Brain Science and Updates From the Field

Tangled in the Web

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

The teen who spends hours upon hours engaged in an online role-playing game each day. The husband who can’t stop downloading pornography at home and work. The mother who neglects her kids and maxes out several credit cards surfing the web for items she doesn’t need.

While the internet has been successful in connecting people across the world, relaying information at the click of a button and even changing the way we interact, the aforementioned scenarios represent the ugly side of the web: addiction and abuse.

For Dr. Kimberly Young, Ph.D., a member of the board of directors at Beacon Light Behavioral Health, a Bradford-based outfit with whom Stairways Behavioral Health recently affiliated, these situations arise all too often. Young is also a psychologist noted for her research and treatment of internet addiction disorders and founder of the Center for Internet Addiction.

Internet addiction disorder (IAD) is a compulsive behavior in which online activity interferes with normal life functions.

“It’s not about someone who is in front of their computer at work for most of the day,” she says. “What we’re really talking about is the teen who games for 10 hours a day or the guy who looks at porn or gambles to excess.”

Young, who has studied and treated internet addiction since 1995, created a treatment model called Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy for Internet Addiction (CBTIA) that targets thoughts and feelings associated with IAD.

Internet addiction is a concept that has gained considerable traction in recent years as technology proliferates. As it becomes more available, the internet becomes an accessible place for diversion and refuge from life’s problems, not unlike the role drugs and alcohol play for others, Young said.

“The theme that’s common to the cases I see is escape,” she says. “Like any other addiction, people use the internet to get away from the issues in their lives and they put all their focus and absorb themselves in their computer.”

In addition to escape, those addicted to the internet have the added luxury of remaining completely anonymous to the web community with whom they’re interacting.

“Because they are able to become someone different in the character they become in games or the internet world, it becomes very enticing to take on a position of power, recognition and respect,” she says.

Indeed, many of the changes in brain chemistry that are present in substance abuse also occur in those who are abusive of the internet. For instance, the mesolimbic dopamine pathway—the pleasure center of the brain—becomes active for both drug and internet abusers.

However, unlike chemical dependence, internet use can be difficult to completely eradicate while functioning in an increasingly digital world. That’s why it’s important to assess one’s “digital diet” and establish healthy parameters for more controlled internet use, Young noted.

“I use the analogy of a food addiction,” she says. “It can be harder to treat addiction to food because we all need to eat at some point, whereas you can quit a drug or alcohol and never have the actual need for it again.”

Young stresses that “controlled and moderated” use of is key for anyone.

“For work and some things, you are going to need to use the internet, so moderating it becomes very important,” Young says. “(Internet use) becomes a problem when it is interfering with our everyday lives.”

Dr. Kimberly Young, Ph.D., is a professor at St. Bonaventure University and has been featured in numerous national media outlets including the New York Times, Good Morning America, USA Today, Newsweek and CBS News among others. She has also authored several books on the topic of internet addiction and recently gave a lecture as part of a TEDx event. You can view the lecture here

For tips or more information, visit Young’s website http://www,

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