beat internet addiction

We are constantly pressured to use the internet. For internet addicts, there’s little we can do.

By: Kennedy Kao

“Can you take this from me?” 

There was a desperate charge to these words as I handed my phone over to my sister. Not since I was 12 years old had I gone to bed without my phone (my parents would take it from me because they were rightly afraid I would be on it all night). 

I told my sister to leave my phone for me on the kitchen counter the next morning and that every night before bed, I would give my phone to her. I wanted to limit my phone use, as I had listened to an Andrew Huberman podcast that emphasized no technology after 11 pm to ensure optimal sleep. Unfortunately, but predictably, I was on my phone again before bed a week later, doom-scrolling to lull me to sleep. 

This is one of the many methods I have used to limit my phone and internet usage. I’ve tried locking my phone away at night (in a frustratingly accessible kitchen cabinet), leaving my phone at home as I went out about my day (this would make the next day unbearable as I would need to satisfy my internet deprivation), and even going out with my phone on low battery, forcing me to use my phone only when necessary. 

Suffice it to say; I have a problem. These methods never last as I find myself going back to the start, and not in the romantic Coldplay kind of way. No matter how hard I try, I find myself doom scrolling on Twitter and Facebook, watching Youtube videos about randomized topics that feel relevant because the Youtube algorithm knows me so well, and binge-watching TV shows and movies that leave me feeling brain-numb. 

Please tell me you can relate. 

I believe this internet addiction is because I’m a young person in my 20s, living in the digital age, in a city (Toronto) where digital reliance is augmented. Everywhere around me, I see machines, systems, ideas, fantasies, and people surrounded or dependent on the internet. I am one of those people dependant on the internet. 

I Can’t Just “Turn Off” My Phone 

If you look at some articles that offer suggestions to overcome internet addiction, most recommend employing some sort of self-control. Turning off your phone before bed or unplugging your desktop computer for a few hours (an extremely tedious task, by the way) are some internet-addiction hacks advised by self-help internet bloggers. 

Not only this, but celebrities like Selena Gomez and Emma Stone have recommended less social media use, sidestepping how difficult it is actually to cut off from Instagram and Twitter. 

When I think of addiction, I think of the lifelong battle one has with what they’re addicted to. The possibility of relapse makes addiction tameable but not curable. Rehabilitation, therapy, and medication are some methods offered to people with severe addictions. While treatment centres and mental health counsellors recognize internet addiction as a debilitating issue, the fact that internet addiction is not universally recognized as a medical disorder makes it difficult for one to seek comprehensive assistance. 

Neither the World Health Organization, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), nor the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11) recognizes internet addiction as a clinical disorder. It is often debated whether internet addiction is even a real issue, as many believe it to be symptomatic of other conditions. 

There is, technically, no such thing as internet or phone addiction…some parents may see addict-like behaviour when kids get angry if they’re required to stop, [they] insist on more and more screen time, spend a lot of offline time thinking about how and when they will get back online. But these kind[s] of behaviours can be prompted by many pleasurable activities, and don’t constitute an addiction.” 

The Child Mind Institute

If we see kids playing video games or watching YouTube videos, in our eyes it’s as if they’re wasting their time and not being productive. We might want them to be outside playing baseball or something, but for that generation that’s their pixelated playground. It might not be a sign of a pathological behaviour.

Patrick Markey, psychologist at Villanova University

The overall consensus is there is not enough research to classify internet addiction as a medically-recognized addiction. Pleasurable activities, such as walking, getting exercise, and hanging out with friends are all solutions that, while helpful, seem like temporary remedies that band-aid a recurring issue. Since one can’t altogether remove the internet from their life, the best we can do is manage excessive internet use. 

But managing internet use is incredibly difficult when the internet is being made to make everything efficient, making us reliant on the internet and its heroic qualities. Nowadays, you can’t visit a restaurant without seeing a QR code plastered on the side of the table, or bother buying a textbook at the bookstore since the online version is waiting for you on your tablet. 

Here is an excerpt from the Recovery Stories page on the Internet and Technology Addicts Anonymous website: 

“After half a year, I got a job again and moved to my own place, still without a computer or internet at home. But now I could also use the internet at work. This initially worked well, and I tried to use the internet at work for work purposes, but slowly I spent more and more time for non-work related purposes as well. And I sometimes had binges at work, in which I stopped working and I started surfing on the internet for the rest of the work day.” 

When treating other addictions, such as alcoholism, smoking, and gambling, the ultimate goal for severe addicts is to remove the habit from their lives completely. While a smoker, for instance, can gradually reduce their nicotine intake to avoid withdrawals, the end objective for the smoker is not to smoke. Therefore, people and items that trigger the smoker to smoke are to be avoided. 

An internet addict most likely cannot avoid the internet. There are triggers all around us. Not only is the internet infused in our work, school, and social lives, but the adverse effects of internet addiction seem harmless and mired with other forms of pathological behaviour, which make it hard for our work and social structures to implement practices that limit our use of technology and the internet.

Getting Help…

So, how does one beat internet addiction? 

There are multiple rehabilitation centres in Ontario that focus on treating Internet addiction. Centres like the Trafalgar Addiction Treatment Centre and Muskoka Recovery offer programs that help internet addicts detach  themselves from their bond with the internet. 

Trafalgar Addiction Treatment Centre writes: “Users can develop an unrealistic emotional attachment to people they meet online and activities they create on their computers through games or websites, and despite the fact that this can be socially acceptable in regulated sessions, it is a very severe condition that can affect the lives of users and their families.” Trafalgar insists on rewiring the brain to not give in to internet cravings, instead creating healthy relationships with real-world entities, showing a better alternative to the harmful emotional attachments to the Internet. 

Programs like Trafalgar surely help with long-term, serious internet addiction. But for people who aren’t in that serious of state, or can’t afford the programs offered by rehabilitation centres, what is the solution for them?

There are online groups and forums like Internet and Technology Addicts Anonymous and On-Line Gamers Anonymous that provide addicts a community where they can share stories about their addictions and encourage each other to abstain from heavy web use. These communities give addicts the outlets to find solace in their addiction, addressing these issues for the first time and finding people to hold them accountable. 

Revealing to your friends and family about your addiction can also go a long way. As I mentioned in the beginning of this article, I asked my sister to help limit my phone use. Even though that attempt blew up, it was nice to have someone to talk to about my addiction and even brainstorm ideas on how to stop going on my phone so often. 

Changing Our Mindset: We Don’t Need You, Internet! 

I am aware that technology and the internet have improved our lives for the better. The internet has given us faster access to up to date information, the ability to work remotely, and (even if this can go too far) a sea of multiple networks to connect with strangers. 

But it’s important to remember that we can survive without the internet, even if it’s all around us. I think of how my detachment methods have failed because I told myself I needed the internet to work, connect with people, and keep up with news and trends to make me relevant as a young 20-something. But I was wrong: I don’t need the internet to do all those things. 

As a writer, I certainly need the internet to communicate with my cohorts and research for articles. But I’ve managed to find ways to work around not using the internet. For example, I’ve been writing my articles on paper and then typing them out on my laptop. It’s also been a good idea to print articles and essays to read for research rather than reading them online. It does make things less efficient, but it’s what I have to sacrifice for better mental health. 

I’ve also deleted my social media accounts. I don’t worry about being clueless when a new meme or fresh news headline is brought up by my friends. In terms of staying connected, text message, email, and watching the news on TV is working just fine. 

These steps are different from simply turning off my phone before bed or leaving my phone at home when I go out. I have adopted a mindset of not needing the internet to function and to make my life happier. The internet is a great tool, but when overused can lead to unhealthy dependency. It can stimulate our dopamine in the worst ways, giving us an arousing coping device to be used anytime and anywhere. 

Perhaps this is the mindset you can take as well. Obviously, everyone’s situation is different. Your work environment might not allow you to take steps away from the internet like mine does. But we all have a choice in the matter. If your addiction is that bad, perhaps the best alternative is to find a job where you don’t use the internet as frequently. Or if you only communicate with your friends through social media, try switching to less addicted applications, like WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger, or initiate phone calls and in-person meetups. 

The internet is beatable, and it’s important to act upon this fact when navigating through your addiction. At the end of the day, our mindset is what dictates whether we find success or not. As Margaret Thatcher once said: “Watch your thoughts, for they become your words. Watch your words, for they become actions. Watch your actions, for they become habits. Watch your habits, for they become your character.”