Online Addiction: When is the Internet Making Us Sick?

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Photo: CC0 Public Domain – Unsplash/ Creative Christians

Just one more episode, one message, one quick scroll through the feed. Sometimes we find it difficult to detach ourselves from our cell phones or tablets. Where does online addiction begin and what are the consequences of our internet consumption?

As early as 2019, the WHO included gambling addiction (gaming disorder) in its catalog of diseases (ICD). Gaming Disorder describes a pathological handling of “digital games” or “video games” in which those affected lose control over their own gaming behavior, among other things.

Gaming disorder is an aspect of online addiction, a mental disorder that is becoming more and more recognized. Online addiction is not limited to digital games – it can also refer to problems with social media, online shopping or pornography. The term “internet use disorder” (INS) has become established in medical terminology.

Online addiction: how much time do we spend online?

The internet is determining more and more parts of our everyday lives. As part of a study by Techniker Krankenkasse on digital competence in 2021, 76 percent of the adults surveyed stated that they use the Internet several times a day or actually always. At the same time, a full 87 percent affirmed that they try to spend as little time as possible on the Internet.

The Techniker Krankenkasse had already examined the media behavior of young people in Germany in 2019. The result: 85 percent of 12 to 17 year olds use social media every day. The daily usage time was just under three hours. Children and young people spent most of their time using WhatsApp (66 percent), followed by Instagram (14 percent) and Snapchat (9 percent).

Digital competence versus dependency

Digitization can have a positive influence on development – ​​especially in adolescents: it creates new creative freedom and can promote cognitive development. But when is it too much?

Online addiction is a behavioral disorder because it dominates people’s daily lives to the point where they are no longer able to keep up with social, work, or family responsibilities. To prevent this from happening, it is important to recognize the signs early.

Online addiction: the symptoms

The Federal Ministry of Health refers to epidemiological studies according to which men and women are almost equally affected by online addiction. Differences can be seen in the type of internet use: While 77 percent of 14 to 24-year-old women who use the internet are mainly online in social networks and only 7.2 percent play online computer games, 65 percent of men who use the internet mainly play games and are only too 34 percent on social networks.

The TK study also examined symptoms of physical and psychological stress associated with increased internet use. The result: 40 percent of private frequent surfers (five hours and longer) showed an above-average frequency of depressive symptoms, such as mood swings. 38 percent suffered from nervousness. By comparison, only 16 percent of people who spent less than 60 minutes a day on the Internet were affected by depression, and 19 percent felt nervous. However, this group was affected by muscle tension a little more often (65 percent) than frequent surfers (59 percent).

The TK also examined the effects of internet use in a professional context. “There is no clear connection to health restrictions here,” summarizes the health insurance company.

What helps with online addiction?

Online addiction is a mental disorder that can vary in severity. Anyone who feels impaired in their own everyday life or notices this in their relatives should seek professional help. The professional association for media addiction offers an overview map and an address list for counseling centers throughout Germany on its website. The First Aid Internet Addiction portal also provides contact points and offers further information on the subject.

If you want to reduce internet use in everyday life to prevent online addiction, you can take various measures. A classic media education tip is the rhythm of everyday life: set clear times for internet use and otherwise stay offline.

online looking for internet family
What can parents do to teach their children media literacy? (Photo: CC0 Public Domain – Unsplash/ Alexander Dummer)

Online Addiction in Adolescents: How Parents Prevent It

Young people are particularly at risk from online addiction. What can parents do?

Mobile phones and the Internet are an integral part of our everyday lives, and banning them entirely is often not an option. But parents should lead by example and be able to control their digital behavior. Children should not have the feeling that they are in competition with the internet, WhatsApp, Facebook and the like.

TK expert Sabine König advises: “Parents should know what is at stake – so that they can support their children. This includes agreeing on clear rules for media use.” Handing small children and adolescents a tablet or smartphone and setting the child down on the sofa could relieve parents in the short term. In the long run, however, it creates other problems.

According to media educator Ines Sura, a high level of digital competence includes the ability to question one’s own handling of the media: “Do I use the digital media or do I use them?” Reflecting on one’s own media usage behavior is part of media competence. Even young people who have grown up with digital media must first acquire this competence. This article provides more information and tips on media literacy: Media literacy: How to control your cell phone and not your cell phone you.

Note: Those affected by online addiction can turn to the Caritas online counseling service, among others. This offers advice via online chat. Chat hours are 2:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. The website of the Media Dependency Association and the First Aid Internet Addiction portal offer advice and contact points on the subject of online addiction for those affected and their families.


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