More threads by David Baxter PhD

David Baxter PhD

Late Founder
Minding Your Mind: Keeping - Or Not Keeping - Your Internet Use Under Control
By Michael Craig Miller, M.D.
Harvard Medical School
February 19, 2008

Mental health professionals worry that a relatively new and increasingly common behavior ? one that you're engaged in right now ? has become a breeding ground for addiction. The phenomenon has been labeled "Internet addiction," a term many addiction experts recommend should be used with caution.

It's easy to find people who spend huge numbers of hours connected to the Internet. The Internet has become an indispensable part of how we work, play and communicate with one another. "Internet addiction" is a catchy term. But I am not a fan of trendy labels to describe complex human experiences. Since the Internet is a fairly new historical development, however, we don't yet understand whether its impact on human behavior is positive or negative. There are plenty of anecdotes and surveys, but few ? if any ? truly controlled studies.

It's worth looking at what we do know about Internet use. It might help us take a common sense approach to problems that come up.

How Is Addiction Related to the Internet?
The Internet is a very efficient way for people to engage in addictive behaviors. Gambling, gaming and shopping are popular examples. Sex is such a presence on the Internet that some technology experts find that sexual content has been a leading driver of Internet expansion, if not the leader.

The way people use the Internet is so varied that we don't know exactly to what so-called Internet addicts are addicted. It is likely, experts say, that people are addicted to the rewards or pleasures that they have access to over the 'net, rather than the Internet itself.

And access is what the Internet provides ? to the max. Think of it this way: Narcotic addicts are addicted to heroin, not the needle. "Internet addicts" are drawn to the content, not the 'net. Like a needle, the Internet is a very, very efficient delivery system. Shopping, gambling, pornography ? whatever a user seeks ? is available instantly and in great quantity, anywhere, anytime.

The Broad View of Addiction
Howard Shaffer, Ph.D., a Harvard Medical School faculty member and Director of the Division of Addictions at the Cambridge Health Alliance, has a helpful suggestion. He urges us to get away from the idea that addiction is a property of a given drug or behavior. After all, everything that is pleasing tends to activate the same circuits in the brain.

All behaviors that are called addictive share three basic elements: Craving, loss of control and painful consequences. No matter how we access them, addictions are more similar than they are different. People who suffer with addictions are also prone to trouble with other mental disorders, such as depression, anxiety, attention deficit disorder, impulse control problems or personality disorders.

Taking a broad view is very useful for anyone who is concerned about over-using the Internet. Remember: All addictions are complex behaviors that are embedded in a human context. It should be no surprise that the Internet has gotten folded in to addictive behaviors (and other mental disorders) that have been part of human existence forever.

Signs of a Problem
"Do I have an Internet addiction?" is the wrong question to ask. Rather than looking for a name for the behavior, think about the effects of the behavior. Any activity that pulls you away from important relationships or work responsibilities, whether it involves the Internet or not, can cause conflict, distress and loss. Pay attention to signs, such as losing sleep or time because you can't log off. Certainly, if you can link your Internet use to money or marital troubles, school failure or a job loss, it's time to consult a mental health professional.

It's not easy to figure out how much Internet use is "too much." There is no clear boundary between what is a simple and worthwhile pleasure and what is a problem. Consider the following:

  • What's one person's idea of time spent productively ? learning new information and skills ? may be another's idea of wasting time.
  • People chatting online may be making important social connections or finding sources of support that are not available elsewhere. Or they may be avoiding responsibilities in family relationships.
  • A person may use pornography to avoid high-risk behavior (such as cruising for sex and visiting prostitutes).
Getting the Right Kind of Help
Often the best approach to a problem is to rely on basic principles rather than inventing new terms. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • What am I using the Internet for?
  • Am I preoccupied with a particular activity that pulls me away from social or work responsibilities?
  • Do I feel productively engaged while using the Internet or do I feel anxious or guilty?
  • Is my sense of well-being undermined by my Internet use?
  • Am I losing sleep?
  • Is my sense of time distorted, that is, do I underestimate how much time has passed while I'm online?
  • Do I feel depressed, lonely or isolated?
  • Is there a connection between my real life problems (such as school or job failure, relationship conflicts or money problems) and my Internet use?
The answer to these questions are not going to tell you whether or not you have "Internet addiction." But depending on your degree of concern, you can discuss your answers with a mental health care professional. A clinician can help you think seriously about how the Internet works in your life.

You may decide that your Internet use is a boon. It brings you rewarding experiences. It helps you finish your work more successfully or efficiently. It may simply be fun!

If you're suffering, however, take the broad view. Rather than seeking trendy cures for "Internet addiction," consult with a professional who can help you define the problem specifically. Once you define the problem specifically, it's much easier to find the right kind of help.


MVP, Forum Supporter
Thanks for putting this up, I have been using the suggestion of timing my internet use, when the timer goes off, I am done. It really works.


im usually online from 8am till maybe midnight, if im away from the net i get really irritated and feel terrible, ive been pretty much addicted for the last 8 months. Ive tried to do other things like play my guitar or drums but i find myself back in front of the PC! So i dont think my net use is under control.. lol

Daniel E.
BTW, one thing that was suggested to me is to go to a cafe or bookstore with my laptop or textbook since just being in a different environment can make one less likely to engage in familiar distractions (like YouTube).


Do you feel it's a problem?

I am on the net for the most part of the day too, however i don't feel it interferes with anything else i have going on for the most part.

I am the same though, i get agitated etc when i can't get on the net :eek:

Daniel E.
I am the same though, i get agitated etc when i can't get on the net :eek:

That's another reason I like my MP3 player (iTouch). Just listening to music sometimes, I feel like I'm on the Internet for some reason :), besides the fact that the iTouch has e-mail, etc.


Well i am at work at the moment listening to my MP3 player, browsing the net and you know...doing some work here and there :p

I've been looking at getting a new MP3 player. I looked at the iTouch but i am not so sure i want to go down the Apple path :lol:


i think is a bit of a problem yes, because it stops me from doing other things, like ive just woke up and have the day off work... i come straight on the PC, i just leave my Pc on all day and night, and im usually sitting here! The thing is i dont even browse any new websites i have 3 i just check every 10mins and check e-mail all the time, stuck in this obsessive routine, but if i had to go out id pull out my phone which i have connected to e-mail, not that anyone ever e-mails, its just a obessive thing i guess.
Internet use sure can be a problem sometimes when it interferes with getting the daily chores done. I think I will try using a timer. But I'm sure my time's up for now.:rolleyes:

Daniel E.
BTW, from an article Yuray just posted on being onself:

In some cases, reducing Internet dependency might help you feel more "connected" to yourself. It may be easier to nurture your individuality without the perpetual distractions of the Internet. Try not going online for a while, and if this leads you to start feeling better about yourself, then you may want to consider replacing all the excess time you spend on the Internet with offline activities, such as hobbies or clubs.
This reminds me of the term saturated self.


I'm glad this reminder is here as well, as I am very prone to internet addiction. I'm addicted to writing and thinking, but I also need to be out and exercings and not avoiding and procrastinating.

I like the timer idea and I think I need to use that as well. Also maybe reconsidering allowable times for use, and not allowable times for use. It's also not good for me to be doing to close to bedtime.
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