Feeling Internet Withdrawals? It Could Be a Physiological Condition.
As researchers continue to learn more about internet addiction, a recent study reveals that people addicted to online activity actually suffer physical withdrawal symptoms when they try to quit.
It was once thought that only alcohol, some medications and illicit substances could lead to addiction. But today, the mainstream psychiatric community is increasingly recognising certain activities and processes as potentially addictive.
Mounting evidence reveals that process addictions (such as gambling addiction, sex addiction and internet addiction) have a similar effect on the brain to substance addictions. And as it turns out, quitting these compulsive behaviours can even cause withdrawal symptoms.
The Post-browsing Comedown
Back in 2013, researchers conducted the first official study into the immediate negative effects of internet use. Participants were flagged as potentially addicted to the Internet. After this, all participants were told to surf the Internet at will. They were allowed to visit any websites they liked for 15 minutes. Once this period was complete, each participant’s mood and anxiety levels were tested.
The results were intriguing. Compared to the control group, those participants flagged as potentially internet-addicted displayed markedly more negative moods and emotional states after their browsing sessions ended. Researchers compared this response to a comedown and said it wasn’t unlike that experienced by a person after using ecstasy.
Says Swansea University’s Professor Phil Reed,
‘Although we do not know exactly what Internet addiction is, our results show that around half of the young people we studied spend so much time on the net that it has negative consequences for the rest of their lives.
‘These initial results, and related studies of brain function, suggest that there are some nasty surprises lurking on the net for people’s wellbeing.’
This was a monumental study at its time, and it paved the way for further research to be conducted. And as time goes on, we continue to learn more about just how similar internet addiction and substance addictions are.
Internet Withdrawal & Anxiety
Our understanding of internet addiction and its associated withdrawal symptoms continue to expand. In 2017, scientists and clinicians from Milan and Swansea Universities discovered that some people who use the Internet at a high level will experience detectable physical symptoms once their browsing session is over. This includes physiological changes such as increased heart rate and elevated blood pressure.
The average increase of pulse and blood pressure was small but significant – around 3 to 4 per cent. In cases where participants self-identified as Internet addicts, twice the increase was registered. This underscores the realisation that those who suffer from Internet addiction really do suffer from palpable withdrawal systems. In other words, this is an addiction disorder that operates on the brain similarly to alcohol and substance addiction.
According to Dr Lisa Osborne, a co-author of the study, internet withdrawal symptoms like this can actually be compounded in people who also suffer from anxiety disorders.
‘A problem with experiencing physiological changes like increased heart rate is that they can be misinterpreted as something more physically threatening, especially by those with high levels of anxiety, which can lead to more anxiety, and more need to reduce it.’
Given the fact that many people who struggle with addiction also suffer from anxiety and other mental health disorders (through a phenomenon known as co-occurring disorders), this is an issue of particular concern. In this sense, compulsive use of the Internet could develop out of a means of self-medicating for anxiety.
In a subconscious effort to lessen their anxiety, the person may spend more time on the Internet. This offers a brief fix but ultimately serves to worsen their anxiety. It’s a self-perpetuating cycle that exacerbates the problem over time.
Cross-addiction: Internet Addiction Could Fuel Other Disorders
One of the potential risks that researchers considered in the course of these studies is that there is that Internet addiction also comes with the risk of cross addiction. For people who already have the disease of addiction, the threat of cross addiction occurs any time the part of their brain that regulates addictive behaviour is stimulated. This leads them to pick up other addictive behaviours more easily.
In simpler terms, a person who is already addicted to alcohol has a much higher chance of becoming addicted to painkillers as well. Their brain already responds to dopamine reinforcers in a predictable way. Anything that triggers a dopamine response in the brain – e.g. alcohol, opioids, cocaine or even an addictive process such as gambling – runs a high risk of exacerbating the person’s struggle with addiction.
In the context of an Internet addiction, the threat of cross addiction is particularly pronounced for issues like online gambling addiction and gaming addiction. Either of these can contribute to an Internet addiction. And as the researchers from the above studies pointed out, what is sometimes being flagged as a so-called Internet addiction could actually be more of a symptom of a gaming or online gambling addiction than a primary addiction in and of itself.
The Cabin Bangkok Treats Internet Addiction and Withdrawals
If you’ve found yourself spending more time online, to the extent that it’s interfering with other aspects of your day-to-day life, you could be developing an Internet addiction.
At The Cabin Bangkok, we understand that not all addictions are chemical in nature. In fact, our Recovery Zones treatment method is especially effective for process addictions in which complete abstinence isn’t realistic.
Contact us today to arrange a confidential assessment. We’ll show you how we can help you regain control of your life and build healthier habits in the process.