“Why do you need food if you cannot take a picture of it for Instagram?” How can you understand that you have Internet addiction?

Is it normal to play at night and get involved in disputes on social networks?
Marina Lanskaya | 16 January 2021
“Why do you need food if you cannot take a picture of it for Instagram?” How can you understand that you have Internet addiction?
Photo: Freepik

I spend all day on Instagram and do not serve food until I take a picture of it”. “I get involved in disputes on social networks and write comments for hours”. “I am afraid for my teenage son: he does not sleep at night but plays computer games”. Is it an Internet addiction or not? Pravmir.ru talked about this with Rimma Teperik, a specialist in addiction psychology and psychotherapy, Candidate of Psychological Sciences, Associate Professor of the Department of Neuro- and Pathopsychology at the Moscow State University named after Lomonosov.

Story one. “I feed my cupcakes to the Internet, and not to my husband”

Valentina: 

I have never said it out loud before or fully admitted it to myself: yes, I have a computer addiction. To be more precise, I am addicted to Instagram.

What do psychologists usually say? If the Internet is your working tool and it brings positive results, if your loved ones do not complain about you spending hours on the Internet, if you have a hobby in real life, then relax, you do not have an addiction. I have something to say to this: do not relax. My example proves exactly the opposite.

I started making soap and homemade cosmetics a long time ago, before it became popular: my chemical education and my own tendency to allergies came in handy. First, I gave soap to friends and acquaintances. Then I started selling it to friends of friends and acquaintances of acquaintances. Over time, I made my own website, spent a lot of effort and money on it, but that did not increase sales.

But then Instagram came into my life and everything finally started to get better. My products began to sell well, I made many useful contacts in the professional community of soap makers around the world. I was able to leave my job and earn money exclusively by doing what I love.

I even met my husband on Instagram when he ordered gift sets for women from his department at work for the International Women’s Day. Even my parents consider my Instagram account exemplary and my life in it a great way to exist in the modern world. I am 32, but I value their opinion.

I can safely say that I found myself, my husband, colleagues, friends, and my life calling on the Internet, and no one will doubt it. It is easier for me to think that way, but I do not want to turn a blind eye to the truth. And it is as follows.

I work two days a week and I spend an average of eight hours a week on business correspondence, sending parcels, and so on. So, it is three working days in total. And I spend about 10 hours a day on the Internet. Do I look for new ideas? I already have so many of them that one lifetime would not be enough to fulfill them!

No, do not think that I do not have a life besides the one on the computer. I bake pumpkin muffins and go for a weekend walk to the Gulf of Finland with my husband. Yet, no one knows that I can cancel the planned trip in the morning because I woke up with sleep creases on my face.

How will bags under the eyes interfere with a walk? They will not, but there will not be good photos, which means I should not go.

Or here is a cupcake: if it came out lopsided, even its amazing taste will not save me from despondency. Why do I need it when I cannot take a photo of it for Instagram?! Here is another story about a cupcake that came out just right: I made it in the morning and did not give it to my husband for breakfast, he was in a rush for work, and I did not have enough time to take a photo of it.

In general, I first feed the cupcake not to my husband, but to the Internet. When I get angry at myself for this and revolt, I think that I will not take my phone with me when I go out of town, eat the cupcake and not take pictures of it, and save family joys only for the family.

At the same time, the “seller” of either soap or soul wakes up in me and smoothly convinces me that a buyer from Instagram loves those, whose lives are out in the open. I cannot do without networking.

So, I do not change anything. But I have long doubted that I found more on the Internet than I lost.

Comment from Rimma Teperik, psychologist:

Rimma Teperik

This story raises the issue that perhaps concerns all of us. All those who actively use social networks without fully realizing why they do it and what meaning it has for their life.

An obvious substitution happened in this case. The social network was originally used for professional promotion. And that is fine. There is a concept of a professional social network when people use it to fulfill themselves, to expand the circle of their contacts, to form their support group etc.

But it happens that the semantic scope shifts. Psychology calls this phenomenon the shift of motive to a goal. That is, a person does it to expand the customer base at first and continues to do it simply because they cannot do without it.

In this example, the substitution may be that not the content of life (cooking, family trips out of town), but social approval is the important thing: likes, views, comments. This is an infantile resolution of the competitive processes that are basically normal for a person.

In my opinion, it can be simply resolved. It is enough to ask yourself, “Why am I doing this?” If I got caught up in social dynamics, which, by the way, happens in real groups, not only virtual ones, then it may be a reason to stop and return to the conscious realization of the original goals. After all, in the long run, it is impossible to feel satisfied by endlessly feeding your vanity and forming an illusionary self-presentation. In this case, it is enough to realize it and correct the situation.

Story two. “My son is the one who has an addiction, but they are treating me instead”

Yekaterina: 

My son is 15 and he has a gaming addiction. No one but me sees the problem. My husband says, “Leave the child alone. He studies well, does not skip school, studies with tutors. Does he play games? Everyone does. When he falls in love, he will stop”.

You know, his arguments had a calming effect on me for a long time. Indeed, my son studies at a good gymnasium without Cs, getting ready for university that he chose himself; he has friends. Am I just being dramatic?

I thought so until I began noticing in the mornings that my son did not go to bed at night. Now he purposely dishevels the bed so that the lack of rumples does not catch my eye. He sleeps in snatches: 2-3 hours in the afternoon after school and a couple of hours in the evening. In total, he has no more than five, maximum six hours of sleep a day. He also eats once or twice a day, only in his room, before the computer, and the food often becomes cold. And all this happens because of the games that he spends all his free time playing!

He stops only for his studies. I think, this is rational, because he is a smart boy. He understands that if he drops out of school, we will take serious measures, but there seems to be no reason for this for now.

I decided to consult with a school psychologist a year ago. I outlined the problem. In response, I heard some general recommendations like “establish contact in the family”, “spend weekends together”, “ask him about what game he is playing”. And even an advice like this, “play together with him”. The apotheosis was the hint that I was a too anxious mother and the words, “You should try sedatives. Not your son. You”.

Honestly, I would be happy to be wrong, but my mother’s intuition tells me that I am right, the problem is already out of control and it will only get worse. But I am not going to see a psychologist anymore. Yet, I do not know what to do.

Comment from the psychologist: 

I believe that the school psychologist gave competent professional advice. Yes, it is worth asking what your child is playing and even playing together with him. Indeed, there is no reason to talk about an addiction so far. After all, the son continues to go to school and even studies well.

Another matter is that there is a clear problem of regulation. It is impossible to live under the regime, in which the teenager is living now with constant sleep deprivation, for a long time. In the end, the consequences will definitely come, and they will primarily affect his studies.

The mother really should calm down, but this does not mean that there are no problems. There may be. However, this is most likely not a problem of gaming addiction, but of the balance between the excessive fascination with games and other aspects of life.

What is the main activity of a teenager? It is the communication with peers and the opposite sex. If a teenager spends a lot of time at the computer, but this does not interfere with other things, if the balance is shifted in favor of the computer, but not completely destroyed, then this is normal.

There are a lot of such teenagers who do everything in time now. Especially among those who study exact sciences, they are often introverts and often become professionals in the field of computer games.

You should monitor the observance of this balance. If the shift happened and problems began in communication with peers and in school, you can still solve the problem at this stage simply by drawing the teenager’s attention to it. Here, conversations are quite appropriate if there is still trust in the family, of course.

After realizing the consequences of their addictive behavior, a teenager is likely to do something, to learn self-control. At this moment, the main thing is not to be their accuser, but their ally. This is the only way to help them.

Psychologists reasonably have questions, “Where were all these problems before the Internet? Were they not there at all?” Of course, not.

The fair of vanity that is now on Instagram used to occur in other arenas.

There have always been super essential fascinations: fishing, football games in the yard, or a constantly working TV.

Books were a fascination in my childhood, when we read at night with a flashlight under the blanket. This could well lead to problems in school and harmed our health. There have been and will be excessive fascinations: the Internet is not the only one, you should not demonize it.

We, teachers, now see another problem of generations Y and Z, who were born with the Internet: high school and university students cannot study on the Internet. There is no paradox here. They are used to using it for entertainment and learning online requires high level of self-organization. It is difficult for them to get up in the morning and start studying, they turn off their camera in Zoom, go to bed, and fall asleep.

This does not mean that distance learning is bad. It even has its advantages for many subjects. The low level of self-organization is the problem.

Story three. “Someone is wrong on the Internet again”

Andrey: 

I owe a lot to the Internet: I work from home and my work is related to the Internet. I learned a lot in photography communities, and photography is my way of expression. I met many interesting people at the dawn of the Internet.

But the trouble is that social networks consume my free and working time. They have replaced not only the morning paper, but I have also developed a habit of engaging in Internet disputes, although I understand that this is rather a pointless pastime.

At first, I had an illusion that I relax this way while serving some important cause of restoring historical justice: my disputes relate exclusively to history and sometimes politics. It even seemed to be an analog of public life.

Then came the realization that these disputes are not discussions of free thought, but the expression of my own already formed views. So, it is a waste of time. I am no longer sure that I am protecting the truth, but I continue to argue with no less enthusiasm. Day after day.

It would be good to leave it all, finish work quickly without distractions, take a walk with my wife, meet with my friends, and do photography. Instead, it is the monotony of Internet battles. It is a shame.

Comment from the psychologist: 

This story is also an example of the everyday life of many people, just like stories above. Why do they occur? I think it is because we still do not have a good enough grasp on the Internet space, what is appropriate and what is not there.

For example, what we see in this story would be quite appropriate in a friendly discussion in the kitchen, but when taken out to the Internet space, the same conversation loses its friendliness and, most often, becomes aggressive. However, this is also a question of specifics of the psychological content of the Internet communication: the phenomenon of “dialogue in the square”, when two people meet in a figurative square and scream, and we see and hear it all. This is a crazy situation, but not for the Internet since something like this happens there.

Here, as in the first story, we see a social contagion, when a person gets involved in an activity without realizing whether they need it, what the point of it is, whether they will achieve the goals that they may have originally had.

The question of appropriateness of public discussion is also acute among professionals. And I, as a practicing psychologist, will say that there is a rule in our community: many things should be discussed in private conversations without bringing it out to public eye, because the consequences can be disastrous.

But in some cases, a public discussion on the Internet can help expand people’s perceptions of something. The thing is that these are fine lines that we all do not always feel clearly enough. Therefore, any of us may find themselves in the shoes of the heroes of the above stories.

Specifically in this case, the remedy will be if a person asks themselves, when engaging in a discussion, “Why am I doing this?” There is not a definite answer: for entertainment, for recreation, for maintaining the human need for communication, for sharing one’s point of view. And if the goal is not lost in the process, then everything is fine.

If the goal is not clear to the person themselves, it is better to refrain. If the goal is to open the eyes of others because you are the one who knows the whole truth about the issue, you should refrain all the more. Such a goal can never be justified whether it is a discussion on the Internet or in the kitchen in the company of friends.

To return to the beginning, I want to say once again: the Internet, social networks, computer games are neutral as objects of addiction. But we can make them our own enemies.

There are many ways. Someone flaunts their personal life violating the boundaries of intimacy, and we can talk about psychiatry exhibitionism here. Yet, there is the reverse side: following somebody’s life in social networks, which is no less unhealthy psychiatry voyeurism.

However, the same social networks can become a place for creation, expansion of the circle of contacts, including the professional ones. A computer game can give you the opportunity to rest, shift your attention, it can help you develop quick reactions, the ability to work in a team.

Of course, computer games, like TV series, are built on the principle of engagement, when you want to know what happens next. Yet, it is still our choice whether to continue or to stop. Now we are all just learning to live in this Internet climate that is new for humanity and to develop healthy guidelines for ourselves.

Friend, enemy, master

At the moment, there is a tendency of understanding the addiction as a persistent withdrawal from reality, which can be achieved in various ways: either by taking in some substances (alcohol, drugs) or by fixing on some activity (gambling, Internet activity, eating behavior). Yet, the main thing is that all this is accompanied by the development of intense emotions. In this sense, addictions can be very different.

However, psychologist tend to outline the concept of an addictive personality: it is when a person is basically prone to addictions and can switch from one addiction to another. Some of these addictions can lead to serious dysfunctions, while others, on the contrary, border on the concept of normality.

The stories that we have reviewed today are socially acceptable and we cannot talk about addictive behavior here in a strict sense. On the other hand, we can consider them as situations of possible addiction formation. This means that they require serious attention.

An addictive agent, which can be gadgets, the Internet, games, and even alcohol, is neutral in itself. At first, it can be our friend, then our enemy, and finally our master.

If we return to tendencies, then we are also talking about the development of general criteria for an addiction disorder and definition of the boundaries of a norm and pathology.

5 main signs of Internet addiction

1. The dose factor. When a person spends too much time on their fascination. Most often, this means that all your free time is spent on playing games, social networks, and cyber roving. Although, I would suspect a tendency to development of addictive behavior if an adult spends more than an hour a day, speaking in modern terms, zoning out on the Internet, and more than two hours on playing a computer game. The criteria are different for teenagers, they can spend more time in social networks or playing a game. And this will not be a pathology.

2. Change in tolerance. When we need more and more. If the need increases over time, this is a reason to pause and think.

3. Loss of control. For example, we decide to play a computer game for two hours to relax, and we stop playing after two hours and forty minutes. This is normal. After all, we must take into account that there is a concept of a game plot in a computer game and it needs to be completed, which may require additional time. Loved ones usually do not understand this believing that you can quit the game at any time.

It is a completely different situation if instead of playing for two hours, we end up playing all day, and sometimes two days. This indicates that control is lost.

4. Withdrawal syndrome. Yes, many people have a habit of being online, but the line between a habit and addiction is easy to see when we do not have the opportunity to access the Internet.

Many people will sigh with relief in such a situation, for example, on vacation, and think, “Oh, well, thank God there is no Internet”. Does it sound familiar? Yet, there are those who will start having the withdrawal sickness. Such a person will not rest themselves and will spoil the vacation for others.

The withdrawal syndrome has many symptoms: sleep disorders, anxiety, irritability, and usually they only increase.

5. Consequences. I am talking about serious problems, when a person drops out of school, stops working normally, their health worsens, and their family life suffers.

In case of addiction, the fascination becomes super essential, and the need for it becomes insatiable.

Translated by Julia Frolova

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