Technology take over? Internet Addiction & Mental Health (The Top Facts)

Technology take over? Internet Addiction & Mental Health (The Top Facts)

In this article we are looking at Internet Addiction and Mental Health. The opinion is still divided about whether internet addiction should be treated as a disorder or a behavioural problem. In this article, we are going to refer to it as Internet Addiction Disorder (IAD). 

Internet Addiction Disorder (IAD), is a problem which is normally associated with teenagers however it is a societal problem experienced across all generations. During the Covid-19 Pandemic, restrictions and reduced social contact led many people online. More people saw the benefits of being able to access services online and this extra demand led more businesses to move online and start prioritizing online over their local services.   1

More people worked from home than ever before, more children started to homeschool, and universities started offering more distance learning courses which have been widely popular. In business, face-to-face networking has been replaced by virtual networking in many areas. Within the last 6 months, we have now seen the widespread introduction of AI which is furthering this trend and there is still a lot more to come.

With all of these changes, it seems like now is a good time to talk about Internet Addiction & Mental Health. We will look at the negative effects of internet use on mental health. The internet has some far-reaching implications for the ways it changes our brain chemistry. We will also look at what the symptoms of Internet Addiction Disorder are and how to identify if you or a loved one has an issue. And we will look at some treatment options for Internet Addiction Disorder. 


Definition of Internet addiction 

Internet addiction can be classified as an individual who has a compulsive need to spend a lot of time on the Internet. Excessive internet use is such that other areas of life are being impacted such as relationships, health and work, yet the individual is not able to stop. Internet addiction currently includes gaming, gambling, social media use, and porn addiction. Binge-watching may also be a related behaviour however research is in its infancy as this is so new.  


Internet addiction & brain chemistry 

Reward Pathway

The Reward Pathway is a key system which is affected by all addictions. The reward pathway in our brain is what motivates us to repeat an action. It is very simple. If we take an action and we get pleasure from it, then we are more likely to repeat that action to get even more pleasure. 

There are different types of reward-seeking behaviour, short-term reward-seeking and long-term. Internet addiction is related to short-term reward-seeking behaviour. When we go online and use the internet to access entertainment we receive something for relatively little effort on our end and this releases a chemical called dopamine which makes us feel good.   

We have put in a small amount of effort and received a big reward in the form of dopamine, and we want more. Internet use is a type of instant gratification. The reward pathway becomes activated so we repeat the behavior. However, this pathway is also sensitive to overuse. 

young girl addicted to the internet

The more we repeat the behavior the less dopamine will be released so we need to increase our use to get the same hit of dopamine. Another issue with many forms of internet use is that sometimes that dopamine hit is not given. For example, if we post something on our Facebook account and don’t receive any likes or attention for it, we will not get that dopamine hit and this can trigger all kinds of insecurities around not being accepted or liked. To counteract this imbalance we might find ourselves obsessing over what we can post next to get those likes back and receive the next dopamine hit.  

One of the consequences of this type of behaviour is longer screen times and often we aren’t honest with ourselves about how long we are spending online. This can lead to us falling short in other areas of life for example our relationships or our work, however, if the reward pathway is too strong then we will not be able to give up the addiction even if we know that it is becoming a problem.  

At this point the person is addicted, they have prioritized internet use over everything else and are suffering the consequences, even when they no longer get the same pleasure as before. 2

Signs of Internet Addiction Disorder 

One of the primary signs of an addiction is that the individual is prioritizing the internet over other areas of their life and this is having a negative impact on their life. Someone can be a heavy internet user but not have an addiction. If the individual can begin to cut out and reduce their internet use once they recognize the problem, then they are just a heavy user. We commonly confuse addiction with heavy use. 

For example, someone might say, “I am addicted to coffee” because when they stop drinking it they get headaches. However, getting headaches does not mean there is an addiction. The fact that the individual saw some negative consequences relating to their coffee habit and decided to give up, shows that they are not addicted to it. Someone unable to give up the coffee despite the negative consequences would be classed as addicted. This distinction can be applied to internet addiction or any other type of addiction. 

A useful tool is The Internet Addiction Assessment Tool (IAA) which can be used to get an initial understanding of whether you or a loved one could have an addiction.   

internet use assessement tool

Questions include: 

  • I would rather spend time online than do things around the house.
  • I check my social media, text messages, or emails first thing after waking up.
  • I stay up later at night than I had intended due to doing things online.

You can access the assessment here: Internet Addiction Assessment (IAA) 

Remember that there are some issues with self-assessment tests, we are not always honest with ourselves about our health. Internet addiction is something that can be difficult to face so if we are not in the place to face it then a self-diagnostic tool might not be helpful. 

There are also some specific emotional & physical symptoms to look out for as well. 

Emotional Issues



Mood Swings 



Physical Issues

Sudden gain or loss of weight

Eyesight problems

Poor Nutrition

Neck Pain



Backache 3.


Treatments for Internet Addiction 

Counselling and Psychotherapy

There are different treatment options for internet addiction. It has to be noted that addictions by their nature are very difficult to overcome and therefore counselling and psychotherapy are recommended. We have several psychotherapists that specialize in working with people with addiction and recommend that you reach out to us for support. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy is commonly used to treat internet addiction. CBT works by identifying the specific feelings, beliefs and actions associated with internet addiction and then by learning coping skills and healthier patterns of behaviour. In general, a CBT program will be structured over a 12-week program.


Recovering from internet addiction will include a program of abstinence. However, internet use is different from other forms of addiction such as alcohol and drugs because many of our lives do involve using the internet. Therefore, abstinence is not likely to be total. The goal is to use the internet for only the required tasks, such as online banking, studying or work-related tasks. Using the internet for entertainment purposes will need to be reduced. As abstinence occurs, the individual will begin to rediscover what excites him or her about life outside of the screen and may be encouraged to start up some hobbies that do not involve the internet. They may also begin to see their existing relationships improve & feel motivated to form new relationships. 



Internet Addiction Disorder is a rising problem and one that we will likely see a lot more of. We hope this information will help you to understand some of the mechanisms behind how this disorder can affect an individual’s mental health and how to help them if they are struggling. Individuals that are already suffering from mental health issues like Anxiety & depression have a higher risk of developing Internet Addiction Disorder as it is a tool which is used to try and mask deeper issues. 

We are all going through a difficult time at the moment. We’ve barely recovered from the Pandemic and now we are hit with the cost of living crisis and so many are struggling financially. It is so important that we aren’t hard on ourselves or those we love if we are finding things tough right now and struggling with issues like Internet Addiction Disorder or anything else. Mental health is just the same as physical health and it should be taken care of. If you or a loved one need support then please get in touch, we are here to help. 4








Author: Cheryl Clarke graduated with a BA Hons in English Literature & Creative Writing, she is currently studying an MSc in Psychology at Northumbria University. Cheryl has also completed a teaching qualification in Mindfulness & Compassion and she writes about Mental Health and Stress.

Peer Reviewed: Trish McLean is the Director of The Story Isn’t Over. She has worked in healthcare for 25 years. First, as a registered nurse and then as a counsellor and psychotherapist. Trish has a Ph.D. in Theology from Edinburgh University in Scotland and has worked all over the world including in India, Uganda, the United Kingdom and, now, in Canada.

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