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Struggling with Screen Time: A Look at Internet Use Disorders

  • March 01, 2024
  • Addiction, Patients and Families

Internet use disorders are a growing concern in today’s technology-driven society, marked by excessive and compulsive use of the internet, leading to negative consequences in various aspects of an individual's life. Online activities of concern include overuse of social media sites, gaming, gambling, problematic use of online pornography, and other digital platforms. This is a global phenomenon affecting individuals of all ages. Studies have shown that adolescents and young adults are particularly vulnerable, given their high levels of internet use for socializing, education, and entertainment. However, internet addiction is not limited to a specific demographic, and its prevalence is increasing across diverse populations.

group of people looking down at their cell phones

Types and Symptoms

There are several types of internet use disorders, each associated with specific online activities. Social media overuse involves an obsessive need to check and update social media platforms, often resulting in disrupted real-world relationships. Gaming overuse is characterized by excessive engagement in online or video games, leading to neglect of responsibilities and physical health. Problematic use of internet pornography involves compulsive use of online sexual content which can impact personal relationships and mental well-being. General internet addiction refers to an overall excessive use of the internet, encompassing various online activities.

Symptoms of internet use disorders vary but often include an inability to control online engagement, neglect of personal and professional responsibilities, withdrawal symptoms when not online, and continued use despite negative consequences. Physical symptoms such as eye strain, headaches, and disrupted sleep patterns may also be present.

Causes and Treatments

Multiple factors contribute to internet use disorders including a combination of psychological, social, and environmental factors. Individuals with preexisting mental health issues, such as depression or anxiety, may be more susceptible to developing internet use disorders as a coping mechanism. Social isolation, peer pressure, and a lack of in-person social connections can contribute to reliance on online interactions. Additionally, the accessibility and convenience of the internet, especially via smartphones, play a role in the development of internet use disorders.

Treatment for internet use disorders involves a multidisciplinary approach. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is commonly used to address the underlying psychological factors contributing to addiction. Interventions focus on helping the individual develop healthier coping mechanisms, improve self-control, and address any coexisting mental health issues. Support groups and family therapy can also play a crucial role in helping people recover. In severe cases, your psychiatrist may suggest medications including antidepressants or stimulants to treat certain types of technology addiction.

Given the abundant use of technology, proactive preventive action may be helpful, such as raising awareness about the potential risks associated with excessive internet use. Educational programs targeting parents, educators, and healthcare professionals can help identify early signs of addiction and provide support. Implementing guidelines for responsible internet use, both at home and in educational settings, can contribute to a healthier relationship with technology.

More information and finding help


  • American Psychiatric Association, Internet Gaming
  • de Alarcón, R., de la Iglesia, J. I., Casado, N. M., & Montejo, A. L. (2019). Online Porn Addiction: What We Know and What We Don't-A Systematic Review. Journal of clinical medicine, 8(1), 91.
  • Cash, H., Rae, C. D., Steel, A. H., & Winkler, A. (2012). Internet Addiction: A Brief Summary of Research and Practice. Current psychiatry reviews, 8(4), 292–298.


John A. Fromson, M.D.

Member, APA Council on Addiction Psychiatry
Vice Chair for Community Psychiatry, Brigham and Women’s Hospital
Associate Professor of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School

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