Mental health and its disorders. Trapped in the web: internet addiction

Mental health and its disorders. Trapped in the web: internet addiction
Mental health and its disorders. Trapped in the web: internet addiction

“In the digital age, technology has contaminated every area of ​​life: many of the daily activities are shaped bydigital hybridization and the virtual connections they are increasingly establishing themselves as a means of social interaction. Statistics estimated that in January 2024 the number of internet users in the world was 5.35 billion, equal to 66.2% of the total world population, in Italy 51.56 million people (87.7% of the total population).

The now rampant phenomenon digital However, it must be observed from two different and opposing points of view. To the many positives that the web has brought to everyday life, they also associate negative connotations; for a minority of individuals the internet can represent a danger and lead to the development of a real form of addiction.

Internet addiction

The Internet addiction phenomenon it was first described in the mid-1990s and, although there is no formally accepted definition to date, it can be described as intensive and obsessive use of the Internet with the need to remain connected to the network for increasingly longer periods of time. The symptoms are represented by anxiety, irritability, aggression, and restlessness in moments of disconnection, and inability to interrupt web connections despite the negative consequences in the social (family and marital problems, work problems), psychological (anxiety and depression) and physical (back pain, headache, weight gain or loss, carpal tunnel syndrome, vision changes, sleep disturbances).

However, it is simplistic to consider Internet addiction as a single entity, since the Internet is fundamentally a portal through which multiple activities and services can be accessed; from this perspective it is, therefore, more correct to consider more specific subcategories of addiction including the use of social media, addiction to virtual sex or virtual relationships, online gambling, compulsive online shopping, addiction from cognitive overload and online gaming addiction. The latter is the only condition officially included and codified in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM 5-TR).

From an epidemiological point of view, the estimates are around 5-6% of the population general and it is possible to highlight the presence of factors closely related to Internet addiction such as younger age, male gender and early exposure to the use of internet technology.

The causes at the base of the dependence from the Internet are complex and multifactorial (biological-genetic, psychological and socio-environmental predisposition factors). From a neurobiological point of view, an important role is played by the presence of dysfunctions of the dopamine and serotonin systems associated with excessive activation of the brain reward circuits. Biological factors are associated with psychological factors represented by personological aspects such as the tendency towards introversion, low self-esteem and marked interpersonal sensitivity, and socio-environmental factors such as inattention on the part of caregivers or the presence of unfavorable life events.

The treatment Internet addiction presupposes different methods of intervention. Obviously, the first step is to recognize the existence of the problem, a fundamental moment in order to start any type of therapeutic approach.

There pharmacological therapy involves the use of molecules usually used in the treatment of obsessive-compulsive spectrum and impulse control disorders, substance use disorders and mood disorders, in particular bupropion, escitalopram and methylphenidate, which by acting on the levels of the neurotransmitters dopamine, norepinephrine and serotonin, they have proven effective in reducing symptoms and controlling cravings.

Among approaches psychotherapeutics that cognitivebehavioral (CBT) has demonstrated the greatest effectiveness, aiming to reduce, through various strategies, the time spent online as well as identifying and correcting any cognitive distortions. It is also possible to consider the use of family therapy in cases where the addiction has also negatively affected the family, in such a way as to allow the members of the family unit to be co-protagonists of the change and support the subject’s motivation to address and resolve addiction. Finally, in cases where an adequate support network is missing, it is conceivable to resort to support groups as a further integrative approach, with a view to structuring a multimodal treatment tailored to the complexity of the subject and the specific case”.

by Valentina Clementi psychiatrist – article requested by the neuroscience institute of Reggio Calabria

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