California Lawyers Association

The Healthy Lawyer (Sana Advocatus) Internet Addiction Disorder: Can You Relate?

Greg Dorst JD, CADC II
Consultant to
The Other Bar

Here is the setting: A pandemic has changed the way we live and decimated our economy, coupled with protests calling for racial justice. Meanwhile, everyone seems to have a different opinion about how to solve these overwhelming challenges. Cable news and social media sites are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for our viewing pleasure or displeasure. Even though it makes us uncomfortable, we have become addicted to reading about these issues, hearing updates, discussing news topics from every angle and allowing our emotions to swing through cycles of outrage and disgust. These cycles create dopamine-driven feedback loops as each new consequential circumstance unfolds. The brain chemistry makeup during this process is similar to that of someone who is addicted to alcohol or other drugs. According to Dr. Christina Gregory, the delivery system for this chemical producing feedback loop is the internet and our obsession to reach for our devices at all times of the day and night now has a name: Internet Addiction Disorder.

In an article published May 22, 2019, by the mental health website Psycom, Dr. Gregory discusses signs, symptoms, diagnosis and treatments for those who may be addicted to the web on their PC or smartphone. Research indicates that frequent or compulsive use of devices that connect us to the internet seems to affect the pleasure center of the brain. This use pattern triggers a release of dopamine to promote a pleasurable experience even though the information accessed may be troubling, frightening or disappointing. The need to know is the craving, accessing the internet supplies the dopamine “rush.”  

As we know from our own experience, today’s information age has created accessable live updates on anything happening in the world. Some of our information systems like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram create multiple reward systems. Not only do you get to see what everyone is doing, feeling and believing in the moment, if you comment on an existing post or post something new, people can comment on your opinions and insights. This creates a constant drive to log on to the internet. This kind of “dopamine circus” promotes constant internet usage—a symptom of Internet Addiction Disorder.

Like any addictive disorder, self-diagnosis is possible. Do you spend too much time checking your electronic devices for messages, emails, news and social media posts on various social media sites? Is your work, sleep time, relationships, physical activity and nutrition suffering? Do you feel guilty “wasting your day” when you had projects that needed to get done? When you cannot access the internet do you feel agitated, anxious, depressed or lonely? Do you want to cut back but don’t know how? If you see yourself in these questions, try these strategies:

1. Cleanse all unnecessary notifications from internet related devices. Professor of psychology and renowned author Dr. Larry Rosen describes a feedback loop involving notifications and dopamine as a kind of Pavlovian response. Turning off social media and email notifications can break the loop and ease problematic behavior.

2. Put your phone away. Move it to a place where you cannot see it. Put it in a bag or a pocket so you can focus completely on what you are doing and who you are with. Research has shown that just having the device in sight reduces a person’s ability to stay on task. Moreover, if you are with other people this strategy will provide immediate positive feedback from family and friends which increases the likelihood of success. Out of sight, out of mind.

3. Don’t charge devices in the bedroom or use them as a morning alarm. This strategy will keep you off of the internet before you go to sleep and immediately upon waking up.

4. Designate “device-free” times. Let your family, friends and work know that you will not return calls, emails and texts during certain times of the day. You can even note this boundary on your voicemail message. During these “device-free” interludes, keep them off of your person and in a safe and secure place.

These four strategies can help immensely. If a person wants to make changes and cannot successfully set and maintain these boundaries, treatment may be necessary. Professional treatment for Internet Addiction Disorder may include:

It is always good to know you are not alone. As always, I can be reached at gdorst2@gmail.com for comments or suggestions on topics for discussion. Moreover, I may be able to help you to find the freedom from addiction that you so desire.

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