Q: I’m a 20 year old male struggling with internet addiction. It has been ruining my life socially, academically, and personally. I want to break this addiction but I don’t know how. I’ve turned towards using programs to block websites and use complicated passwords to lock myself out of disabling the program but I always find a way to waste 10+ hours online with other websites. I need help. Thanks.
~ Stuck in the Web, USA
A: Dear Stuck,
Thank you for sharing your struggle. I am seeing more and more young people who have gotten caught up in online activities in ways that have hurt and disabled them. Unfortunately for them, the level of self-awareness and desire to seek help that you have may be in the minority – most young people who are brought to me for unhealthy online behaviors do not think they have a problem. You deserve a lot of credit for having the insight and strength to acknowledge that your internet habits are putting you and your potential in jeopardy. Recognizing problematic behaviors is a big part of the battle that you’ve already overcome. Now you must turn that recognition into motivation to break free of those behaviors and relearn using the internet in healthy, safe, and productive ways.
I am hesitant to call what you are experiencing “addiction”, both because it does not meet medical criteria for addiction, and because of the stigma that surrounds the word “addiction”. For most people, the word “addiction” evokes images of alcoholics and, a dramatic contrast with a young person who is sitting in front of a computer screen for hours. These ideas often prevent young people like you from realizing that they need help until they are so deeply in trouble with their media use, that many areas of their life – school, work, friends, family – are damaged to the point where the problem can no longer be denied.
As a first step, you may wish to reach out to your university’s counseling center and ask whether they have a program or a clinician there who can address and treat this problem. Alternatively, you can ask your primary care provider for a referral to a specialist. There are an increasing number of physicians, psychologists, and clinical social workers who are aware of this growing problem and are equipped to help you.
Do not be discouraged if you find that neither your school, or primary care doctor lack knowledge or acceptance of this problem and are unable to help. Depending on the nature of the content you are using for 10+ hours a day, your treatment options will vary. Be prepared to go beyond your usual care providers to find someone with whom you can share the details of your situation and with whom you can work to rectify it.
The Adolescent/Young Adult Clinic at Boston Children’s Hospital (where I see patients) offers outpatient care, and there is residential treatment available through Restart and several other services throughout the country. I believe that all of us should have regular psychological check-ups as frequently as physical check-ups – connecting with a psychiatrist or licensed counselor may prove beneficial in addressing any underlying issues to which you may be responding with problematic interactive media use as well as to get you back on track with healthy and productive use of internet.
Enjoy your media and use them healthfully,