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Internet addiction

Addiction is a complex phenomenon involving many aspects of a person’s life, which is why it is difficult to provide a precise definition. It is a process that begins when a person, after contact with a substance or through the repetition of certain behaviours, starts to perceive himself or herself better than before and considers this change as something positive.

It is a personal conviction, formed as a result of the subjective interpretation of an experience, that one’s most important needs and desires may be satisfied by means of some place or item. The state of addiction is characterised by the weakening of an individual’s will. Sometimes, especially in the initial phases, it is unconscious and perceived as routine habits, which may eventually lead to a disease, putting both someone’s health and life in danger. This particular way of thinking and interpreting oneself and the surrounding world is often the universal remedy for all evil.

Most often addiction is associated with psychoactive substances, alcohol, nicotine and drugs. However, the 21st century is the period of the extensive development of behavioural addictions, such as shopaholism, workaholism, compulsive gambling or addictions related to body shaping (e.g. addiction to sports, sunbathing, plastic surgery, compulsive body modification, etc.). This article will focus on addictions related to the use of new technologies and the virtual world, as well as the objectives and goals of addiction prevention. 

Monitor with blue numbers, in the background blue numbers 0 1 on the background of glass skyscrapers

Problematic use of video games. Computer games are no longer reserved only for children. They provide entertainment with an engaging storyline, a sensational atmosphere, role-playing opportunities, instant gratification and the possibility to cooperate with other players. From the psychological perspective, games are a very strong stimulus in response to boredom, loneliness and the difficulties of everyday life. They become addictive very quickly, consuming several or even more than a dozen hours a day. They often lead to the inability to cope with one’s role as a student, employee, partner, friend, etc.

Problematic Internet use is a broad concept which in fact includes many activities: surfing the web, cybersex, e-gambling, online shopping, the use of social media or pathological search for information (the so-called information overload). One cannot deny the numerus advantages offered by the Internet, but its compulsive use is already treated as addiction. The consequence is impaired social functioning, including the loss of meaningful relationships, a distorted sense of time and neglect of basic duties. 

Problematic use of social networking sites is another example of addiction to the virtual world at the expense of real world relationships. The most popular social media are Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, TikTok or Twitter. These applications, despite their undeniable advantages, very often seduce users with visions of an ideal world created by other users. It is the world that we find hard and reluctant to leave.

Problematic mobile phone use. Ever since smartphones became affordable for the majority of people, the number of smartphone users has increased dramatically. Thanks to technological advancement the smartphone can already replace other essential tools, such as a clock, camera, notebook, pedometer, radio, payment card, portable scanner, torch, compass, etc. The variety of applications is amazing and offers remarkable possibilities. Nevertheless, the inappropriate pattern of using mobile phones has been developing, especially among young people. It is already common to see people sitting at the same table, each staring at their own mobile phone screen.

In the information society, it is hard to imagine life without a computer or smartphone. When we wake up, we usually turn off the alarm clock on our phone. While driving to work or university we browse the news - on our smartphone, of course, which also reminds us about sending birthday wishes to a friend though social media. We spend the entire day working at the computer, carrying out dozens of searches in the web browser. When we return home, we immerse into the virtual world again looking for entertainment provided by computer games, aimlessly scrolling and browsing through the social profiles of friends with whom we have had no contact in the real world for years. In the midst of all this, there is often no time or space for interpersonal contacts with family or friends from work or university.

Due to the universality of and easy access to the Internet and other new technologies, preventive measures are becoming increasingly important. The term prophylaxis comes from Greek (prophylassein), where it means ‘to avoid, to prevent’. Initially, it was associated only with the prevention of diseases in medical terms; later it became more interdisciplinary and started to include unfavourable phenomena, diseases, accidents, crimes and addictions. H. Radlińska (1961), the author of one of the first definitions of prevention, describes it as ‘prevention of phenomena and states unfavourable for man’.

Social prevention is a system of methods and means aiming to remove causes of negative social phenomena and create conditions for the proper functioning and development of individuals and social groups. Modern prevention includes clear positive definitions of problems which focus not only on prevention and counteracting negative phenomena, but also on multiplying and tapping into the potential of people. Thus prevention activities may also be identified with elimination or reduction of risk factors leading to risky behaviours, while strengthening protective factors. Risky behaviours are defined as all behaviours of young people which do not comply with commonly accepted legal, customary, social and health norms corresponding to a given age group. The term risky is used to emphasise the fact that they may bring undesirable social, health and psychological consequences. In the case of the Internet addiction, the main risk factors are young age, low income level, being single, living alone, studying and unemployment (socio-demographic factors). Psychological factors are deficits in the reward-based decision making mechanism, impaired control functions, attention deficit disorder, low levels of extroversion, low self-esteem and high neuroticism. Addiction affects more often people who, as adolescents, had a weak bond with their parents who did not control them, and were raised without any clear and consistent parental authority. Protective factors, on the other hand, include characteristics and conditions that result in increased resistance to risk factors. The most important protective factors are: a strong emotional bond within the family; satisfied needs of safety, love and acceptance; interest in learning; respect for norms and authorities; association with a positive peer reference group; emotional stability; conscientiousness and agreeableness.

In view of the above, to avoid the Internet addiction you should strictly control the time spent online, set daily limits and the aim of these activities. It is advisable to switch off the device when you are not using it and hide it in your bag. You should focus on finding alternative activities, new hobbies and passions unrelated to the virtual world and develop healthy lifestyle habits: going to bed at a fixed time, engaging in physical activity, joining family/social life and building relationships with people in the real world. If you suspect that you have problems with the Internet use, you can seek specialist help. (Below this article you will find some addresses of centres which offer addiction therapy in Cracow). For addictions, the most common is the therapy employing cognitive and behavioural techniques. The methods applied in the Internet addiction therapy are similar to the ones employed in psychoactive substance addiction therapy, with the difference that the model of complete abstinence is rarely used (the Internet is very often used for work and study, so it would be difficult to give it up completely). The focus is on developing control over online activity. 

At this point, however, we may not forget about the beneficial influence of the Internet on our functioning during the coronavirus pandemic. Almost the entire social life moved to the virtual world. Companies allowed their employees to work remotely from home, students attended virtual classes and listened to lectures online. Social media allowed us to stay in touch with people close to us through video conferencing. People in isolation did not have to feel lonely.

As with other behavioural addictions, the most important thing is to find the right balance. Technology and its possibilities are supposed to make our lives easier. It is only up to us whether we take advantage of this opportunity.

Reference literature

Grzegorzewska I., Cierpiałkowska L., Uzależnienia behawioralne, Wydawnictwo PWN, Warszawa, 2019.

Alter A., Uzależnienia 2.0: Dlaczego tak trudno się oprzeć nowym technologiom. Wydawnictwo Uniwersytetu Jagiellońskiego, Kraków, 2017.

Woronowicz B., Uzależnienia. Geneza, terapie, powrót do zdrowia, Wydawnictwo Media Rodzina, Poznań, 2009.

Bandura, A., Teoria społecznego uczenia się, Wydawnictwo PWN, Warszawa, 2007.

Cekiera, C., Ryzyko uzależnień, Towarzystwo Naukowe Katolickiego Uniwersytetu Lubelskiego, Lublin, 2001.

Nowak, A., Wysocka, E., Problemy i zagrożenia społeczne we współczesnym świecie: elementy patologii społecznej i kryminologii, Wydawnictwo „Śląsk”, Katowice, 2001, p. 230-231.

Radlińska H., Pedagogika społeczna, Ossolineum, Wrocław, 1961.

About the author:

Katarzyna Zięba – educational advisor at DSS in 2013-2020, educator, graduate of the Jagiellonian University Faculty of Philosophy and the Faculty of Pedagogy at the Pedagogical University of Cracow. She gained professional experience at internships at the Monar Association and the Family Centre for Diagnostics and Consultation at the District Court in Krakow. She is interested in substance abuse prevention and working with groups at risk of social exclusion.

Below you can find several centres that offer psychological assistance free of charge as part of the National Health Service in Krakow (data from March 2022)

  • Krakowskie Centrum Terapii Uzależnień 
    ul. Wielicka 73, 30-552 Kraków-Podgórze 
    Phone: 12 425 5747 
  • Specjalistyczna Przychodnia Lekarska ERGOMED
    Poradnia Leczenia Uzależnień 
    ul. Bonarka 18, 30-415 Kraków-Podgórze 
    Phone: 12 266 84 82 
  • Centrum Zdrowia Psychicznego i Terapii Uzależnień "PRO VITA" 
    ul. Basztowa 5, 31-134 Kraków 
    Phone: 510, 987 639, 12 628 68 10, 510 986 952, 12 421 95 67 
  • Szpital Uniwersytecki w Krakowie 
    Poradnia Leczenia Uzależnień 
    ul. Śniadeckich 10, 31-501 Kraków-Śródmieście 
    Phone: 12 424 89 33
  • Szpital Specjalistyczny im. Ludwika Rydygiera w Krakowie
    Poradnia Leczenia Uzależnień 
    os. Złotej Jesieni 1, 31-826 Kraków 
    Phone: 12 646 83 17 
  • Stowarzyszenie Tygart
    Poradnia Leczenia Uzależnień 
    ul. Kolorowe 21, 31-941 Kraków-Nowa Huta 
    Phone: 12 644 45 55 
  • Stowarzyszenie Pomocna Dłoń - Poradnia Leczenia Uzależnień
    Poradnia Leczenia Uzależnień, Centrum Terapii DDA 
    ul. Sudolska 16, 31-423 Kraków-Śródmieście 
    Phone: 12 418 05 34
    Poradnia Leczenia Uzależnień
    ul. Eliasza Radzikowskiego 29, 31-315 Kraków
    Phone.: 12 626 02 33