Internet Obsession

by Dr. Todd Love

Today’s Internet is both a blessing and a curse. It offers access to information as never before. But it offers the potential for endless distractions as never before too. People talk about “getting sucked down the rabbit hole”, when what we intend to be just a few minutes online easily turns into an hour, or more…sometimes much more.

When Is It Too Much?

Sometimes the problem is obvious, such as spending countless hour’s video gaming.  Another problem area more easily identified is internet pornography.  This article does not take a moral or judgmental stance on viewing adult content on the internet, however when porn viewing turns into a multi-hour bender, perhaps it is a problem.

Then there is the middle ground, Facebook, Twitter, social media, or smartphone addiction in general. That problem hides in a sneaky grey area. This is especially true when you believe it seems like healthy internet use, when you tell yourself, “I’m just getting online to check the news…read my email…get the updated sports stats…etc.”  Or, seemingly productive like, “I’m just jumping online to do some quick research on Wikipedia…” This one can be particularly insidious (sneaky) when going online to “learn something” results in the endless consumption of useless facts.  Information seeking can be a particularly dangerous combination with the ADHD desire for novelty.

The Scientific Facts

The internet delivers easy access to short term rewards, which, from the scientific perspective, feeds right into mechanisms that underpin this problem. People used to think there is a part of the brain sometimes called the “pleasure center”. Research has since evolved to understand this to the “reward center”. Although to be really specific, it’s the ANTICIPATION of reward that brings about the biggest release. Knowing this, it starts making sense how every new page hooks us as we begin a process of endlessly surfing for something new.

Furthermore, this area overlaps with addiction pathways, and that’s how some people can literally get high seeking, hunting even, something new for hours to satisfy their needs.

Enter ADHD

Everybody’s brain has a mesolimbic pathway (fancy term for the above- mentioned brain area), and even neuro-typical brains get sucked down the rabbit hole.  So what chance does that leave us ADHDers who can be time-blind to begin with? We all know ADHDers in particular love novelty seeking. Have you ever stumbled away from an extended Internet session asking yourself “What just happened?”

The brain activates its reward center as a means to escape stress and anxiety. Indeed, this is a core of the problem of addiction.  On top of the regular stress and anxiety of modern life, people with ADHD can easily become overwhelmed, leading to more stress and anxiety. On the opposite end of the spectrum, ADHDers have an innate aversion to boredom, which can also register as stress and anxiety in the brain. In both cases, going to the internet offers what is intended to be a brief escape.

What Is The Harm?

All this can come at the expense of our personal productivity, perhaps even leading to job loss or major academic decline. Problematic Internet Use (PIU) can sometimes greatly have a negative impact on our personal relationships. Friends, partners, even kids may be neglected (to put it lightly in some cases). Our personal health may suffer as important self-care activities such as exercise or adequate sleep are often forfeited when internet use time gets out of control. Of course, let us not forget the power of shame.  ADHDers can be laden with it, and the consequences of PIU can be unfortunate powerful agitators of the shame core.

What Can We Do About This Problem?

There are many different solutions. The ADDA Virtual Support Group for PIU meets every other Wednesday and is a safe place where we discuss and explore those solutions. (feel free to enjoy the irony that it is an online group discussing online issues!)

Our group offers ADDA members the opportunity to connect with others who have similar struggles, discover mutual solutions on how to pull out of the loop and stay out of the rabbit hole. The group addresses questions like, “What does tech balance look like for me?” and “How do I use the internet productively without getting swallowed by it. Together we are learning better ways to use the internet as a tool, and set appropriate boundaries so we can regain and maintain control over our use.

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