Net Threat

Internet addiction may have serious implications; try a course correction before it begins to hurt.

About 28 per cent Indians are active users of the Internet and this tribe is growing at 9 per cent per annum in urban areas while rural India sees an annual growth of 26 per cent, as per TRAI data. Dr Divya Sadana, Clinical Neuropsychologist at Mazumdar Shaw Medical Center, Narayana Health City, Bengaluru, quotes these numbers, saying that they only point towards growing Internet usage but when this usage turns into addiction, it could lead to psychological disorders.

Most studies cite young people as the biggest user segment, surfing the Net for information and communication. But newer components are getting added now, the doctor points out. For instance, WHO has identified video game addiction as a psychological disorder.

According to Dr Sadana, Internet addiction disorder, or IAD, can be broadly classified under three heads - excessive gaming-gambling, sexual preoccupations/cybersex and social networking activities. "Although cybersex and social networking are not formally included in the list of maladies, such cases are quite common in psychiatric clinics," she says. "Based on my experience, I would say men tend to have issues linked to gaming-gambling and porn-watching, and young women usually get addicted to socialising and validation of self-worth (Facebook/Instagram and online shopping)."

There are early symptoms, says Dr Sadana. First of all, there is salience or a preoccupation with the Internet. Again, one may fail to stop or limit Net usage and give in to associated mood changes. Or one can start using the Net more to escape from actual problems. The outcome varies from reduced physical activity and disturbed sleep to reduced productivity, broken relationships and compromised family time.

The simplest antidote, the doctor says, is to break the pattern, find other ways to stay occupied and develop real-life relationships. "At present, cognitive behavioural therapy is the key psychotherapy treatment for Internet addiction." It includes talking to patients and helping them identify and modify their thoughts and behaviour. Group therapy and family involvement also help.

Decoding IAD

"There is growing evidence that IAD is a behavioural addiction, but the pathophysiological mechanism - the study of how this condition develops and progresses - is still under investigation," says Dr Sadana. Studies are also exploring personality types vulnerable to Internet addiction. Neuroscience researches have looked into how online engagements activate the mesocorticolimbic or reward pathway, which gets stirred up by stimuli, and the extended amygdala, part of the brain responsible for processing human emotions. According to preliminary studies, the effects of IAD on the brain are similar to those of alcohol or drugs consumption.