Although not formally documented in the DSM-5 as a medical condition, Internet Addiction and Problematic Internet Use (PIU) are the focus of several research papers in Europe and Asia. They find up to 20% of children and adolescents display problematic internet use, with up to 8% displaying signs of an addiction. Warning signs include:
- Preoccupation with internet use. An irresistible urge to use it, and using it for longer than intended.
- Significant consequences in social life, studies or employment due to excessive internet use.
A recent review examined possible links between PIU and ADHD (Fiona Finlay and Carrie Furnell, ADHD in Practice, Spring 2014). Internet Addiction is identified as a common co-morbidity (co-existing condition) with ADHD, along with depression, anxiety, learning difficulties and sleep disorders and others. People with internet addiction are described as having poor control over time, value of time, and time efficiency. Given that these characteristics are shared by people with ADHD, it is no surprise that internet addiction can be an ADHD-related challenge. Adding another ADHD symptom, impulsivity, into the mix, makes this problem even harder to control.
There is no recommended treatment for Internet Addiction and PIU, as it is an emerging condition. Most research focuses on treating the co-existing conditions (such as ADHD) in order to control the addiction. For example, the use of stimulant medication in children with ADHD who played video games showed a reduction in internet use and ADHD symptoms. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and Family Therapy have also shown some benefits.
Coaching is also a valuable tool for controlling excessive use of the internet, and it is something that I work on with most clients. Together we set internet usage goals, and put strategies in place to achieve them. Coaching comes with accountability, which makes changing habits a whole lot easier.
Here are some tips for controlling internet usage:
- Limit the use of ‘screens’. I know that this can be tricky when computers are required for homework, but there is software to help you specify websites that can be used during homework time.
- Use computer games and social media sites as a reward for completed homework / chores. It is a very powerful currency.
- If students need breaks, they should be encouraged to keep a list of non-electronic activities, such a jumping on the trampoline, taking the dog for a walk, or reading.
- Remove electronic devices at bedtime, and return them in the morning when your child is ready for school. Midnight socialising via Facebook, Skype etc, is more common than you would imagine.
- Use the internet as a reward for boring or challenging tasks. The prospect of a fun-filled, high stimulus activity will make it a whole lot easier to complete the dreaded housework, assignment, report, or tax return. By contrast, if you opt for the high stimulus activity first, it will make the challenging task even harder to contemplate.
- Allocate internet times and stick to them. Build in some accountability here. If necessary, use software to limit your computer’s access to certain sites.
- Set a timer with an alarm when you are having fun on the internet. This will prevent 3am bedtimes, and probably save your job.
- Programme pauses. Strategies to remind you why you should stick to your internet time allocation. For example, place your alarm on the other side of the room, which will make it harder to ignore. Then, stick a post-it note on the alarm to remind you why you should honour your agreed bedtime.
If you are concerned about your internet usage, or that of your child, discuss it with your specialist. Find support with this important issue in the form of an ADHD coach, a psychologist, or a friend.