Could Behavioral Therapy Treat Internet Addiction?

Young boy struggling with internet addiction sitting in front of a computer

The internet is an increasingly integral part of our lives in the digital age, particularly with our growing connection to our ubiquitous smartphones and mobile devices. 2017 data from the Center for the Digital Future at University of Southern California Annenberg found that since 2000, the amount of time the average American spends online has gone up from 9.4 hours to 23.6. Time spent on the internet at home has gone up from 3.3 hours a week to 17.6 in the same period. 

Meanwhile, the percentage of people gaining access to the internet from a mobile device has gone up from 23% in 2019 to 84%. Addictions to the internet and computer games have grown as a mental health concern as a result of the daily saturation of technology usage.  

A recent trial study conducted by the World Health Organization looked at whether short-term cognitive behavioral therapy could provide efficient treatment for internet and computer game addiction. The study focused on a randomized clinical trial of 143 men. When the men participated in cognitive behavioral therapy in a treatment group as compared to a wait-list control group, they experienced what researchers described as a “strong remission rate.”

The results of the study were published in JAMA Psychiatry, where researchers said the findings indicate short-term CBT in an outpatient setting is effective to help with internet and computer game addiction.  

The Study

The study was conducted in four different outpatient clinics located in Germany and Austria, from January 2012 to June 2017, including follow-ups. There was a randomized group of male participants assigned to the treatment group and the control group.

The goal of the CBT program was to help participants return to the functional use of the internet. There were 15 group sessions held each week, along with up to eight two-week individual sessions.

The outcome was based on the Assessment of Internet and Computer Game Addiction Self-report (AICA-S). Researchers also looked at secondary outcomes, which were self-reported as well. Some of the outcomes measured include symptoms of internet addiction, time spent online during weekdays, and psychosocial functioning. The mean age of participants was 26.2 years old.

50 of 72 men or more than 69% of participants in the group receiving cognitive behavioral therapy showed remission. In the wait-list control group, only 23.9% of men showed remission. Researchers ultimately concluded short-term cognitive-behavioral therapy shows promise as a treatment for internet and game addiction.

Current Approaches to Internet Addiction

When you hear the term “internet addiction,” you may initially think exclusively of a problem in the United States. However, a study from the University of Hong Kong indicated that an estimated six percent of the global population is addicted to the internet. The study was published in Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking. Authors of the study indicated internet addiction is concerning because it’s associated with neural abnormalities and cognitive dysfunction similar to what’s seen in individuals with other substance and behavioral addictions.

In 2017, The National Institutes of Health announced a large-scale study on internet addiction, which is the first of its kind. The study, which will go for two years, is being conducted at the University of Connecticut School of Medicine. Results may help determine whether internet addiction and more specifically, online gaming should be included as a mental health disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

Researchers on that study feel that internet and gaming addiction need to be studied more, and if these conditions are included as an official disorder, it could open up the potential for insurance coverage for treatment. Those working on the study say that people addicted to online and gaming often drop out of school, lose their jobs, and lose their families.

Often what is seen with internet and other forms of technology addiction is similar to patterns of behavior with other addictions, yet there aren’t current treatment protocols for these types of addictions in the way there are for substance addictions. For example, internet, game and technology addiction may begin with recreational use that then becomes daily and ultimately all-encompassing. There can be profound consequences linked to internet and gaming addiction to one’s health, mental well-being and relationships.

In China, which has historically viewed addiction as a moral failing rather than a disease, the move by the government to classify gaming and internet addictions as a mental health disorder is unique. Some believe it’s because gaming and internet addiction are widely affecting middle- and upper-class young people in China, similar to the opioid epidemic in the United States.

With more attention being given to internet addiction and more funding for research efforts, it’s possible new treatment approaches will be explored as well.

If you’re struggling with substance misuse or addiction, or someone you care about is, you aren’t alone. Orlando Recovery Center is here, and we can help, so contact us today.

Sources

Nigam, Minali. “Behavioral Therapy Could Treat Internet Addiction.” ClickOrlando.com, July 10, 2019. Accessed August 13, 2019.

Klaus Wölfling, Ph.D.; Kai W. Müller, Ph.D.; Michael Dreier, Dipl-Soz; et al. “Efficacy of Short-Term Treatment of Internet and Computer Game Addiction.” JAMA Psychiatry, July 10, 2019. Accessed August 13, 2019.

Kosoff, Maya. “Study: 420 Million People Around the World Are Addicted to the Internet.” Business Insider, December 20, 2014. Accessed August 13, 2019.

Booth, Barbara. “Internet Addiction is Sweeping America, Affecting Millions.” CNBC.com, August 29, 2017. Accessed August 13, 2019.

Center for the Digital Future at USC Annenberg. “The 2017 Digital Future Report: Surveying the Digital Future.” 2017. Accessed August 13, 2019.