Internet Addiction: How to Know If You have It and What to Do About It

Internet addiction is a behavioral addiction that makes a person dependent on the internet or other online devices as a maladaptive way of coping with different life stresses.

Internet addiction has become widely acknowledged. Back in 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) recognized this addiction to digital technology as a global issue, where excessive online activity and internet use lead to struggles with time management, sleep, energy, and attention.

Things to Know About Internet Addiction

Internet addiction is not yet classified as a mental disorder. Although researchers have developed criteria to diagnose it, it is not listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5-TR). However, Internet Gaming Disorder (IGD) is recognized as a condition warranting further research, and internet addiction is emerging as a specialized field of study.

  • There is a growing interest in studying addiction to mobile devices and social networking platforms, such as Facebook and Instagram. These different forms of addiction might have areas of overlap. For example, online gambling can include aspects of online gaming, and online games might feature elements of pornography.
  • Different treatments for internet addiction are available, but only a few specialized internet addiction services exist. However, a psychologist with experience in addiction treatment will be able to help.


Since internet addiction is not officially declared as an addictive disorder, obtaining a diagnosis can be difficult. However, experts in behavioral addiction have significantly advanced our knowledge of the symptoms associated with internet addiction.

All types of internet addiction share the following four components:

Excessive Use of the Internet

Although excessive internet use is a significant symptom, there is no clear consensus on what includes excessive computer time. While guidelines recommend limiting screen time to two hours per day for individuals under 18.

Moreover, limiting screen time to two hours can be impractical for those who rely on computers for work or study. Some experts suggest applying the two-hour limit to "non-essential use," but for individuals with internet addiction, all computer use may seem essential.


The term withdrawal refers to the physical and emotional symptoms that occur when someone stops using alcohol, drugs, or even the internet after being dependent on them for a long time.

For internet addiction, withdrawal symptoms can include feeling angry, tense, or depressed when you can't access the internet. The person might also feel bored, unhappy, moody, nervous, and irritated without the internet


Tolerance is a key feature of alcohol and drug addiction and also applies to internet addiction. This means you may want more and more computer-based activities to satisfy yourself. You may find yourself spending more time on the computer, which ultimately starts to dominate your life. The desire for more internet use can become a central part of your thoughts and plans.

Negative Effects of Excessive Internet Use

  • You might not have any personal relationships offline, or the ones you do have might get neglected or lead to arguments about your Internet use.
  • Online affairs can happen easily, sometimes without you even realizing it's considered cheating on your partner.
  • Your grades and other achievements might drop because you spend so much time using the internet.
  • You might also feel too tired to do anything else. People with internet addiction often stay up too late on the computer and don't get enough sleep.

What to Do If You Have an Internet Addiction

If you notice any signs of internet addiction in yourself or someone you care about, talk to your doctor immediately. They can refer you to internet addiction clinics, psychologists, and other therapists. If you have an underlying issue like depression or social anxiety disorder, your doctor can prescribe medications or therapy to help.

However, remember that internet addiction can also be linked with other behavioral addictions, like work addiction, television addiction, and smartphone addiction.