The internet can be a valuable tool that allows people to expand their world. For some troubled teens, the internet can become a way of escaping the real world. Internet use can even become an addiction. A growing body of research suggests that internet addiction is not only real, but it also bears striking similarities to other mental health issues. In addition, some forms of internet use, such as using social networking services, promote unhealthy personality attributes, such as narcissism.
Similarities Between Internet Addiction and Other Mental Health Issues
Internet addiction has similarities to other mental health disorders. For example, people who are addicted to the internet experience uncontrolled obsessive urges. These urges are similar to the obsessive aspect of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). While internet addicts are on the internet and engaged in their preferred activities, they follow repetitive and ritualistic patterns of behaviors. They often visit the same website in the same pattern. This is similar to compulsive behavior.
In addition, internet addiction shares commonalities with to substance abuse addiction. Like addiction to drugs or alcohol, internet addiction includes patterns of tolerance and withdrawal. Tolerance means addicts need higher and higher doses of a drug, or more and more time spent online, to satisfy the addicts’ needs. Withdrawal happens when addicts are not able to have access to the source of their addiction or try to reduce their use. Symptoms of withdrawal include feelings of heightened anxiety and physiological symptoms. When internet addicts cannot have access to the internet or attempt to reduce their use, they experience withdrawal symptoms similar to alcohol and drug users.
Social Networking Services Promote Narcissism
Social networking appears to promote narcissism. In 2008, Buffardi and Campbell conducted one of the studies that support this idea. Researchers interviewed 129 undergraduate Facebook users. The researchers administered The Narcissistic Personality Inventory (NPI) which is a 40-item personality test designed to measure narcissistic traits. Separate, independent researchers analyzed the undergraduates’ Facebook pages. The researchers who analyzed the Facebook pages did not have access to the information obtained by the interviews.
The independent researchers accurately detected the undergraduates’ level of narcissism based only on the content of their Facebook page. The researchers also found that higher scores on the NPI, suggesting higher levels of narcissism, were linked to a higher number of interactions on Facebook.
The researchers concluded that narcissists have more social contacts on Facebook than non-narcissists. This means the average user on Facebook will find social networks contain many narcissistic people. This could result in promoting narcissism. Because interacting with narcissistic individuals on social networking services is common, it could become the norm. People who want to keep up with their Facebook peers will have to increase their narcissistic behavior, such as self-promotion. In social networking, this behavior will likely result in more followers. This could become a cycle that leads to more narcissism.
At Discovery Ranch for Boys, teens learn healthy behaviors, including the healthy use of technology. Young men experience life on a ranch, including responsibilities, such as feeding and caring for animals, as well as unique opportunities, like learning about horsemanship. Generally, young men leave Discovery Ranch with new hobbies and skills. They also develop new coping strategies. These new hobbies, skills, and coping strategies help teens maintain healthy habits.
- S. Young was one of the earliest researchers of internet addiction. In Caught in the Net, she outlines symptoms of internet addiction.