let go of use that is purposeless or excessive, or that occurs at inappropriate times (such as during a conversation, or late at night). We also avoid grazing online or drifting unconsciously from one “necessary” task to another without any plan. Some of us find it helpful to practice being “offline by default” and to only go online when we have a good reason and we’re in fit spiritual condition.1 If we need to use an essential form of technology, especially if it risks drawing us into compulsive use, we benefit from approaching the situation with caution and aim to spend as little time on the activity as possible. We may find it useful to write a plan beforehand, consult with another member, bookend the activity, or even complete the task while on an outreach call. But if we are feeling emotionally shaky or experiencing urges to use, we might be better served by going to a meeting or stepping away from our devices altogether.
These aspirational practices are guiding principles that can support us in our recovery journey, not strict rules. While we commit to a non-negotiable abstinence from our bottom lines and may choose to count days on the basis of this abstinence, we seek progressive freedom from compulsive internet and technology use. By engaging in an ongoing process of discovery and awareness around what technology use is truly positive for us, we often find ourselves on a gentler path to sobriety. If we falter, we’re better able to catch ourselves far from the harsh cliff edge of our addiction and regain our footing. The forgiving nature of this approach may help us develop greater self-awareness and healthier intuitions that can lead us to freedom.
Regardless of how we understand and practice sobriety, we find that what matters most is sharing honestly with other members and our Higher Power, and we lean on meetings and phone calls to help us discover and maintain our sobriety commitments. In our addiction, we used screens to distract ourselves, escape reality, and numb our emotions—our devices became substitutes for true connection. In recovery, we learn to embrace the vulnerability of our emotions and develop authentic intimacy with ourselves and others. We practice using technology as a tool for meeting our goals, living in alignment with our Higher Power, and developing flourishing lives.
Throughout this journey, we work to let go of perfectionism and self-will. We claim progress, not perfection. We do our best one day at a time, and we let go of attempts to white-knuckle our sobriety: it’s a simple fact that we cannot recover from addiction on the basis of willpower alone. We recognize that obsessive restriction and perfectionism can be one of the forms through which our compulsive need to be in control manifests. If we find ourselves struggling and straining, we consider it an invitation to surrender more deeply to the loving help and guidance available to us from our fellows, our Higher Power, and the Twelve Steps of ITAA. We can further bolster our recovery by taking time away from our devices, meditating, praying, bookending with other members, and engaging in healthy, non-compulsive activities to get our needs met. We deserve to have our needs met!
If we find ourselves straying into compulsive screen use, or are otherwise confronted with a triggering situation or emotion, we benefit from turning to our Higher Power, sharing about it in a meeting, or making a phone call. If we slip or relapse into our compulsive behaviors, we write about what happened: how it started, what happened, and what may need to change in our recovery program moving forward. Then we call our sponsor or another sober member and ask for their feedback.
When we’re able to fully let go of our compulsive behaviors, we’re guided towards new strategies for meeting our needs for fun, relaxation, novelty, learning, meaning, and connection in the offline world. Some of us initially felt a great deal of grief and mourning in letting go of our compulsive internet and technology behaviors. But none of the pleasure they gave us has come even close to the deep sense of serenity and being alive that long-term sobriety has given us. With the help of our fellows, we soon find that we can have full, interesting, and pleasurable lives that don’t require us to compulsively use technology. Instead of getting smaller, our lives have grown immeasurably richer.
Only we can judge what is right for our situation. The frameworks we use for sobriety are simply tools; any approach that helps us find freedom from compulsion is welcome and encouraged. With time, honesty, and self-acceptance, our lives open to a loving Higher Power that can guide us towards a practice of sobriety that meets our needs and brings peace to our hearts.
May I put myself before my internet and technology use. May I abstain from compulsive technology use just for today, and may I become willing to work the Twelve Steps of ITAA, which can lead me to long-term recovery. May I find freedom from compulsion, from fear, and from any resistance that stands in the way of my continuing growth.
Once we’ve received feedback on our writing from several experienced members and have a solid sobriety plan in hand, we have found it important to take the following actions:
- Schedule in regular meetings. Many of us have benefitted from attending daily meetings for a period of time. We also establish at least one or two “home groups”—meetings that we attend every week and that, when we feel ready, we support through service.
- Call other members. Calling others in the program might feel awkward, intimidating, or unnatural at first, and we can help ourselves through this initial discomfort by aiming to call one or two other members each day. Soon the practice becomes a habit and we come to find relief and friendship in our contact with others.
- Read literature. In addition to the resources on our website, there is a large body of Twelve-Step literature from other fellowships which can be an extremely valuable resource as we pursue recovery.
- Ask someone to sponsor us. We seek out an experienced, sober member who has worked the Twelve Steps. A sponsor can share how they found sobriety and support us in our journey through regular calls. We look for someone who has what we want.
- Work the Steps. The Twelve Steps are the vital core of our program of recovery and help us establish long-term sobriety by uncovering and healing the wounds, fears, and patterns underlying our addiction. We work the Steps with the guidance of a sponsor.
- Prepare for withdrawals. Withdrawals can last several months, and we prepare by learning what to expect and planning in opportunities to get support. Preparing appropriately helps us successfully pass through this challenging, but finite, period.
Abstinence helps form the foundation of our internet addiction recovery, but it is only the beginning. In order to find long-term freedom from our compulsions, we need to work the Twelve Steps and share openly with our fellows in recovery. By doing so, we deepen our capacity for vulnerability, humility, and acceptance, all of which can lead us into a more intimate connection with ourselves, others, and our Higher Power. As our fears melt away, we slowly become less self-centered and we find our thoughts turning to how we can be of help to others. If, on the other hand, we fail to enlarge our spiritual life and focus only on abstinence from our addictive behaviors, sooner or later we find ourselves unwittingly led back into our self-destructive patterns of thinking and acting.
The simple fact is that recovery is possible—truly! Long-term, continuous freedom from the painful internet and technology behaviors that brought us to ITAA is possible when we keep an open mind and accept help from others. As we abstain from compulsive behavior one day at a time, pass through withdrawals, develop healthy technology habits, and work the Steps, our brains undergo profound changes and we are no longer plagued by the constant desire to use. As the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous says, replacing technology for alcohol:
And we have ceased fighting anything or anyone—even [technology]. For by this time sanity will have returned. We will seldom be interested in [compulsive use]. If tempted, we recoil from it as from a hot flame. We react sanely and normally, and we will find that this has happened automatically. We will see that our new attitude toward [technology] has been given us without any thought or effort on our part. It just comes! That is the miracle of it. We are not fighting it, neither are we avoiding temptation. We feel as though we had been placed in a position of neutrality—safe and protected. We have not even sworn off. Instead, the problem has been removed. It does not exist for us. We are neither cocky nor are we afraid. That is our experience. That is how we react so long as we keep in fit spiritual condition.
We wish you well on this journey of spiritual freedom. Whatever your circumstances or struggles, know that there are those among us who have had them too, and we’re sending you encouragement and love from the peaceful shores of sobriety. We hope to see you soon!
Appendix A: List of common compulsive or unnecessary internet and technology behaviors
Please note that this list is neither comprehensive nor prescriptive—it is essential to identify our own personal compulsive or unnecessary internet and technology behaviors with the help of experienced, sober members.
- Social media:
- Reddit and other forums
- Console games
- Computer games
- Phone games
- Social media games
- Online gambling
- News media:
- News websites
- Google news
- Email newsletters
- News audio or video media
- Compulsive messaging
- Using technology at an inappropriate time or place:
- Past one’s bedtime
- Right after waking up
- While driving
- During a conversation
- Personal use while at work
- When socializing
- In bed
- Video content:
- Television shows
- Online videos
- Live streaming
- Audio content:
- Digital music
- Digital erotic content:
- Pornographic videos or images
- Sexually arousing or nude imagery
- Erotic writing
- Dating apps
- Compulsive online research:
- Online shopping and product research
- Health research
- Googling random questions
- Searching for the “best” of something
- Researching in response to anxiety
- Informational or cultural articles and essays
- Digital reading
- Self-help content
- Video tutorials
- Video courses
- Using without any plan or limits
Some other possible compulsive behaviors:
- Compulsive reading (books, newspapers, etc.)
- Overspending or taking on debt
- Alcohol and drug abuse
- Compulsive sex- or romance-seeking
- Compulsive sex- or romance-avoidance (anorexia)
- Procrastination and work avoidance
- Overexercising or orthorexia
Appendix B: List of needs and values—things we want in our lives
This list is only a suggestion. We may find other language to be better suited to our situation.
- Shared reality
- To know and be known
- To see and be seen
- Physical well-being
- Safety (physical)
- Sexual expression
Appendix C: Examples of common triggering emotions or situations
Below are several examples of emotions and situations which might bring up urges to turn to compulsive internet and technology use. We have found it helpful to view urges and episodes of compulsive use as opportunities to identify which situations are most triggering to us personally.
- Emotions and bodily states:
- Overwhelm / Over-stimulation
- Anger / Resentment / Irritation
- Fear / Anxiety / Stress
- Restlessness / Dissatisfaction
- Manic exhilaration
- Traumatic flashbacks
- Getting sick / physical injury
- Chronic pain / illness
- Poor sleep
- Numbness / Disassociation
- Sexual Arousal
- Internet and technology triggers:
- Being in a setting where media is playing (restaurants, airplanes, social gatherings, etc.)
- Someone wanting to show us something on a screen
- Someone emailing or messaging us links to online content
- Living with someone who is engaging in behaviors that are bottom lines for us
- A big news story that everyone is talking about
- A new movie/TV show/video game/etc. coming out, especially if it’s related to content we used to engage with in our addiction
- Needing to engage in triggering or risky internet and technology behaviors for work, family, etc.
- An urgent situation that requires us to stay connected to our devices or frequently check messages
- External triggers:
- Moving to a new home
- Starting or ending a job or school program
- Starting or ending a relationship
- An impending deadline
- A period of rest after a period of intense work
- An event or circumstance that prevents us from engaging in our self-care routines (exercise, eating well, hygiene, sleep, etc.)
- Financial insecurity
- Conflict or tension with another person
- Visiting family
- Social gatherings
- Worrying about what others think of us
- Judging others
- Comparing ourselves with others
- Canceled plans
- Anxiety about how a situation will turn out in the future
- Shame about how a situation turned out in the past
- Slipping in our recovery:
- Not attending regular weekly meetings
- Not making regular outreach calls to other members
- Persistently engaging in middle line behaviors
- Not seeking out or working with a sponsor or co-sponsor
- Not putting time into stepwork
- Not praying and/or meditating
- Having thoughts of leaving the fellowship
- Experiencing memories, urges or fantasies about our bottom line behaviors.
Appendix D: List of example offline activities for meeting our needs
This list has some examples to help us get started. We’re invited to be creative in discovering and developing our personal vision for a fulfilling, sober life. We can have fun with this! We can also ask other members for help in coming up with ideas to add to our list.
- Rest, relaxation, comfort, and self-care:
- Taking a break
- Taking a nap
- Taking a bath
- Asking for comfort and support from others
- Receiving a hug
- Drinking water
- Going for a walk
- Drinking a hot drink
- Spending time in nature
- Going to the spa
- Getting a massage
- Cooking a nourishing meal
- Cleaning our physical space
- Personal hygiene and grooming
- Giving love and empathy to our inner child
- Connection with others:
- Spending time with friends or family
- Spending time with other ITAA members
- Attending an event
- Organizing an event
- Joining a club or affinity group (hiking, birdwatching, cooking, etc.)
- Playing a team sport
- Playing music with others
- Reconnecting with old friends
- Volunteering in our local community
- Developing new relationships
- Spending time with our romantic partner
- Contribution and meaning:
- Volunteering or donating to a cause we are passionate about
- Contributing to a work project that aligns with our values
- Developing a fulfilling career
- Taking on a challenging project or initiative
- Starting a business
- Working towards a personal goal
- Doing something nice for someone (helping them, buying or making them a gift, writing them a letter, taking them out to eat, etc.)
- Doing service in ITAA
- Helping a newcomer
- Participating in a spiritual community
- Connecting with our Higher Power
- Reading spiritual literature
- Creativity, pleasure, entertainment, and novelty:
- Playing an instrument
- Going to a live performance: music, theater, dance, comedy, etc.
- Making art: drawing, painting, pottery, photography, etc.
- Creative writing: short stories, novels, poetry, etc.
- Cooking a new recipe
- Visiting a restaurant
- Visiting a museum
- Physical activity or exercise: yoga, biking, swimming, rock climbing, hiking, running, walking, intuitive movement, etc.
- Traveling somewhere new
- Taking a day trip
- Going camping
- Going somewhere without a plan
- Learning and personal development:
- Taking a workshop or a class
- Studying a subject or learning a new skill
- Asking someone we know to share a skill with us
- Teaching a skill to others
- Learning how to play a musical instrument
- Learning a foreign language
- Enrolling in an educational institution
- Finding a mentor
- Being a mentor
- Attending individual and/or group therapy
- Recovery tools:
- Attending a meeting
- Calling our sponsor
- Calling another member
- Working the Steps
- Reading ITAA literature
- Reading literature from other Twelve-Step programs
- Writing an inventory
- Finding a homegroup
- Doing service
- Asking for help
- Turning our devices off for a period of time
1 This approach is inspired by the experience described in the following excerpt from Alcoholics Anonymous:
“Assuming we are spiritually fit, we can do all sorts of things alcoholics are not supposed to do. … [O]ur rule is not to avoid a place where there is drinking, if we have a legitimate reason for being there. That includes bars, nightclubs, dances, receptions, weddings, even plain ordinary [parties]. … You will note that we made an important qualification. Therefore, ask yourself on each occasion, “Have I any good social, business, or personal reason for going to this place? Or am I expecting to steal a little vicarious pleasure from the atmosphere of such places?” … If you answer these questions satisfactorily, you need have no apprehension. Go or stay away, whichever seems best. But be sure you are on solid spiritual ground before you start and that your motive in going is thoroughly good.”
This page has been written by ITAA’s Web Content Committee. If you would like to share feedback or contribute to our efforts, we would love to hear from you or have you join one of our meetings. More details can be found on the Service Committees page.