What do we mean by cyberaddiction?
Everyone has heard the word cyberaddiction at some point. Some even view it as a major modern-day concern. But what are the actual criteria for someone to be considered cyberaddicted?
It is not uncommon to see someone so engrossed by their cell phone that they ignore everyone around them or stumble in the street. And many young people play video games for several hours straight, until they lose track of time. Some even become less involved in other areas of their lives, such as school, physical activity, and interpersonal relationships.
But before labeling someone, whether in relation to a specific device (tablet, cell phone, computer, etc.) or a specific use (social media, video games, etc.), it is important to first have a solid understanding of what addiction is and, as a result, of cyberaddiction (which is also called problematic Internet use or PIU).
When we talk about addiction, the first thing that usually comes to mind is drugs and alcohol. But there are also what are called behavioural addictions. These involve an activity or object that is available to everyone, but to which some people become addicted (mainly psychologically) because of the pleasurable effects it provides or the functions it performs. Examples of behavioural addictions include gambling, eating disorders, and emotional dependency. Gaming disorder has also been recognized as an official diagnosis since 2018.
To date, there is no scientific consensus on what is commonly referred to as cyberaddiction. Various studies have attempted to analyze this problem, but they do not all use the same methodologies and do not necessarily examine the same uses. Some focus on video games, for example, whereas others evaluate all uses of the Internet. Different terms are used in the field to describe this problem, such as problematic Internet use, pathological Internet use, compulsive Internet use, excessive Internet use, Internet addiction, and problematic use of screens often related to the Internet.
However, what seems to be the growing consensus among researchers are the potential harmful effects of overuse of technology on physical health, mental health, and social relationships.
The 4 characteristics of addiction
When talking about addiction, there are four main characteristics to consider:
- Extreme preoccupation with the behaviour. The person becomes obsessive about the Internet and screens and thinks only of returning to their behaviour. They may neglect other interests, sometimes even their friendships and family, homework, or work.
- Excessive use that can lead to a loss of control. The person tries to control their use of the technology, promising themselves to change the behaviour that they know is harmful, but fails to do so.
- Problems in one or more areas of life. The person may experience functional consequences such as neglecting sleep, diet or hygiene.
- Clinically significant suffering. The person is not only experiencing discomfort related to their Internet and screen use, but also feels overwhelmed by their behaviour, which causes suffering.
In short, the person can fall into a vicious cycle that is difficult to break. This is called the cycle of addiction.
Putting screen use into perspective
Young people can use screens often without necessarily it being problematic. Let’s not forget, different generation, different ways of communicating or entertaining themselves. That being said, it is perfectly legitimate for parents to question the role of screens in their child’s life and to worry about the negative consequences that they may have, especially since the risk of a young person experiencing harmful effects is possible even if the use is not necessarily problematic for them.
As a professional, your role is to understand problematic Internet use in order to answer any questions young people and their parents may have. To do so, you can use the DÉBA-Internet questionnaire. Training to use this assessment tool is required. To receive this training, contact the regional addiction respondent at your CISSS or CIUSSS. You can also consult the appropriate resources if needed.