I have worked with several clients and have spoken with many others with Internet addictions. I’ve seen how something so useful can destroy lives. Because of my experiences both personally and professionally in addiction treatment I founded Mark Dempster Counselling and am a BACP member. I published my own story of recovery, Nothing to Declare: Confessions of an unsuccessful drug smuggler, dealer, and addict, to help others understand the nature of addiction and those struggling with addiction.

I know what addiction is: my addiction to drugs and alcohol took me from drug smuggler to selling used tube tickets on the streets of London, homeless and wanting to die. I’ve been recovered for 16 years and it took detox, treatment and counselling to get to where I am today. I’ve also suffered from Internet addiction. In my early years of drug and alcohol recovery, my Internet addiction took hold and meant that sometimes I couldn’t leave the house for important meetings because I was stuck in front of the computer. It took a while, but with the help of addiction specialists I learnt that I was as powerless over my Internet addiction as I was with drugs and alcohol – and the consequences were heading to the same place.

I know that Internet addiction is a 100% real disease. My personal and professional experience in Internet addiction is backed up by science – MRI scans have shown a biological and chemical change to the brains of those who are addicted to the internet much like a person who is addicted to alcohol or cocaine. This disease is estimated to affect between 5 to 10 per cent of Internet users. (1)  Instead of a foreign substance being smoked, injected, or swallowed, the Internet addict is doing what most of us do on a daily basis but they have lost control when online. It looks as if they are like everybody else – which makes it difficult in seeking help.

We live in a digital world and it is continuing to pervade into our lives with even more speed as technology leaps forward. The Internet is everywhere – even invading the refuge of the London Underground. What we haven’t realised is the full effect this digital world is having on everyone, from children to adults. People are finding themselves powerless from always being connected on social media to abusing online gambling and being obsessed with pornography. The destruction that Internet addiction manifests is in many forms; from depression, suicidal thoughts, loss of savings, social isolation, and more. These are very much the same types of harmful characteristics found in drug and alcohol addiction.

Here are just some of the hard truths about what internet addiction is doing:

  • Half of all women callers to GamCare (a Gambling helpline) had problems with Internet gambling compared to one third of men (2)
  • Young kids are being groomed with faux-gambling, Texas Hold ‘Em Poker game draws seven million users a day (3)
  • Four out of five 16-year-old boys and girls regularly access porn on the Internet (4)
  • 350,00,000 people have been diagnosed with Facebook Addiction Disorder (5)

The first Internet rehab for children in the UK opened to help children overcome their problems with Internet addiction. The 28 day treatment costs up to £16,000 and helps with a range of issues, from gaming addictions where kids are playing 36 hours at a time to social media addiction that is leading many to suicidal thoughts and depression. Psychiatrist Dr Richard Graham explained a part of the process in breaking the addiction “In withdrawal, addicts experience some of the same symptoms as alcoholics or heroin addicts. They become anxious and agitated. It’s not pleasant.”(6)

Internet addiction will become much more prevalent and hopefully society will become more educated about the signs and symptoms to help others dealing with it. The Internet will always be one of the greatest human achievements, let us work together to keep it as safe as possible for our children, friends, families, and communities.

(1) http://www.independent.co.uk/hei-fi/news/internet-games-cause-the-same-effects-as-drugs-6288459.html?origin=internalSearch
(2) http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/special-report-too-young-to-gamble–but-not-for-a-virtual-trip-to-the-facebookies-8478495.html?origin=internalSearch
(3) http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/women-hooked-on-online-betting-up-from-44-per-cent-8547070.html?origin=internalSearch
(4) http://www.medicaldaily.com/articles/9603/20120419/internet-porn-pornography-children-uk.htm#QlmyxprTE1G8rstd.99
(5) http://www.go-globe.com/blog/social-media-facts/
(6) http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/inside-britains-first-internet-rehab-1844778