Addicted to the Internet? There’s a Hospital-based Treatment for That

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Does internet addiction warrant full-fledged in-patient rehab— or are there better ways to manage your Angry Birds and email-checking obsessions?

America’s first hospital-based “internet addiction” rehab program opened over Labor Day weekend at Bradford Regional Medical Center in Pennsylvania, and while that debut highlights the pervasiveness of the net in our everyday lives, experts are still debating whether the lure of social media or online gaming actually constitutes addiction. The latest version of psychiatry’s diagnostic manual, the DSM 5, failed to include internet addiction as a disorder, although it did acknowledge that it deserved additional study for potential inclusion.

While it’s not clear whether excessive internet use actually is an addiction — one that prompts compulsive behavior in spite of its severe negative consequences— what is becoming more obvious to experts is the fact that addictions of any kind aren’t helped much by inpatient treatment, except in the most life-threatening cases. And for the most part, the pull of the internet doesn’t qualify for such measures. Who hasn’t stopped a conversation cold to respond to a text, or ignored friends to scroll through their Twitter feed? That may not require a stay in the hospital, but could benefit from these tips from addiction experts who help people moderate addictive behavior.

What’s your weakness — email, gaming or Facebook

Nearly everyone uses the internet, so to start, figure out the types of technology and the activities that are the most problematic for you. “Really analyze what components of your technology use are tied to the functional part of your life and which ones are you incorporating as either coping skills or are so habitual that they don’t play much role other than habit,” says Adi Jaffe, executor director of Alternatives Addiction Treatment, a private treatment center that offers moderation-based approaches to treat all types of addictions. Try to be objective about whether online activities are getting out of hand— if they take disproportional precedence over work, friends and family, for example — and examine when this occurs most frequently.

Once you’ve discovered that your problem is mainly late nights of Candy Crush, incessant email checking whenever you have a free minute or early afternoon cat-video surfing, set specific goals to change your patterns. And track your progress in achieving those goals, says Reid Hester, director of the research division of Behavior Therapy Associates and the developer of Moderatedrinking.com.

“My initial recommendation is to build specific tech-free times or zones [into your life]  that will become your new habits,” Jaffe says. But, he warns, it won’t be easy: “It’s going to cause some discomfort early on.”

Make small changes

Hester suggests setting small, achievable goals to start.  “If, for instance, your goal is not to check email on weekends, then write down on your calendar every weekend day you did not check it. Maybe on Sunday even give yourself a reward for making it through.”

Another option is setting a timer for a certain period of internet-free focus— and then closing your browser and removing all auditory or visual signals of new mail.  Mac users can use a program called Freedom that actually limits access to the web for a specific period of time. Once you can achieve short breaks, longer ones get easier

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Find out the real reasons you stay online too much

Ultimately, to effectively reduce addictive behavior, you need to know what function it serves for you. Sarah Bowen, acting assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Washington who studies mindfulness techniques to fight addictions, says, “From mindfulness, we learn that a lot of time we’ll reach for something because we are not satisfied with what’s going on in this moment. It’s not good enough, not interesting enough or not comfortable.”  Many people, she says, compulsively check email because it provides “a sort of reinforcement that you’re getting some attention.”

To counter this behavior, watch yourself when you engage with the net or with your phone.  “First, just notice, ‘I’m reaching for the phone.’ Maybe pause right there. Even if you still end up going toward it, any pausing and recognizing that urge and asking ‘What is it that I really want right now?’ [will help].. You need to recognize the automatic behavior and then be wiling to sit with it for a minute,” Bowen says.

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Such stock-taking will allow you to figure out why you pick up your phone during family dinners or stay online long after you’ve told your husband you are coming to bed.  Once you know what you are seeking or avoiding, you can figure out better ways of achieving those goals— and that will increase your ability to control over your behavior.

Don’t punish yourself

You might relapse —it happens virtually any time you try to change long-standing behaviors— but don’t beat yourself up. Instead, encourage yourself when you make incremental progress. “You’re better off rewarding yourself for making progress than kicking yourself for not being perfect,” says Hester.

Unlike alcoholics or heroin addicts, people with internet addictions don’t usually have the option of “just saying no” and avoiding people, places and things that can trigger thoughts of relapse; the web is everywhere, after all. And moderation is actually often harder to achieve than abstinence— because it involves frequent exposure to the addictive activity. But, says Jaffe, treating each relapse and recovery as a success can build up to a stronger ability to cope with the temptation to indulge in potentially disruptive internet use. “My stance is that [relapses are] going to happen. Don’t focus on relapse as an indication of failure,” he says.

44 comments
IwannaBananas
IwannaBananas

I use the internet every day, I spend 5-10 hours on it, usually 7. I play games, listen to music and watch videos. My friend uses the internet too much. He is allways on Facebook. He is so tired, and he is allways at home. My other friend is obsessed with TV. He can not live without it, he is allways in the bed watching TV. I think that internet is more addictive than TV, because you can connect with friends, or watch anything online. I think that they need to calm down a little bit because it is not healthy, and you are so tired. They could play some sport so they will see that it is more fun than internet. However, on internet you have virtual friends, but we live in a real world. :D

IwannaBananas
IwannaBananas

I go on the internet every day.I spent on it few hours.I use it for homeworks,download files, chat with friends.I know a person that is online always.She iis on Facebook even in school.She has got bad greads, she isnt slepping very much.I know people who are obsessive about other activities.One of my friends is obsesd with iPad.I think that the internet is more adictive than tv because you have the internet on youre phone and it is always available.If that person is my friend I would tell that him or her shuld be less on it, but I konw that my friend woldnt listen

IwannaBananas
IwannaBananas

I go on the internet every day and I spend few hours online. I use the internet for social media and games. I know few people who use internet a lot. One of my friends is really tired all the time and one girl is always online. I also know some people who are obsessed about other activities such as watching TV,playing games... I think that internet is more addictive than TV because it's always available. People who use internet too much should get some help.

Nishan_ksa
Nishan_ksa

@alheezan يا دكتور احتاج علاج من تيتر والتيسبوك .. صارت تجيني "حكحكه" منها

jhkenel
jhkenel

@TIME Unless there's an app for that, I'm not interested!

AmyGKC
AmyGKC

No comment RT @TIME: Let's talk: Are you addicted to the internet? Tips for learning how to go offline | ti.me/1523OEz

lovfer5
lovfer5

@TIME u mean don't go internet by phone ??but it's very hard ..even twice a day ?haha

ColeV15
ColeV15

@TIME Tip #2 make a real phone call to your kids, spouse, friends, relatives.

ColeV15
ColeV15

@TIME Tip #1 start talking to a real human next to you.

lane940223
lane940223

@TIME no, reading books and hang someone out is the best thing to stay away internet

ShirleySWangWSJ
ShirleySWangWSJ

@mocost @maiasz Yes, I second that question. What did hospital say about why they started the program? Curious about their justification.