Some may feel that being addicted to the Internet is an unnatural phenomenon. These people could not be further from the truth. The Internet brings pleasure to many people in many forms. It is natural for humans to wish to repeat any experiences of pleasure. The action of repetition reinforces an individual’s habits and increases the probability that they will continue repeating that activity in the future. Those addicted to the Internet are implicitly seeking out the repetition of past pleasurable experiences. This is called positive reinforcement, and it is a natural phenomenon. In other words, those who find themselves addicted to the Internet are nothing but products of positive reinforcement.
The renowned psychologist B.F. Skinner theorized and coined the term “operant conditioning,” which is used to describe this phenomenon. In short, operant conditioning states that behaviors and and their consequences combine to influence future behaviors.
Addicted to the Internet – Your Brain on the Internet
When you feel pleasure from Internet use, whether it be from online gaming or from using social media, what you are feeling is a release of dopamine. Dopamine is the neurotransmitter that is released whenever you are doing something enjoyable, whether it be eating, masturbating, or taking drugs. Addiction, regardless of the form, is the feeling of dopamine combined with the desire to repeat the action the preceded the release of dopamine. Being addicted to the Internet works in the same way.
Some people may disagree with the analogy of being addicted to the Internet as being the same as being addicted to a drug. In essence, it is not entirely true to say the two are equivalent, as there are many other factors involved in drug addiction — tolerance, physical changes, and withdrawal symptoms. However, recent studies on addiction to the Internet have found that those addicted to the Internet also experience the factors. That is, there is tolerance and withdrawal in Internet addiction, and many Internet addicts experience physical changes.
For example, when someone diagnosed with addiction to the Internet is put on a program in which their use of the Internet is limited, they often experience withdrawal effects in the form of high levels of irritability and strong feelings of anxiety.
Addicted to the Internet – The Two Main Factors Behind Internet Addiction Disorder
There are important factors at play in keeping those addicted to the Internet addicted: dopamine and avoidance.
The first, dopamine, we have already discussed. The Internet leads to feelings of pleasure, in the form of dopamine. The Internet user wishes to experience this feeling, and thus repeats his or her behavior on the Internet.
The second, avoidance, refers to the evasion of the difficulties of one’s life. Those who are experiencing frustrations in life have the modern ability to turn to the Internet as a form of escape, resulting in making the user addicted to the Internet. There are many aspects of life that could lead one to the Internet for escape, such as problems at work, physical illnesses, poor school performance, failing relationships, and lack of money). The ability to use the Internet as a means to escape problems is especially addictive when combined with the positive feelings that the Internet produces for the user.
Together, these factors fuel the actions of those addicted to the Internet.