According to research cited in the journal Current Psychiatry Reviews, the problematic use of computers and the internet is a growing social issue. Sometimes described as internet addiction disorder (IAD), the impacts of this condition can be far-reaching. For example, internet addiction can contribute to neurological issues, psychological problems, and social disorders. According to surveys, the prevalence of internet addiction in the United States and Europe may be a rate of anywhere from 1.5–8.2%.
Currently, the problematic use of the internet, as well as computer games, isn’t included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), but some researchers and practitioners feel it should be.
The World Health Organization (WHO) does recognize internet gaming disorder as a mental health condition. The criteria to diagnose a gaming disorder, according to the WHO’s international classification of diseases, includes a minimum of 12 months of:
- Recurrent patterns of gaming
- Loss of control
- Continuation of the same behavior even when there are negative consequences or distress
A new study, published in JAMA Psychiatry, also looked at the potential for behavioral therapy as a form of treatment for people struggling with internet addiction.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Internet Addiction
A small study looked at 143 men between the ages of 17 and 55 in Germany and Austria. The men met the criteria for internet addiction, but it included a broad definition. For example, the study included people addicted to computer gaming, social networks, and pornography.
The criteria for internet addiction was based on results from a standardized survey called the Assessment of Internet and Computer Game Addiction. There are 14 separate criteria in the survey relating to activity, withdrawal symptoms and loss of interest in other activities.
Participants in the study were then assigned to one of two groups. One group received 15 weeks of short-term group and individual cognitive-behavioral therapy. During this time, there were three phases of therapy: addiction education, psychotherapeutic intervention, and relapse prevention. The second, control group was waitlisted for cognitive behavioral therapy. They did receive it, but only after 15 weeks while the study was taking place. The study only looked at men, because according to the authors, men are primarily the patients who seek clinical treatment for internet addiction.
Did Behavioral Therapy Help with Internet Addiction?
The study assessed participants at the beginning of their outpatient cognitive behavioral therapy, the mid-point of treatment and post-treatment after four months. The people who received short-term cognitive behavioral therapy also received a follow-up after six months. Efficacy was based on self-reports of addictive behaviors and symptoms.
At the end of the treatment period, study participants who received therapy showed lower addiction symptoms and improved daily functionality. Overall, among both groups, rates of depression were lower.
While this was the first clinical trial of its type to look at internet addiction treatment, there were limitations. For example, since the sample size was so small, researchers said it could have overestimated the effects of behavioral therapy. Also, the study was based on self-reported information, which was cited as another possible limitation.
Future research that looks at possible treatments for internet addiction and similar behavioral addictions might include randomized controlled trials that include women and last for longer. Study authors said they theorize they might see more benefits from treatment if participants stay in for even longer.
If you’re struggling with co-occurring internet addiction and substance use disorder and would like to learn more about available treatment options, contact The Recovery Village Palm Beach at Baptist Health today.
Nigam, Minali. “Addicted to the Internet? Behavioral therapy could work, researchers find.” CNN Health, July 10, 2019. Accessed August 15, 2019.
Carson-DeWitt, Rosalyn MD. “What is internet addiction?” Everyday Health, October 6, 2015. Accessed August 15, 2019.
Cash, Hilarie et al. “Internet Addiction: A Brief Summary of Research and Practice.” Current psychiatry reviews, 2012. Accessed August 15, 2019.