The new version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), the fifth edition, published in May of 2013, outlines a new definition of addiction. It includes a diagnosis for non-substance addictions, such as gambling, and any other behaviors that an individual or teen has lost power over.
The reason for the change stems from a new definition of addiction. The DSM explains that although drugs and alcohol can have a physical and psychological addiction, it is possible to develop an addiction to other behaviors and activities that become the sole focus of one’s life to the exclusion and detriment of other life-activities.
This is precisely what begins to happen when teens develop an addiction to the Internet. Typical signs that an adolescent has an Internet addiction include:
Difficulty Completing Daily Tasks: A parent might begin to see that their teen is no longer completing their household chores. The garbage is not getting taken out or the dishes are piling up. Instead, that adolescent is spending large amounts of time on the computer, neglecting chores and daily responsibilities.
Academic Performance Decreases: If an adolescent is avoiding daily tasks, likely he or she is also neglecting to do homework. As a result, there might be evidence of this in grades, letters from teachers, and phone calls from school. If the addiction is really severe, there might even be absenteeism and truancy from school.
Losing Track of Time: A teen might spend so much time on the Internet that he or she is unaware of the hours spent online. Moreover, if Internet time is interrupted, a teen might become irritable and angry.
Isolation from Friends and Family: Just like daily living tasks get neglected with an excessive use of the Internet, the same is true with a teen’s social life. He or she would rather spend time on the Internet than with family or friends.
Experiencing Euphoria with Internet Use: This is one of the key factors to an addiction. The DSM explains that the activation of the brain’s reward system is central to drug abuse problems. According to the American Psychological Association, evidence points to certain behaviors having the same high or rush in the brain, similar to the use of drugs. In this way, addictions, including Internet use, can resemble the physiological symptoms that the use of drugs and alcohol might create. The euphoria of Internet activity creates the cycle of addiction.
Internet use can also serve as a coping mechanism for teens who are feeling depressed or anxious, or who are experiencing sexual excitement. In fact, research indicates that teens are more likely to become addicted to Internet use if they are depressed, have social phobias, or have been diagnosed with teen ADHD. More specifically, evidence suggests that boys are at higher risk for an addiction than girls, especially boys who spend more than 20 hours per week online. Research also indicates that 1.4% to 17.9% of adolescents around the world are addicted to the Internet. However, addictions to Internet use are not as prevalent in the United States as they are in other countries.
One tip for parents and caregivers is to make Internet use a part of normal family functioning. For instance, position a computer in the family room or in another community area of the house so that Internet use is not what a teen does in secret but is a part of family time. Seeking professional assistance, such as therapy or support groups, can also facilitate a change in behavior and help break the cycle of addiction.
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