Understanding and Addressing Internet Addiction Disorder


Internet addiction disorder (IAD) is described as the excessive use of online systems by individuals. This condition has been hugely observed among teenagers. IAD is one of the main challenges these people face in regards to mental health problems; some of the resultant symptoms include depression, self-harm, and anxiety problems, among others. I have chosen this thesis topic in conjunction with a new venture start-up company I am part of called Preserve.

Preserve acknowledges that the emergence of social media over the last two decades has brought significant benefits into society. However, it is the increased risk of mental health problems among others that children today can be exposed to that inspires our work to building their mental immunity for children through education before they experience going online. This is therefore an important concept to look at, evaluate and analyse.

Social media

Literature review

Social media symbolizes a fundamental attribute of people’s lifestyles. Primarily, social media is described as any digital tool or application that lets users interact socially and can be differentiated from traditional media such as television by the logic that users can consume and create content as one function (Kietzmann et al., 2011). Under this broad description, social media includes social media network platforms, such as Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook, TikTok, Twitter, among many others.

Social media

It was about two decades ago when the world was experiencing the boom of the television technology when I was around 3 years old and the world had not yet realised that we were at the beginning of a digital revolution. Suddenly, all the world's information was in our hands; this enabled humans to benefit by the establishment of a global connection that has never experienced before. Things shortly began to change when topics about ‘the dark side of technology’ were being discussed globally, reflecting that something might have gone wrong where the story of information and connection gave way to another account of addiction and distraction (Townsend, 2017). We can admit that social media has created both significant new challenges and exciting opportunities for growth. Nevertheless, the main concern that has attracted much debate is on the effects of social media and mental health, especially in teenagers (Nesi, 2020). Research is starting to examine how specific social media experiences might influence youth mental health; for instance, Keyes et al (2019) have looked at the increasing rates of depression among adolescents in association with social media. This debate is becoming more significant because the views of participants in this technological era are becoming more apparent, especially with the current and potential effects of social media on society's wellbeing. Is there a link between social media and mental wellbeing, or are they mutually exclusive elements to each other?

Jean Twenge also sought to identify the connection between screen time, social media, and youths' wellbeing in 2017. The researcher pointed out various correlations between the increased usage of social media usage and the declining mental health among the youth. In her explanation, Jean pointed out that teenage depression was either directly or indirectly affected by the technology environment (Twenge, 2018). Some scholars however continue to argue that different social media are fundamentally developed to be manipulative. For instance, Sean Parker argues that. "It is precisely the type of products a hacker like myself would come up with because we are exploiting the vulnerability in human psychology, "Sean parker (2017, the Guardian, 9). The Venn diagram below is a visual representation that hints to what needs to be understood independently (A+B) to identify what research tells us about the common gap on social media and wellbeing (C).

Whatsapp Social media

Hedonic psychology is a clinical perspective focusing on the spectrum of experiences; eudemonic psychology, on the other hand, focuses on dimensions of individual conceptions of well-being. Hedonic psychologists define mental wellbeing based on the impacts social media has on mental health. In contrast, eudemonic psychologists define social media based on how people lives are affected while using online systems to find fulfilment (Best, Manktelow, and Taylor, 2014). They identify both beneficial effects and harmful effects that social media has on mental health. A mix of these effects affects adolescent mental health (Best, Manktelow, and Taylor, 2014).

Since new media is becoming a daily affair, internet addiction seems to be a potential problem among adolescents. From various adverse reports on consequences, it appears that internet addiction has detrimental results among young people that necessitates professional intervention. In addition, many studies have associated the prolonged use of social networking sites; for example Facebook; with the symptoms of depression, especially in children and adolescents (Pantic, 2014). Various habits, whether chemical or behavioural, share certain features such as salience, compulsive use (loss of control), mood modification, the mitigation of distress, tolerance, and withdrawal, among others. This is where the relationship between social media and the mental health of teenagers intersect (Taylor, 2014). Even a dosage of its use leads to addiction behaviours, which changes their habits and can impact their mental wellbeing.


According to Young & De Abreu (2011), internet addiction is a behavioural addiction in a person that makes them dependent on the usage of the Internet or other online facilities as a maladaptive approach to coping with mental problems such as stress or depression. Internet addiction is also referred to as internet addiction disorder (Hur, 2006).

It is crucial to discuss the conceptual design features incorporated into a social media user interface, which appears to be addictive (Andreassen, Billieux, 2016). For instance, my Space is a social media platform that allows the user to share personal information, which seems quite democratic. Facebook, on the other hand, introduced the like and share button that offered the developers a vast amount of information on how they could generate newsfeed using an algorithm for users to stay online (Chin, 2015). Similarly, Instagram also has the like button, which enthuses people to continue browsing the content being shared online. Looking at all these features, there is no shortage of dopamine triggers supported by the design of these social media applications. The dopamine effect- most of these activities harness the human’s dopamine system. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that centers all human habits. The question of whether humans can be addicted the same way they can be addicted to substances, including alcohol or drugs is controversial. However, there is no denying that dopamine is involved in all afore-mentioned instances (Liu & Luo, 2015). Every time one checks their social media feeds and finds something exciting; the brain releases dopamine that informs the brain that it is worth doing it again. And when one adds

notifications and alerts, it won't take long before the brain begins to release dopamine in anticipation of checking our phones. Internet addiction is becoming widely recognized and acknowledged as a mental health problem, especially in countries with a large number of affected people such as South Korea, which has declared internet addiction a national health problem (Choi et al., 2015). In Ireland, internet addiction is a growing concern. At least three subtypes of internet addiction have been itemized; they include video game addiction, cybersex, and online gambling addiction. Additionally, addiction to mobile devices such as smartphones and also social media platforms such as Twitter and Instagram are becoming a rich area for investigation because of the existing overlaps between each of these subtypes. For instance, online gambling includes online games that could contain pornography, which is addictive. Although it may be hard to diagnose internet addiction, experts in the field of behavioural addiction have supported the developing area with knowledge of symptoms of internet addiction. For instance, a study conducted in Isfahan University in Iran by Yen et al., (2007) notes the following four symptoms that could be linked to an internet addiction disorder. Excessive usage of the Internet- even though ascertaining that excessive usage of the Internet is a primary symptom, there is no definition of how much in computer time counts is regarded as extreme. However, computer usage guidelines suggest no more than two hours of screen time in a day; nevertheless, this becomes unrealistic for people who use computers for work or study. Despite this gap, this guideline applies to non-essential users (Brown, 1999). Withdrawal- even though this symptom was initially understood to be a basis of physical independence, especially in substance use such as alcohol or drugs, withdrawal symptoms are being recognized among behavioral addictions such as internet addiction. Some of the withdrawal symptoms include anger, stress, and tension, among others. Additionally, symptoms such as boredom, moodiness, or unhappiness could be observed when an individual can't go on the computer to access the Internet (Yen et al., 2007). Tolerance is another added characteristic of substance use addiction, which can also be applied to internet addiction. Tolerance can be understood as, from the user's perspective, wanting more and more computer-related stimulation, which takes various forms. For instance, an individual might wish to spend more time on the computer, which gradually takes over everything they do. Negative Repercussions- Excessive computer usage can be addictive, which can develop into financial depletion, especially for individuals addicted to online gambling, cybersex, or online shopping.

Furthermore, internet addicts might be exhausted from staying up late on the computer or becoming sleep deprived. Internet addiction often leads to social crisis, lack of self-assurance, a desire to adapt, boredom, and the accessibility of fascinating and amusing entertainment. Moreover, problematic internet usage is linked with a high likelihood of committing suicide, aggressive and developmental disorders among teenagers (Gansner et al. 2019), and also increased anxiety levels and depression (Rosen et al. 2014). Additionally, excessive use of screen time is connected to sadness and suicidal ideation among teenagers; all these could be itemized as Internet addiction disorders (Rosen et al. 2014). The increase in the use of the internet can be associated with the continuous development of the telecommunication sector. The telecommunication industry is transforming towards a more service-inclined economy with the presence of several competitors providing more reliable services at a relatively lower price. Besides, with the current innovations in the sector, leading services are refining their network efficiencies to match with customer’s preferences. To ascertain the prospective competitors and enhance their market position, most prominent service providers are pushing towards competitor mapping. This approach provides a holistic perception of the competitive landscape and how the competitors are positioning their offerings. Furthermore, the approach helps the leading service providers profile their potential competitors, their value propositions, and forecast their market share. The telecommunications in Ireland, the UK, and the US operate in a regulated competitive marketplace that offers customers with a wide portfolio of digital services. Services being offered in this sector include the Internet, TV, fixed telephone lines, and Radio. In Ireland, internet users in 2011 were 3.6 million, fixed telephone lines in use were 1.17 million (Statista, 2019). In the UK, 35 million people had mainline telephone lines, 82 million mobile phone subscriptions in 2011, 663 radio broadcast stations, and about 90% of households had an internet connection. This explains the increase of internet use among teenagers. Internet addiction disorder (IAD) and teenagers The conception of IAD first came into usage in 1995 by Goldberg. Since then, it has turned out to be a phenomenon (Wallace, 2014). This phenomenon has since been termed various names, such as online addiction and cyber disorder. Teenage life is the period between puberty and adulthood (usually a period between 11 and 18 years). During this period, experiences influence an individual's development and determine their

erceptions and behavior in later stages of life (Jiang, 2014). The primary function in teenage hood is finding own identity and perception of life, without inner conflict, and the need to always operate within acceptable moral standards, abide by parental authority or meet peer expectations. Since teenagers are often in conflict with authority and cultural values of society, specific developmental impacts can prompt a series of defense mechanisms. At this stage, individuals have an increased risk of emotional crises often tied by mood changes and periods of anxiety and depressive behavior which teenagers tend to fight through various actions such as withdrawal, avoiding any general social construct, aggressive behaviors, and addictive behaviors (Baker & Algorta, 2016). Teenagers have a high prevalence of several addictive enticements that internet usage presents, especially during the period of adjustment. According to Jonson-Reid et al., (2001), teens are more exposed to internet usage disorder and develop more severe complications than other age groups (Jonson-Reid, Williams & Webster, 2001). Teenagers also have a high prevalence of exposure to risky behaviour. They could engage in addictive doings to cope with anxiety and frustrations or even the desire of unrealistic positivity with regards to the feeling of imperviousness and the need to attain their goals as part of transitioning into adult age. Most of them eventually become addicted to the internet (Wallace, 2014). They are attracted primarily to new technological models of communication that provide interaction with others and, at the same time, provide obscurity, a sense of belonging to a community, and an inkling of social acceptability. A text by Paul et al. (2012) investigated the legal aspects of negative online behavior such as cyberbullying and the participants' opinions using a qualitative inquiry technique in British secondary-level schools. The awareness and knowledge regarding the legal aspects of such negative behaviors were examined, and consideration was given to opinions produced by teenagers on rights, school sanctions, and protective responsibilities.

Given that negative online behaviour can occur within any demographic, and the use of the Internet is on the rise, the youth present a sample that attracts attention. Unrestrained access to information on the Internet could be a source of delight and creator of new interests; however, it could also be a source of novel and unknown dangers (Park et al., 2013). A study by Rieger et al. (2016) points out various advantages of internet usage among students, including full access to education, knowledge, and webinars. However, regular internet visits, including online chat platforms, gaming sites, and other similar platforms, could lead to addiction and negatively impact a student's health and learning standards. In this regard, teenagers can forsake typical pursuits and swap them with internet usage. This behavior can consequently lead to a number of negative effects.

According to David et al. (2018), teenagers need enough time to resolve identity crises, assert their perceptions, and create social links and professional ambitions. A recent study by Rieger et al., (2016) that replicates Oath et al.'s study in 2008 on low self-esteem among teenagers reveals that teenagers showed varying levels of internet addiction, psychological distress, and mental grief with regards to sex, age, among other demographic characteristics. Some researchers point out that extreme internet usage leads to social isolation; on the other hand, other authors highlight the physical elements of internet addiction. The psychological signs and symptoms suggestive of internet addiction are also accentuated (Griffiths et al., 2010). Various researchers affirm that regular usage of the Internet affects physiology and socialization; therefore, researching internet addiction examines how these changes impact individuals and society. While many researchers do not agree that there is no such behaviour as internet addiction (Roman, 2009), others believe that the term 'addiction' is inappropriate to describe the disorderly practices linked with excessive internet usage. The behaviour is characterized by more addictive behaviours, including replacing physical interactions with social media connections; besides, people could spend more of their time online as compared with the time they could use offline. Therefore, taking into account any common personality attributes, Internet addiction can still be useful as a predictor variable for substance use experiences.

Behaviours that could lead to negative impacts of online use among teenagers

Various studies have identified several behaviors that teenagers engage in that could lead to internet usage's adverse impact. For instance, Giumetti et al. (2012) recognize cyber incivility as the leading cause affecting social interactions in real life. Social incivility involves expressing hateful online behaviour. Roman (2009) also identifies that posting cruel and humiliating posts online spread digital nastiness into everyday conversations. When posts that violate social norms are posted online, immediate feedback from other influential people creates a dangerous petri-dish for a massive cultural change among young people. Studies show that young people who view aggressive content in adults model and expand that conduct (Roman, 2009; Rosen et al., 2014). For instance, the famous 'Bobo Doll Experiment' done by

Stanford University psychologist Albert Bandura found that kids who saw adults kick a doll out of frustration, not only hit the toy as well but attacked it with weaponry (Regehr & Ringrose, 2018). Other internet users can also engage in triggering actions (causing a particular activity or situation to happen) that could turn negative and become an internet-communication disorder. According to Park et al. (2013), most students who had social media accounts for at least once have exhibited disinhibited behaviors; these kind of behaviors manifest disregard of social conventions, poor risk assessment and impulsivity. According to Chen (2017), the disinhibited practice involves actions that seem insensitive, rude, or even offensive; these actions occur among people who don't follow social rules regarding what they say or do, and this behavior could affect other people's mood or psychological state online. The online disinhibition effect defines the loosening of social restrictions and limitations usually common during face-to-face conversations; these loosened social interactions cause negative feelings and also could affect the psychological state of individuals. A study by Weinstein & Lejoyeux (2010) also finds competition as a bad online practice that hurts internet usage. According to the author, the competition involves the activity or condition of striving to benefit or win something by trouncing or establishing superiority over others. This, in most occasions, encourage individuals to participate more and more so that they can win, or be better. Competition erodes self-esteem through unfavorable social comparison. Earlier researches have accentuated the negative effects of bad online practices such as cyberbullying. Furthermore, research on reporting cyberbullying incidents indicates that most individuals who are bullied tend to stay silent, eventually getting depressed (Yen et al., 2007). When gender is measured in negative online behavior, empirical studies show that males and females demonstrate varied patterns of such behavior (Boulton & Underwood, 1992). For instance, females have been found to prefer electronic devices, including chat rooms or emails to engage in negative online behaviors that harm others (Thorp, 2004). The spiral of silence theory is one of the most profound theoretical frameworks that discuss opinion formation and consensus building in modern society (Noelle-Neumann, 1974). This conceptual model explains why people chose to adopt various approaches while interacting with others. In addition, it explains why some people tend to remain silent when they are being bullied. The theory points out that bullying victims tend to isolate themselves further since they have nowhere to bolt. This situation puts bullied individuals in psychological deterioration.

Social media

Some researchers believe that the spiral of silence effect does not exist or is very weak in an online communication setting. For instance, Chaffee & Metzger (2001) argue that the spiral of silence theory could have little or no power in the modern media setting. Additionally, Schulz & Roessler, (2012) support that as persons can choose the information they obtain online, they believe they are encircled by like-minded persons online as compared to in real-world setting. In this regard, the projection impact lessens the fear of isolation, and persons will be inclined to express their opinions online, mitigating the spiral of silence on the Internet. Cyberbullying is one leading form of online harassment that leads to depression and other related symptoms. A report done by the Cyberbullying Research Centre in 2016 found that 34% of teenagers aged 13 to 17 years have at some point in their lives experienced cyberbullying. Most recent studies on cyberbullying indicate prevalence rates of 10 to 40 percent (O'Brennan et al., 2009; Kowalski et al., 2014). For all internet users, the experience of cyberbullying has been linked with weighty negative results, including anxiety, depression, and other psychological deterioration symptoms (Choi et al., 2015). Earlier studies found different linkages and outcomes correlated with certain forms of harmful practices in online platforms, among them cyberbullying (O'Brennan et al., 2009). Physical and psychological health-related and academic-linked effects have been identified as significant connections to both conventional and modern forms of online abuse (Kowalski et al., 2014).


Various strategies are employed by teenagers to promote positive mental health practices, for instance, they create online identities, interact with others and also build social networks these networks offer them valuable support especially those teens experiencing exclusion or have disabilities or chronic illnesses (Flora, 2013). Additionally, teenagers also use the Internet for entertainment or self-expression. Through these platforms, teenagers are exposed to current events allowing them to interact across geographic barriers and also educate themselves regarding several subjects such as healthy behaviors. Social media platforms that are humorous or distracting offer a meaningful connection to peers and their networks to help teenagers avoid depression (Flora, 2013). However, some of these strategies are not working, including posting too much content on social media. Valenzuela et al., (2009), accentuates that because of the teenager’s impulsive natures, they are at risk of sharing intimate photos or highly personal stories which could lead to cyberbullying or blackmailing. Teenagers often post content without considering such consequences or privacy concerns. Another aspect that is not working is that teens do not set reasonable limits for internet use, which interferes with their real life activities or educational responsibilities. In support, a previous study investigating the impact of social media use among undergraduate students show that the longer they use Facebook, Instagram or any other related platform, the stronger they felt that others were happier than they were (Park et al., 2013).

Addressing the habits that lead to internet addiction disorder behavior

There is little evidence of ways that could be done to make social media a safe place for internet users today. However, most studies acknowledge that internet usage has a lot more benefits and should not be entirely restricted by authorities. A study conducted by Tess (2013) found that social media increased friendships such that young people felt less lonely and isolated, which is a good force for several growing communities. However, as teenagers who are prone to vulnerability of IAD, there is a need to give hope to teenagers to assist them in surpassing their disarray by changing social media into a safe space. This action could envisage an online community wherein positivity is upheld through the encouragement of user-friendly posts (Vanderhoven et al., 2014).

Various studies identify increasing information literacy on internet usage as one of the most useful tools in addressing negative internet usage habits and instill mental health practices among teenagers. For instance, Leung & Lee (2012) advises that the increase in the speed of access to information could reduce the time of internet usage and also virtual space. In this regard, the author accentuates that investigating and ascertaining the information needs as well as appropriate use of information spawned by mass media implements specifies the information literacy among individuals. Bonetti et al., (2014) also argue that based on the fact that information literacy is an array of abilities to improve the ability to recognize the information needs and the ability to use the information resources effectively could be considered as a personal empowerment attribute in meaningful use of information resources.

Given that there are many technological advances today, it is essential to give light to this kind of concern because the pros of social media usage may also be its cons (Hur, 2006). The Internet has substantial capability to influence people's thinking, so if the internet usage stops, there would definitely be a significant number of people who are likely to suffer from mental health illnesses (Hokby et al, 2016). Concerns like these are incredibly convenient and relevant and should be given attention because any action is likely to have a substantial impact on individuals' lives. According to Wilard (2007), the transformation of the Internet to a safer place can only be done by the young people themselves. In this regard, the author advises that they critically assess who they follow, what content they share, and whom they share to; for instance, the rise of social media influencers has significantly increased social media marketing activities (Wilard, 2007). In this regard, teenagers should consider whether the influencer is a person to be admired – whether they adhere to the tenets of e-values, both offline and online. Madden et al. (2013) also note that institutions such as colleges and employers, among other entities, have been known for background checks for social media accounts or prospective candidates. This action seeks to compel teenagers to act responsibly while on the Internet.

Importance of healthy mental health practice habits in online platforms

According to Viswanath (2008), social networks enable individuals to develop and maintain social capital, allowing them to draw on resources, including information and social support from other network members. In other words, teenagers who engage in positive social network practices, as opposed to those who are not accessing information on social support, are able to acquire skills that assist them in developing and maintaining sound mental health. A study by Kim et al. (2017) indicates that social media use is positively linked with an increase in teenager's communication network diversity, which in turn positively influences social capital and subjective wellbeing. Likewise, Valenzuela et al. (2009) found that Facebook use is positively linked to an individual’s life satisfaction, social trust, civic involvement, and participation. Therefore from these studies, it is safe to argue that online network tools may help teenagers recover or live well by developing their social network when they engage in positive interactions; the use of the internet requires a healthy balance. For instance, during this period of COVID-19, where countries have come up with measures that restrict movement, most teenagers could be at home not having many face-to-face interactions as they used to before the current pandemic. This positive spirit that exists between people enables the development of a niche which connects people, instead of dividing them (Clark, 2018).

Factors associated with Internet Use

Mobile devices, data, and the Internet prove to be the largest players in telecommunication. There are various organisations and parties in the technological industry. There are various factors surrounding all these players.

Political factors- Regulation matters arise regularly; the government creates an idea of how most organizations operate while people may have opposing views; this also relates to how internet should be used. For instance, customers believe that the Internet should be a basic human right because it is part of their life, the government believe that there should be full regulation to prevent crime while service providers throttle Internet and data speeds controlling process. In this regard, there is a substantial political fight between the three players. Economic factors- Interest rates, inflation, and government taxes affect both the users and the organizations involved in internet service. All these attributes affect different areas of service provision. As a result, this may favor the control of IAD by reducing the rates of connection in different areas. Social factors- Trends and lifestyles are continually changing, and people are shifting towards technology for communication. Technology, therefore, forming an integral part of the modern society makes it difficult for different organizations and service providers to control the growing problem of IAD. Technological factors- Needs and requirements for the telecommunication sector are advancing. For instance, today, telephone companies are installing fiber cables over copper; phones are becoming more compact. In this regard, the industry is moving into a primarily wireless business. Environmental factors- In mitigating IAD, various considerations on technological advancement and its impact on climate change and global warming have to be made. The sustainability of internet service provision makes it easier for employees and users to adopt, therefore making it even harder to control IAD. Legal factors- Both local and international law affects the advancement of technology and internet use. For instance, the Criminal Justice (Theft and Fraud Offences) Act 2001 of Ireland provides for the unlawful use of computers and other unauthorized crimes. Furthermore, the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) is obligated under Irish law to instill measures and provide guidelines on how Irish

citizens may be protected under cyber security. The law, therefore, makes it easier for people to control their own internet use, especially in instances where clear provisions may be cited.


This evaluation so has shown that several studies have found a correlation between internet usage and adverse mental health effects among teenagers. Besides, the studies ascertain that there has not been enough research because this is a modern area. Therefore, considering this gap, the negative mental health effects and strategies to improve safe online practices among teenagers must be examined as valuable variables. Moreover, according to the previous researches, there is an indication of the upsurge in internet addiction leading to a reduction in public health (Karami et al., 2013; Park et al., 2017). The extreme usage of social media among teenagers should be considered risky since it leads to internet addiction (Karami et al., 2013). The link between mental wellbeing and social media usage has been established by various studies in this literature review. Additionally, this review has looked at IAD and its association with teenagers. In this regard, factors surrounding IAD and internet usage have to be analysed, effects of the disorder evaluated, and the best possible practices that establish better mental health lives recommended.

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