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What Is Internet Addiction? Symptoms and consequences. Addressing Internet Addiction Through Mindful Digital Practices

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By Arnab Datta, MD 
Published on Apr 16, 2024

Internet addiction is a general term and can refer to pornography addiction, gambling addiction or social media and scrolling addiction; the scope of this article will be social media and doom scrolling addiction. 

Some people think internet addiction / social media addiction is an impulse control disorder and others believe it’s an addiction. It’s both actually. It actually overlaps with obsessive-compulsive disorder as well. Every patient is different; every patient carries this diagnosis differently. Every patient is a constellation of a different life story, different proclivities, different attractions to a part of the internet. Arnab Datta, MD’s philosophy of practice is to understand the psychological and experiential composition of each individual in a unique and customized way.

Nowadays, imagine a social media app that we have on our mobile phones or computers. The scope of this article is not to name any specific company or corporation, the scope of this article is to specifically steer clear of that and to solely help the individual with their maladaptive attractions. I acknowledge that certain social media apps are very educational and illuminating. However, if an individual is attracted to something, like a social media app so much so that it hinders their social relationships, their career or most importantly the development of their maturity and character; then it can be classified as all of the above things. Most specifically it can be classified as an addiction. A definition of addiction is the attraction towards a certain drug or habit which allows us to forget about certain social relationships, matters of career and character maturity.

Impulse control disorders were classically known to be more “in your face.” For example, if some people have difficulty controlling the impulse to pull out their hair (trichotillomania) or constantly pick at their skin (excoriation disorder) due to an anxiety that carry their mind. Trichotillomania and excoriation disorders have an overlap with OCD. This can be treated symptomatically with medications like Fluoxetine , amitriptyline , ssris as well as mood stabilizers like Lamictal depending on the individual’s personality. There are more grandiose impulse control disorders such as Tourette’s; where the individual has uncontrollable tics. Tourette’s has been mostly treated with atypical antipsychotic medications, however as previously mentioned, it can be treated symptomatically with fluvoxamine, amitriptyline, ssris as well as mood stabilizers depending on the individual’s personality. Intermittent explosive disorder also exists where the individual screams all of a sudden, yells or has behavioral outbursts where they might be violent which is not a type of bipolar disorder. This is also treated with medication like mentioned before, with an atypical and a psychotic, but also symptomatically with fluoxetine, amitriptyline, ssris as well as mood stabilizers depending on the individual’s personality. Being treated symptomatically means we treat certain symptoms like depression, anxiety. This is what classically comes to mind when clinicians or some individuals think of impulse control disorders. The scope of this article is not to focus on the specific medication treatments of these above conditions because Arnab Datta, MD’s practice treats each individual uniquely. 

Social media addiction is an attraction that your mind has to the images, sounds and media that is shown in front of them. Whatever we carry in our minds, whether that is a thought, a memory, an image or a series of sounds; that is what expands in our mind. You’ve heard of the phrase “you are what you eat.: Well, this is a type of nutritional consumption as well. The media, images and sounds that you allow into your mind; it is just as important as diet and nutrition. We have to be mindful of what kind of images we allow to cultivate in our minds because it shapes our character and our personality. In the end, it will shape a major portion of Who We Are. Arnab Datta, MD’s practice treats people psychologically in this manner. 

A major aspect of addiction is, you tried to cut down but you couldn’t. You are annoyed that people are telling you to quit. You feel guilty after you watch this type of social media or Internet content. You need it to put you in a certain State of Mind whether that is excitement, relaxation or anything else. The acronym is CAGE. This Acronym is used to describe alcoholism, but it can be used to describe any form of addiction. As you can see, there is an overlap between addiction, impulse control disorder and obsessive compulsive disorder. This doesn’t fall attractively into any one DSM 5 category. Each individual is unique in their life story and what they’re attracted to. Arnab Datta, MD’s philosophy of treatment treats each individual with this level of customization.

What is the treatment for this? First, become aware when you feel the temptation to look at this type of media. Ask yourself why am I doing this? Ask yourself, what am I getting out of this? What am I not getting out of this or how is this impairing me? We need to have these aphorisms, mantras, questions we posed to ourselves in our mind in order to change ourselves for the better. If we don’t inquire this way, we will never change. That’s why you always hear… “people never change.” Actually, people can change, they just have to put extra effort into it. Neuroplasticity and bioplasticity is a real thing. Whatever you focus on, it grows and expands in your mind. Whatever habit or practice you repeat, it becomes you, it becomes Who You Are. So there is hope to change for the better. There is hope in surrendering our harmful impulses, harmful addictions and our harmful obsessions and compulsions.

Secondly, do not isolate yourself. Talk to a good friend. Talk to a colleague who understands you. Talk to a parent or family member. Talk to a psychiatrist or therapist. Talk to a doctor. Do not just remain with your own thoughts, because if you do there’s the risk of going down into a rabbit hole of rumination and perseveration i.e. worries. When we bounce ideas off of other people, we get a better sense of reality. In the field of psychiatry/psychology this is known as reality testing; whether we have a decent enough grasp of reality. We need to seek the proper guidance to understand whether the media or images we are exposing ourselves to is harming us. This feedback helps us see whether this media is congruent with our personality or whether it’s incongruent/ whether it’s harming us. Arnab Datta, MD provides this feedback. 

Third, we should keep this media consumption behavior and its place and remember to take breaks and recover. Once we’ve identified how much media we consume, we need to keep it in that 25-30% category and not let it consume our entire lives. I understand that many of us are in front of a computer screen for 8 hours a day 5 days a week, sometimes even more. All the more important to carve out time for our heart, mind and soul to rest and recover. All the more important to carve out time for nutritious meals, sleep, exercise and warm loving time with family, friends and our partners. Rest and recovery is just as important as the work we do. However we need to maintain discipline and consistency in keeping this media consumption behavior in its place.

Fourth, we need to adopt new healthy habits. Some of these points were briefly mentioned above. Eating nutritious food, getting exercise, spending time with family, friends and with our partners. Doing things we enjoy. This rest, recovery and participating in our Hobbies is important in making us well-rounded people. It’s important to have satisfaction in our lives. It’s important for the development of our character and maturity. It is up to us to maintain this consistency and discipline in different categories of our life. Of course, we can deviate from this and get sucked back into social media; relapses are part of life. We will feel guilty about it, but please allow this guilt to pass because there’s so much more to life than just that. Get back into the discipline, consistency and commitment of keeping these different categories of your life so that you can feel rested, rejuvenated and enriched. I’m not saying give up on social media, we can’t avoid it sometimes. It has been integrated into our social life and into our careers to such an extent. However no one is going to monitor this better than ourselves. We can see a psychiatrist like Arnab Datta, MD, however, at the end of the day we are the boss of what happens in our own life. We must take responsibility for our own actions, and that is empowering ourselves to be the best version of ourselves. Empowering ourselves to be the hero of our own lives.  Arnab Datta, MD can help you get there.

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