Since the internet has only been widely used in the mainstream since the 1990s or even 2000s, internet addiction is a relatively recent phenomenon. Experts characterize Internet addiction as compulsive, out-of-control Internet use that impedes daily life. Some mental health professionals compare internet addiction to other addictions such as smoking, gambling or drinking.
The main types of internet addiction include excessive online gaming and gambling, addiction to online sex and pornography, excessive and inappropriate use of social networking sites and addiction to online shopping. Obsessive online activities may be linked to feelings of guilt and being out of control, isolation, relationship problems and depression.
Some medical experts speculate that Internet addiction is rapidly becoming a widespread problem, as the number of internet users worldwide continues to multiply rapidly. Other experts argue that internet addiction is not a disorder or even an addiction and is just an activity that may be a way of coping with stress or underlying mental disorders such as anxiety and depression.
Common problems associated with Internet addiction include lowered productivity at work and school, lack of focus, deteriorating interpersonal relationships, sexual dysfunction and loss of touch with real-life social situations. Internet addicts often feel a growing sense of restlessness and irritability when away from the Internet, and a sense of relief when returning. Internet addicts also may feel a sense of guilt after indulging in their habit and have a hard time limiting internet use.
Treatment options for internet addiction include cognitive therapy, residential therapy and group counseling. Heavensfield Center, located near Seattle, is the first residential Internet addiction clinic in the United States and offers a 45-day recovery program for those suffering from internet addiction. There are also counseling programs across the United States and Asia aimed at helping internet addicts. In treatment, counselors try to help internet addicts identify the "triggers" that lead to their excessive internet use and to develop healthier ways of coping.
Internet addiction is defined as excessive computer use that interferes with daily life. The specific parameters for defining Internet addiction are still under debate, as some people think it is a disorder and others think too much internet use is just a symptom of larger psychological conditions. Internet addiction is not yet included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, but may be added in the near future.