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What To Do If You Are (Or Fear That You May Become) Addicted To The 'Net

A Special Report By Morton C. Orman, M.D.
Physician and author of The 14 Day Stress Cure, (c) 1996 -2010 M.C. Orman, MD, FLP. All rights reserved


Dealing with Internet Addiction is no different than dealing with any other type of addiction. Whether you are addicted to heroin, gambling, cigarettes, sexual deviancy, or eating Milky Way bars, all addictions have certain basic elements in common.

The purpose of this Special Report is to review some of these common elements, so you can see if they relate to your own situation. While all addictions can ultimately be cured, this is not always an easy or painless process. A high degree of commitment to breaking established habits is required, as are persistence, dedication, honesty, and self-compassion.

A. Denial

All people who are addicted (to anything) have some degree of denial. Without denial, most addictions would not have become established in the first place.

Denial can take many forms. At the milder extremes, a person may believe "I can handle this problem whenever I decide to do so." The fact that one has a problem is at least acknowledged. At the other extreme, denial often takes the form of: "What problem? I don't have a problem. You've got the problem, Dude. And besides, you're beginning to tick me off!"

Denial can sometimes be so strong that a person's whole life begins to deteriorate, and they still maintain everything is "just fine." Jobs can be lost, marriages can dissolve, a person's health can become affected, and all of these things (and more) can be present for some time before the person ultimately recognizes there is a problem to be solved.

B. Failing to Ask for Help

The second hallmark of most addictions is that people affected are very reluctant to ask for help. The mindset of most addicts is: "I can beat this myself." Addicts are often very proud individuals. Not only are they reluctant to ask other people for help, but even when they do, they don't accept the advice of others easily. Another mistake most addicts make when they do decide to seek help is they ask the wrong kinds of people. Asking family members and friends is not often productive. You would think addicts would avoid asking people who have identical or similar problems themselves, especially if they haven't been successful at dealing with them, but such is not the case.

The best thing to do is to look for individuals or professionals who know how to cure addicted people. While these resource people are rare, you should keep looking for them. If you hook up with someone who claims to have this ability, look at your results and don't hang around too long with this person if you don't see yourself making progress. Keep looking for the right experienced helper and you will eventually find one that works well with you.

C. Lack of Other Pleasures

One thing that is true about most, but not all addictions, is they are often either the only or the strongest source of pleasure and satisfaction in a person's life.

People who become addicted often do so because their lives are not fullfilling. They can't seem to find passion, enjoyment, adventure, or pleasure from life itself, so they have to invent these experiences in other ways. Whether such feelings come to them through gambling, getting "high," "tuning out," or becomming overinvolved with the Internet, their work, their hobbies, or anything else, there is often a lack of other pleasures that drive people (at least in part) to crave pleasure from their addictive behaviors.

This becomes important when you try to end your addiction. If you try to eliminate your main source of pleasure in life without being able to replace it immediately with other sources of pleasure, it is doubtful you will be able to stay away from your addictive behavior very long.

I remember one woman I treated for cigarette addiction, who claimed that she couldn't bring herself to give up smoking even though she had successfully done so in the past and even though she sufferred no serious withdrawal symptoms when she did so. After a few sessions of counselling, we discovered that the main reason she was smoking was that her husband had totally dominated her and took away everything in her life that she considered "her own." The only thing he couldn't take away from her was her smoking--it was the only area left she could claim as her's.

Before this woman was able to end her smoking habit, which she did, she first had to reclaim much of the "territory"--both physical and emotional--her husband had wrested from her. While this was not an easy process, and while it didn't happen over night, she knew that she would never be able to relinquish the behavior of smoking if it remained, in fact, her only source of satisfaction.

D. Underlying Deficiencies in Coping and Life Management Skills

Addiction should never be viewed as a problem in and of itself. Addictions are much better viewed as a symptom of other underlying problems and deficiencies. This is why most addiction therapies are so universally unsuccessful.

To cure most addictions, you must look beyond the addiction itself and deal with underlying deficiencies in coping and life management skills that have given rise to it.

For example, people who become addicted to alcohol and other drugs usually have serious deficiencies in their life management, stress management, and interpersonal skills. Early on in life, they experience a great deal of pain and personal suffering that they can't figure out how to deal with effectively. This drives them to seek external relief and comfort in the form of alcohol or other substances. As this pattern of behavior gets repeated over time, their bodies become physically addicted to the chemical substance, and the addiction then becomes even more difficult to end.

The same is true for cigarette addiction. Many people find that smoking helps them cope with stress or keep their weight under control. Even if they are successful at beating the physical part of cigarette addiction, they often quickly return to smoking because they fail to improve their repetoire of coping skills.

So if you are trying to deal with the problem of Internet Addiction, or any addiction for that matter, you should ask yourself the following questions:

  1. What stress management skills or life management skills do I lack that led me to become addicted?
  2. What problems in life do I have that my addiction helps me to avoid or to "solve."
  3. What would I need to learn how to do in order to let go of my addictive behavior?
  4. What "benefits" or payoffs am I getting from my addictive behavior?

E. Giving in to Temptation

Once you decide to eliminate an established addiction, there are certain requirements and pitfalls you must be prepared for. One of these is dealing with temptation.

Whenever you try to stay away from something that previously gave you great pleaure, you're going to be tempted to return to that behavior. Sometimes, the temptation may be very strong. But even if it is, you must be prepared to resist it.

Temptation, in truth, is nothing more than a powerful internal feeling state (i.e., a desire). It is often accompanied by thoughts as well, that are designed to make you "cave in" and satisfy your intense internal cravings.

You, however, are always much stronger than any of your internal thoughts, feelings, or other internal states. You have the power to consistently ignore or to choose not to respond to your thoughts and demanding feelings. Thoughts and feelings have very little power at all (even though many people mistakenly "feel" that their thoughts and feelings are much more powerful than they).

Once you take on the challenge of dealing with any addiction, you will need to marshall your ability to successfully deal with temptation. If you don't have a sense that you have this power to succeed, you can use your addiction as an opportunity to discover that you really do have this important capability.

F. Failing to Keep Your Word

In order to change any established habit, be it an addiction or not, you must be able to give your word to yourself and KEEP YOUR WORD NO MATTER WHAT HAPPENS. All behavior change involves deciding what actions are needed to break the established pattern and then taking those actions on a consistent basis over time. This is just another way of saying "you must give your word to yourself every day that you will do this or that or not do this or that. Then you must keep your word, no matter what happens around you or what temptations or seductive excuses you encounter."

Many addiction treatment programs fail because addicts are not empowered to rehabilitate their ability to give and keep their word. Many addicts, experience has shown, are very accomplished liars. Their promises and statements to others often can't be trusted. And their ability to keep promises to themselves is similarly impaired.

Without the ability to give and keep your word, especially to yourself, you've got very little chance of curing any addiction. On the other hand, if you make this goal part of your overall game plan, you may be able to emerge from your addiction a stronger, healthier, and more trustworthy human being.

G. Failing to Do What May Be Necessary

Be very clear about this one important point: ALL ADDICTIONS CAN BE CURED AS LONG AS PEOPLE AGREE TO DO WHATEVER MIGHT BE NECESSARY. One reason most addictions appear to be "incurable" is because people shy away from the types of actions that are often neccessary.

What types of actions are these? Well, they can be numerous, diverse, and highly specific for any individual. They might include any or all of the following (using Internet Addiction as an example):

  1. Setting an absolute schedule or time limit for how much time you spend on the 'Net.
  2. Forcing yourself to stay away from the 'Net for several days at a time.
  3. Placing self-imposed computer "blocks" on certain types of services.
  4. Setting an absolute policy for yourself of never signing on to the net at work (unless this is required for your job).
  5. Establishing meaningful (but not harmful) consequences for yourself for failing to keep your word.
  6. Applying these self-imposed consequences until you do regain your ability to keep your word consistently.
  7. Forcing yourself to do other things instead of spending time on the net.
  8. Resolving to learn how to derive other more healthy sources of pleasure in life to replace or even exceed the pleasure you got from being on the 'Net.
  9. Asking for help whenever you feel you are not being successful.
  10. Avoiding people or environments that might encourage you to return to your addictive behavior.

While these are not the only actions that may be called for, many of them will work for a majority of individuals. The point is that in order to cure an addiction, you've got to be willing to do things that may seem drastic or outrageous but not harmful to yourself or others.

Several years ago, I learned about a weight loss counsellor who conducted very successful group weight loss programs for people who had failed miserably many times before. One strategy this counsellor used was both drastic and outrageous. She had every member of the group make a list of the three worst, most despicable, most morally bankrupt organizations they knew of. She then made each member of the group promise to donate $25 to one of the organizations on their list for every week that they failed to lose at least one pound. This strategy worked like a charm. But on their own, most members of the group would never have considered self-imposing such a powerful motivator.

So if you have a history of failing to make any type of desired behavior change, all this may mean is that you weren't willing to do what is necessary. All addictions (and other dysfunctional behaviors) can ultimately be cured. It's just a matter of figuring out what specific actions will work (and will not cause you or others harm) and then executing those actions despite any thoughts or feelings you might have to the contrary.

Failing to Anticipate and Deal With Relapses

No matter how much initial success you have in eliminating an addiction, unintended relapses are just around the corner. Something unexpected might happen in your life or you might otherwise succumb to a moment of weakness.

Good addiction treatment plans anticipate that such relapses commonly occur and prepare individuals to deal with them successfully.

One thing they emphasize is that "relapse" is not synonymous with "failure." A relapse does not mean that you have failed in your efforts to cure yourself of an addiction. If you stay away from cigarettes for 3 months and then smoke again for two days in a row, you can view this as a "failure" if you want, or you can focus on the fact that of the last 92 days, you successfully abstained for 97% of them. That's pretty good.

The trick is to keep 2 days from becoming 5 days, or 5 days from becoming 10 days, etc. Here you will need a game plan to keep an occasional relapse from triggering a return to the addiction.

Before you begin to work on curing your addiction, decide in advance what you will do once you are successful and suffer a minor relapse. Have an outrageous game plan in mind that you hope you will never need to use, but that you are committed to execute if the need ever arises. Then go into this "emergency mode" within 1-2 days of suffering a minor relapse.

Include in your emergency game plan at least three powerful people you can call to give you strong support. Have several self-imposed consequences in mind, and apply them to yourself quickly before things get seriously out of hand. If you jump on these relapses quickly and effectively, and if you don't beat yourself up for such minor regressions, you should be able to reestablish your cure plan.

This Special Report was written by Morton C. Orman, M.D. It is being made available to the Internet community by The Health Resource Network, Inc.

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