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Since the inception of the internet, it has
greatly revolutionized our daily lives. The internet enables fast inquiry of
data, rapid interchange of data and everything else from modern communication
methods like video calling to cloud computing. Emergence of these technologies
has made our lives very convenient. However, at the same time internet has also
resulted in adaptation of bad habits related to its use which not only has
decreased the quality of life but has also increased negative emotions in human
beings. Due to this problematic internet use and deficient self-regulation and
control, people have become addicted to the internet, so much so, that it has impaired
their ability to accomplish simple daily tasks. (Lu et al., 2017)

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In this
review, internet addiction will be discussed using a broad range of
information. The historical background, types, health risks and theories
describing internet addiction are being discussed. Some previous studies and
their results are also being presented. Finally, a conclusion is being
discussed. This topic is important because internet has become an important
part of our daily lives and its addiction is increasingly making life difficult
for many people around the globe. Therefore, its important to understand the
health risks associated with internet addiction and to know why people get
addicted to the internet.

The first
main part of this review will discuss what internet addiction is, its history
and types of internet addictions. The focus of this part will be the types of
internet addiction namely, (Insert the names of internet addiction types here)

The second
part of the review will discuss the health risks associated with internet
addiction and different perspectives on how to deal with internet addiction.

The third
part will discuss theories that help us understand internet addiction better.
In the fourth part of the review, some previous studies on internet addiction
and their results will be presented.

Finally, limitations of this review and a conclusion of the review
tying the results of the previous studies done on the topic, with the general
understanding of internet addiction will be presented.

What is Internet

Meaning and


Types of Internet

Health risks
associated with Internet addiction

Theories of Internet

In order to
understand why people get addicted to the internet, several theories have been
proposed over the years. Different authors have placed these theories into
three distinct categories. (Tokunaga, 2015)

 The three main categories discussed in this
review are the addiction theory, cognitive-behavioral theory and the social
cognitive theory.

4.1 The
Addiction theory

Since the
mid-1990s the way to study problematic internet use has been to equate it with
a disease or pathology and calling it internet addiction. Addiction refers to
continuous use of a stimuli that is accompanied by compulsion, loss of control
over one’s behavior and undesirable personal issues related to personality.
Using this perspective, internet addiction can be regarded as a pathology just
like substance dependencies or an impulse control disorder. (Tokunaga, 2015)

Withdrawal and
tolerance are deemed as the two most important components of substance
dependencies. Withdrawal happens when the use of a drug is halted and the
addicted individual starts showing signs of impulsive anxiousness, feels
depressed or has cravings. Whilst, tolerance refers to the demand of larger
doses of drugs to achieve previously felt euphoria or pleasure by addicted
individuals. However, behavioral addictions can occur in the absence of
pleasure inducing drugs. Such addictive behaviors can surface due to repetitive
habits that turn into loss of control despite outside intervention or a
person’s internal effort to moderate their behavior. The same type of addictive
behavior can be seen in the actions of individuals who self-identify as or are
diagnosed with internet addiction. Just like other addicts want larger doses of
pleasure inducing drugs to feel previously felt levels of pleasure, internet
addicts require larger amounts of exposure to the internet, underpinning the
tolerance component, and feel withdrawal while they are away from the internet.
There have been studies done to evaluate how the brains of internet addicts
work compared to non-addicts. Results of these studies have shown that using
the internet releases pleasure inducing dopamine in the brains of internet addicts
when exposed to the internet, while the same wasn’t the case with non-addicts.
Some self-identified internet addicts can notice the sense of uncontrollability
in their behavior but they either do not see it as a disease or embrace it, so
they can enjoy the loss of self-consciousness—as seen in alcohol and drug
addicts. This desire for mental distraction is thus identified as a disease. (Tokunaga, 2015)

The other part
of the addiction process can be described by impulse control disorder. Originating from a decision to indulge in
activities that put short-term benefits ahead of long-term goals, impulsivity,
is a personality trait marked by high risk-taking attitudes and hurried
choices. To be able to control these impulses, a person must show emotional
self-control, which, people suffering from impulse control disorder tend to
lack. Just like dependence of pleasure inducing drugs, impulse control
disorders are marked by preoccupation to and compulsive uses of a stimulus. (Tokunaga, 2015)

Many different
theories and models have been used to describe the internet addiction
For instance, internet addiction in later stages of adult life may emerge due
to childhood experiences and the structure of the institution of family.
Similarly, some scientists suggest that lack of experience can be the principle
cause of internet addiction, as inexperience people need more time at early
stages of their exposure to the internet and can thus develop a habit of using
internet for long hours. Another set of theorists claim that internet
affordability, accessibility and departure from the offline world serve as
excuses for people to use the internet and hasten addiction. Some people who
are neurotic and like to have a certain level of safety want to have control over
their social interactions, which can only be provided by the internet at times.
(Tokunaga, 2015)

Many problems arise when we use the term ‘disease’
to refer to the problematic internet usage. One issue is that it trivializes
the medically recognized addictions such as gambling, alcohol or drug
addictions. There is a sense in some scientists that using the word addiction
to refer to any craving that arises in human beings might make the word
‘addiction’ itself meaningless. The very fact that researchers cannot agree to
a specific definition of internet addiction reduces the legitimacy of addiction
model approach. Secondly, the lack of clinical screening to evaluate negative
emotions, impulse control disorders and behavioral addictions make the studies
done meaningless. Unless trained clinicians can identify these issues with an
individual, self-proclaiming to be internet addicted, we cannot conclude that
there is a thing such as being addicted to the internet. Lastly, the absence of
mania, as seen in gambling addicts, is not eliminated as an explanation of
prolonged internet use. Mania is defined as a period of defined irritable,
elevated or unrestrained mood by the American Psychological Association (APA).
Since a pathology can only be diagnosed in the absence of a manic episode, it
is very hard to classify problematic internet use as an addiction or a disease.
Thus, the failure of researchers to ensure that mania is not the reason behind
behavioral addictions weakens the addiction approach. Decisive empirical
research data will be needed to put behavioral addiction along with other
pathologies such as pleasure inducing drug dependencies or impulsive control
disorders. (Tokunaga, 2015)

These gaps in the literature of internet addiction
have recently prompted the APA to exclude internet use disorder from their Diagnostic
and Statistical Manual of mental disorders (DSM) altogether. However, internet
gaming disorder has been kept in the manual as an area for future research. (Tokunaga,

4.2 The Cognitive-Behavioral Theory

Lack of behavioral control and cognitive
distortions are main reason of maladaptive internet use. Cognitive theory tries
to understand human behavior from the perspective of our cognitions whereas,
behavioral theorists suggest that our behaviors are the reflection of our
personalities. This view is divorced from the addiction approach as it tries to
understand addiction as a function of cognition. This model even includes the
possibility of internet addiction stemming from a mania, thus excluding it from
the list of pathologies. To do that, an important distinction is made between
the general and specific problematic internet use (PIU). General PIU is defined
as a multidimensional overuse of the internet services wherein different aspects
of the internet environment aggravate maladaptive use. On the other hand,
specific PIU entails that people develop maladaptive cognitions and behavior
due to different types of content present on the internet including things like
gaming, social media, pornography, shopping and online chatting. Since specific
PIU argues from the perspective of different content present on the internet,
it is argued by some behavioral scientists that people are not addicted to the
internet, but to the content people are using on the internet. Some researchers
claim that in general PIU people are ‘drawn to the experience of being online,
in and of itself’. Specific PIU is therefore regarded as a better model for
studying problematic internet use since it doesn’t overlook the presence of
different technologies that people are attracted to on the internet like
general PIU does. Nevertheless, distinction between general and specific PIU is
important to understand the exact type of stimuli people are attracted to on
the internet. (Tokunaga, 2015)

Unlike the addiction model approach,
cognitive-behavioral models have been scientifically investigated by
researchers. The PIU model gives a structure and organization to the discussion
of factors leading to internet addiction. Studies using this model have shown
that people are attracted to the internet for several reasons, including
loneliness, depression, and lack of social skills. While this model gives
support to the assumption of causality it does not necessarily establish
causation between the problematic internet use and personality traits. (Tokunaga,

4.3 The Social Cognitive theory

Social cognitive theory has been used in recent
decades to explain the deficient self-regulation (DSR), a transitional stage in
which people lose control over their behavior. Human behaviors are regulated by
internal and external influences, which people self-observe overtime to regulate
their behavior and its effects on others. These behavioral regulations rely on
the accuracy of our self-observation and the criteria we use to determine
whether or not our behavior is within the boundaries of normalcy.


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