This is a guest post by Anna DiNoto, an intern at reSTART, a company which provides special workshops to help people break their internet addictions.
When an individual or someone you know is addicted to the Internet, what are some things you can do? First, it is important to note that everyone will require a different regimen to tackle his or her problem. Addiction is a disease that can be hard to understand and change. Those who need or want to change will have to be patient and persistent (not qualities that are reinforced on the web).
Tackling any addiction is difficult; trying to overcome internet addiction can be doubly hard since internet use has become an integral part of functioning in our society (e.g., work requires it, school requires it, families may demand it). With this being said, there are two basic ways to face an internet addiction.
The first is moderation management. This means that the individual has to alter their environment to allow him or her to monitor and subsequently manage their Internet use. Fundamentally, moderation management requnires the individual 1) to be consciously aware of his or her problem, 2) figure out what may be at its root, 3) figure out what may trigger the problem so as to avoid those stimuli (e.g., not having an account on social networks such as Facebook, so the individual does not spend countless hours of his or her time on here) and 4) create a plan to change their behavior. Below is an outline of some ways an individual could potentially tackle his or her addiction:
1. The individual will want to document the following: how much and how often they typically use the Internet, how it can and has adversely affected their life, what his or her goals are in tackling their addiction, and how he or she plans to execute these goals. Doing this will help the individual gain a better understanding of the nature of his or her addiction and of how to avoid triggers that stimulate the addiction.
2. Create a behavior change plan. This will be the end result of all the data they collected from the above mentioned tip. A behavior change plan will want to, but is not limited to, include the following: the overall goal (e.g., “I will only use the Internet 3 times a week, for 2 hours at a time), how the behavior will be managed (e.g., ” I will have my friend check up on me every day to see how my progress is” or “I will keep a post-it note up on my computer that reminds me to only use the Internet for 2 hours a day”), tactics to help change thoughts and/or behaviors (e.g., “Every time I want to use the Internet, I will call up my support buddy to talk about how I am feeling so that I don’t relapse”), and replacement behaviors (e.g., “Instead of checking my Facebook twenty times in a day, I will call up a friend and make plans to meet up in person”).The key here is to be as thorough and in depth as possible. Explain everything in fine detail so when referring back to the plan, it can be easily understood (e.g., do not simply say, “decrease Internet use every day.”, be more specific and say, “I will use the Internet for two hours a day, only five times a week.”).
3. Allow cheating. No kidding! When the individual is constructing his or her behavior change plan, they take note of when he or she will be most stressed and prone to relapse. If the individual knows that during finals or during midterms, or even during the holidays when he or she is around friends or family, that they are most at risk to fall off the wagon, this is when they should allow themselves more time. This may sound odd, but it has actually been shown to help individuals who are trying to change their behaviors and have a plan to do so. For example, if he or she has set up their behavior change plan to limit their Internet use to 2 hours a day 5 times a week, then during the holidays, perhaps when he or she is most at risk to relapse, he or she can allow themselves 4 hours a day 6 times a week. This way, the individual knows that they are allowed to “cheat” for a little bit and not feel bad about it. Then, after the holidays or those predetermined “cheat days” have passed, the individual simply returns to their original behavior plan goals. The individual should tackle their addiction at a pace that is most comfortable to them. It is important to deal with an addiction in a way that suits each individual. Each person will need to put much thought and effort into writing up a behavior plan that will outline the pace the pace of change, as well as the goals.
4. Have the individual replace the time spent on the Internet with more adaptive skills and hobbies. This may include reading books again (not on the Internet), socializing with people in the real world, playing with their pets (if they have them), starting up their old hobbies again, taking a walk or even picking up a new hobby.
5. Become pro-active in managing their Internet use. An individual may do this by using or installing a computer program that is set on a predetermined interval (i.e., 30 minutes) that will automatically send the individual messages that say phrases along the lines of, “You have been on the computer for X amount of minutes/hours, what else could you be doing with your time?”. The individual may insert a message that could remind them to feed their pets, water the plants, mow the lawn or even eat a meal.
6. An individual could employ a program that automatically locks the individual out of using his or her computer. This way, the individual would no longer be able to access their Internet connection.
7. The individual provide themselves with rewards! This may mean that they set up their behavior change plan in such a way that if they do abide by it for say, one month, then at the end of the month, they allow themselves a reward (e.g. getting a manicure, going out to the movies, going bowling, taking a hiking trip, purchasing that brand new product the individual may have wanted for a few months). The possibilities are endless. If income is a factor, get creative and think outside the box for this one!!!
8. The individual should be cognizant of the fact that he or she is at a high risk to relapse. If the individual does relapse, they should not be too hard on themselves. It is actually a normal aspect of behavior changes. Instead of feeling upset at themselves, the individual should see this as a learning opportunity and learn from his or her mistakes. For example, if they relapsed because they placed themselves in a situation that prompted the return of their addiction, then they should look back on the situation. He or she should reflect on what happened, how they felt and how in the future, they will try to avoid that situation so it not repeated.
The second way to deal with an internet addiction is to be abstinent. This abstinence could be only to particular applications (e.g. all social media or all video games), or to all things related to the internet. It could be for a fixed period of time, to be followed by moderated use, or it could be permanent. 100% abstinence from anything Internet-related, although possible, may be an extremely challenging goal to accomplish. It can be done, however. The individual will need to find activities to fill the void where their internet use used to be.
Whichever approach an internet addict chooses to free themselves from addiction, it is advisable that he or she seek the help of a trained professional. A person that is specifically trained in internet addiction will be able to guide the individual, providing them with psychotherapy, education, outside resources, and other help to execute his or her goals. In addition, the individual may want to either start a support group, or find a support group (OLGANON or ITAA), to help them accomplish their goals.