Internet Addiction Disorder (IAD) is a psychological problem that affects as many as 420 million people around the world. If you feel you or someone you know is making a reality online more than offline, take a look at some of these signs to see if it could be a result of IAD and what to do before it goes too far.

What causes IAD?
IAD, also known as compulsive Internet use (CIU) or problematic Internet use (PIU), is a behavioral and impulse-control problem linked to common Internet-related activities. The most common online addictions center on online relationships, gambling, and porn or cybersex.

Compulsive Internet use is often the result of depression, shyness, or loneliness. Those with social anxiety issues often turn to the Internet as a way to relieve the loneliness and stress that develops throughout the day. The Internet allows these people to engage in social interactions with others, using the computer as a barrier between them and those they communicate with, thus lessening anxiety.

Getting online can also give someone suffering from depression a short boost or high, much like a drug does for an addict, due to the release of dopamine in the brain. One of the biggest reasons someone might develop IAD is because the Internet acts as a gateway for other addictions they might already be suffering from, like gambling, essentially creating two separate addictions.

IAD can often lead to a sense of euphoria and/or isolation from those you care about, causing you to lose track of time, and lead to extreme amounts of procrastination. The disorder may produce physical symptoms, including strained vision and severe headaches from looking at a computer screen too long to sleep deprivation from staying online late into the night.

What are the symptoms?
IAD encompasses a wide range of online activities. It often reveals itself in the form of social networking dependency in people who continually log onto sites like Facebook and Twitter or those who frequent various chat rooms or instant messaging apps. Brain imaging studies have shown receiving attention, or “likes,” on social media, stimulates reward centers in the brain.

Constant Googling of information to the point of reducing your productivity at work or home, as well as a loss of interactions with friends and family, can also point to IAD. The ability to satisfy your curiosity through Google Search can often trigger the release of dopamine into the body, which makes motivated to engage in repetitive behavior or motivations.

How is it treated?
Because the Internet acts as a medium for accessing other psychological problems, like gambling and sex addiction, it’s often difficult to diagnose. Researchers found that sometimes, in order to solve an Internet addiction, a person has to solve the root of their problem first.

If you’re turning to the Internet to avoid dealing with problems in your real life, psychologists recommend stepping away from the keyboard and addressing those issues. They suggest keeping a log of your Internet habits and finding areas where you can reduce the amount of time you spend online. You might consider speaking with friends and family about your addiction and looking for better ways to manage stress than getting online.

If you don’t think you’re capable of managing your Internet addiction on your own, there are treatment programs available. The programs often involve a voluntary stay at a treatment center to help you kick your need to get online and get back to dealing with life in a healthier way.

Symptoms of IAD might be hard to notice, but if you believe you might be suffering from Internet addiction it’s important to get help. IAD can have lasting effects on your productivity, relationships, and overall health, so it’s important to get it in check before it gets too far. Trust us, foregoing Facebook really isn’t the end of the world.

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