Internet and technology addiction is the compulsive and harmful use of the internet, digital media, and smart devices. We may develop an addiction to social media, streaming video or audio content, pornography, dating apps, video games, online research, online shopping, news, or any other digital activity that becomes compulsive and problematic. Internet addiction develops through the repeated release of dopamine, which over time can lead to changes in the brain that compromise our ability to focus, prioritize, regulate our mood, and relate to others.
Those of us who have come to identify as internet and technology addicts experienced several common symptoms. We used our devices for longer than we intended, despite attempts to control or cut back our use. Even when we were aware of the consequences and wanted to stop, we were unable to do so. When we weren’t connected to our devices, we experienced distraction, anxiety, and irritability. We were unable to enjoy and be present with our offline lives. We used the internet and technology to alter our moods and escape our problems. Our addiction jeopardized our relationships, educational pursuits, and career opportunities. We felt shame and demoralization about our use of technology.
When we first noticed these troubling experiences, we began to acknowledge that something wasn’t right. But many of us still questioned whether we really had an addiction. For those of us still wondering, the following questions may help us better identify whether there are signs of internet addiction in our own experience.
Internet Addiction Questionnaire:
- Do I ever go online to quickly check something and then discover that hours have passed?
- Do I ever swear off or set limits around a particular app or online activity, and then break my commitments?
- Do I have internet and technology binges that last all day or late into the night?
- Do I reach for my devices whenever I have free time?
- Does my internet and technology usage lead me to neglect my personal hygiene, nutritional needs, or physical health?
- Do I feel isolated, emotionally absent, distracted, or anxious when I’m not online?
- Does my internet usage contribute to conflict or avoidance in personal relationships?
- Have the negative consequences of my internet usage jeopardized my studies, finances, or career?
- Do I hide or lie about the amount of time I spend online or the kinds of digital content I consume?
- Do I feel guilt or shame around my internet use?
Nobody should have to suffer due to their internet and technology use. If you’ve answered yes to several of the above questions, we encourage you to consider getting support.
What are the effects of Internet Addiction?
The first researcher to investigate internet addiction disorder (IAD) was the psychologist Dr. Kimberly S. Young, who first published diagnostic criteria for this mental health condition in 1998. Today there is still an open discussion in the scientific community regarding how to define, qualify, and study internet addiction disorder, and the American Psychiatric Association’s diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (DSM-5-TR) has begun to acknowledge the severity of this addiction through its inclusion of internet gaming disorder. There is widespread consensus from both researchers and clinicians that the problematic and compulsive overuse of the internet, digital media, and smart devices has been rising over the past two decades, and that the prevalence of this behavioral addiction is associated with a variety of mental, emotional, physical, interpersonal, and professional problems.
Perhaps most significantly, the dopamine releases triggered by internet and technology addiction have been shown to cause structural changes in the brain very similar to the changes experienced in people with alcohol or drug addictions. These changes lead to impairments in our decision-making, reasoning, reward expectation, executive function, cognitive function, emotional processing, and our working memory. A variety of studies have shown that access to television and video games decreases the amount of pain medication needed by hospital patients.
Of course, the effects of internet and technology addiction are not only reflected in the structure of our brains, but in our daily lives as well. Internet and technology addiction is strongly associated with mental illness disorders such as impulse control disorder, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), anxiety, increased substance use, and depression. In addition to these co-occurring disorders, it’s associated with a higher risk of cardiometabolic disease, sleep disturbances and lower sleep quality, increased fatigue, and symptoms of insomnia, all of which are correlated to a higher mortality rate. Perhaps most tragically of all, individuals with problematic internet use (PIU) have much higher rates of suicidal ideation, planning, and attempts—roughly three times the average.
These findings are cause for serious concern. While some might minimize the impact of internet addiction in comparison to substance abuse, the truth is that internet and technology addiction changes our brains in a manner similar to the effects produced by an addiction to alcohol, heroin, or other substance use disorders.
Who is at risk for Internet Addiction?
Internet and technology addiction is a condition that can affect people of all ages, from adolescents and young people to those later in life. Our meetings include young adults, college students, working professionals, parents, and retirees. While the risk factors are varied, internet addiction does not discriminate based on age, educational level, socio-economic status, race, or ethnicity. Its negative effects impact not only the addict themselves, but also their family members and friends. By damaging our potential, self-esteem, and quality of life, excessive internet use can impair our lives; and by contributing to depression and suicidal tendencies, our addiction can be life-threatening. Regardless of our background, if our computer use is causing us to experience distress or difficulties, there are actions we can take to improve our situation and find relief.
A Solution for Internet and Technology Addiction
While internet and technology addiction has only begun to receive attention in recent years, the disease of addiction is not new. Millions of people have found sustainable, long-term freedom from their addictive behaviors through mutual aid support groups modeled after Alcoholics Anonymous. A recent systematic review conducted by Stanford public health researchers determined that participation in Alcoholics Anonymous was nearly always found to be more effective than other therapies in achieving continuous abstinence from alcoholism. The AA model has been successfully adapted to help people suffering from a variety of addictions, including narcotics, marijuana, nicotine, sex, pornography, and food, among others.
In continuation of this tradition, Internet and Technology Addicts Anonymous applies the proven model of AA to help those who are suffering from an addiction to internet and technology find long-term freedom from their self-destructive behaviors. We share our experience, strength, and hope with each other through group meetings and one-on-one relationships, and we work a recovery program based on the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. Our meetings are free and anonymous, and we welcome anyone who thinks they may benefit from support to visit one of our meetings.
Members Share Their Experiences Finding Recovery in ITAA
Before joining ITAA, I had spent years trying every imaginable solution and nothing worked. Because of this community, I’ve experienced continuous abstinence from all my addictive internet and technology behaviors for over three years. Today I meet my needs for pleasure, relaxation, curiosity, and connection in non-compulsive, offline ways. In the process, my life has grown unimaginably richer.
It turned out that I really needed ITAA—I needed to admit that I’m an internet and technology addict by calling in and saying it aloud to other understanding internet and technology addicts.
I feel like I am only now, almost a year abstinent and one and a half years almost-abstinent, noticing the true scope of the negative effects my usage had on me… These things will take a long time to heal, maybe even longer than the time I spent online. But I am living in real life now. And it’s better here.
My internet and technology use had always been somewhat unhealthy, but the pandemic took it to another level. Entire days started disappearing into the screen, and I became disconnected from my partner and children. ITAA has been a lifeline for me—not only because of the abstinence I’ve found, but also because of all of the emotional growth and resources it has provided me with.
Our program has helped countless people find long-term freedom from internet and technology addiction. For more personal stories, we encourage you to read and listen to the recovery stories on our website.
How to Recover From Internet Addiction
While there is no permanent cure for internet addiction disorder, there are concrete actions we can take to recover from our compulsive internet use and restore our emotional and mental wellbeing. We have found the following actions to be of significant help in finding long-term, sustainable freedom from our compulsive and problematic internet use.
- Attend daily meetings. In addition to a growing number of face-to-face meetings around the world, ITAA has daily online meetings where our global fellowship meets to share experience, strength and hope with each other. We are encouraged to try attending six meetings in a short time frame to help decide whether ITAA may be helpful to us.
- Make daily outreach calls. Our internet dependence drew us into isolation and self-reliance. As we begin to recover, we learn that we can trust others and be vulnerable. Calling other members outside of meetings helps us stay connected, supported, and sober, and it gives us an opportunity to share in greater detail than we might during a meeting.
- Abstain. With the help of other members in recovery, we identify and abstain from the specific addictive behaviors which are causing the greatest difficulties in our lives. We recognize that this is a process that unfolds over time, and we make use of the support available to us in ITAA to remain sober one day at a time.
- Learn more about the recovery process. Our website has many resources about the nature of our addiction and how we might best chart our recovery journey, navigate withdrawal symptoms, and respond to cravings. In addition, there’s a rich body of literature from other 12-Step programs that we can lean on to better inform our healing process and to learn more about the time-tested methods which have helped millions of other addicts find sobriety.
- Find a sponsor and work the steps. We have benefitted from asking somebody we resonate with to sponsor us and working the Twelve Steps together with them, which is the vital and transformative basis of our long-term recovery from our addiction. A great way to connect with potential sponsors is to make outreach calls with other members who are sober and working the Steps.
- Make use of outside help. Many members supplement their recovery with a variety of resources beyond ITAA, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), psychotherapy, group therapy, psychiatry, inpatient or outpatient addiction treatment centers, other 12 Step fellowships, spiritual counsel, or other mental health wellness resources. While we do not endorse any one treatment option or intervention in particular, we encourage all members to avail themselves of any outside resources that can support them in their recovery journey. A healthcare or mental health professional may be able to give advice tailored to your situation.
What Does Internet Addiction Sobriety Look Like?
Sobriety in ITAA is a process of discovery that looks different for each of us. As part of this process, we identify and abstain from the specific behaviors which trigger our addiction. We have also found it beneficial to establish a positive vision for our internet and technology use. For example, we may practice using technology purposefully, minimally, or only as necessary for work, education, finances, health, recovery, and sober connection with loved ones. We respect each member’s dignity to discover their own path to recovery, and we work with other experienced members to help define what sobriety means for each of us as individuals. As part of this process, we lean on meetings and phone calls to help maintain our sobriety commitments. Rather than using technology for distraction or to numb our emotions, we seek to use technology as a tool for meeting our goals, living in alignment with our values, and developing flourishing lives.
Types of Internet Addiction
While we all suffer from a common disease, it expresses itself in different ways for each of us. The following are some common compulsive internet and technology behaviors. It’s important to keep in mind 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 addiction is the addictive use of social media platforms, social networking sites, messaging apps, newsfeeds, discussion forums, chat rooms, and online communities. Addictive social media use can include Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, TikTok, Snapchat, Discord, Reddit, Pinterest, and others.
- Streaming addiction is the compulsive and addictive use of any streaming platforms or content. This includes online videos, movies, television, podcasts, and platforms such as YouTube, Netflix, Amazon Prime, Twitch, or TikTok.
- Phone addiction is the compulsive and self-destructive use of smartphone devices and apps, and in contrast to a computer addiction entails the dysfunctional and unhealthy use of any mobile smart devices, such as watches or tablets. This may involve excessive cell phone use or compulsive notification checking, especially at inappropriate times such as late at night or while studying, working, or driving.
- Video game addiction refers to obsessive, unhealthy, or excessive use of video games, as well as any other digital or online games. This includes computer games, console games, phone games, and social media games. This can also include online gambling addiction or other compulsive and irresponsible spending behaviors during gameplay.
- Porn addiction is the addictive consumption of digital erotic content and can also entail other unhealthy digital sexual behaviors. This can include pornographic videos, images, or writing, sexually arousing imagery, cybersex addiction, anonymous chat rooms, and dating apps.
- Information Addiction is an addictive and unhealthy relationship to researching and consuming information. This can include an addiction to the news, scrolling social media feeds, online shopping, online encyclopedias, and compulsive online research such as product or health research.
Internet and Technology Addicts Anonymous is a Twelve-Step fellowship based on the principles pioneered by Alcoholics Anonymous. Our organization is entirely volunteer-based and self-supporting, and the only requirement for participation is a desire to stop using internet and technology compulsively.
We have no opinions on outside issues, and we neither condemn nor condone any particular technology. We are not affiliated with any political agenda, religious movement, or outside interests. Our single purpose is to abstain from compulsive internet and technology use and to help others find freedom from this addiction. We are a US 501(c)(3) federal tax-exempt nonprofit incorporated in the state of Colorado.