Why am I addicted to social chats

Addicted to the next click

Chatting, flirting, talking shop: You can spend hours doing this on the Internet. However, contacts in social networks can be addicting - young people in particular are susceptible. The disease has hardly been researched.

Theo Fischer does not attract attention when he comes to the library in the morning and boots up his computer. The psychology student does what everyone else does: stare at the screen, switch websites, type, scroll. Even on the train and in line at the supermarket checkout, he does not stand out from others when he stares at his cell phone. But Theo Fischer, who wants to keep his real name to himself, has a sick relationship with the online world. One that is out of control. While others are working on their homework or studying on exams, Theo surfs in psychology chat forums, through dating sites, or on what he calls what he calls "sensitivity pages". He waits for digital contacts ("Plings"), revises his profiles and researches for hours when his virtual counterpart asks him questions. "At home it just goes on like this," he says. “I don't sleep much at night, my rhythm is mixed up. I also don't eat right anymore. " He completely neglected his studies - he has ten semesters under his belt.

Differences to gambling addiction

In Germany, according to the federal government's drug and addiction report, just under 1 percent of the population suffers from “manifest internet addiction”; Another 4.6 percent of Germans show addictive behavior that could lead to such dependency. According to experts, this occurs when Internet use can no longer be controlled and "leads to significant suffering" or "to an impairment of everyday functionality". Theo fully applies the definition. Even so, for a long time he refused to admit that his behavior was that of an addict. He does not belong to the classic "net junkies", the computer game addicts who acquire a new identity in a parallel world, immerse themselves in it for many hours and lose touch with reality. “These game worlds have never appealed to me,” says Theo. «I am one of those who are lonely, who feel an inner emptiness. I try to fill this up all the time. " The Ministry of Health learned that the group of people dependent on contact exchanges was growing rapidly three years ago when the so-called Pinta study - an investigation into the «prevalence of Internet addiction» - was published. It says that just as many people are addicted to social networks as they are to computer games and the level of suffering is comparable. Nevertheless, almost exclusively computer game addicts go to office hours. "We only have gamers with us at the moment," said the AHG-Klinik Münchwies in Neunkirchen, which treats Internet addiction as an inpatient. So far, we can only guess where the discrepancy comes from. The Mainz graduate psychologist Kai Müller believes that people who are dependent on social networks can better reconcile their addiction with everyday life and thus hide it more easily. “Computer game addicts, on the other hand, have to spend several hours at a time on a fixed PC,” he says. The Tübingen graduate psychologist Kay Petersen can imagine that computer game addiction is perceived as a greater danger in society. “It's also better researched,” he says. Therefore, the therapies are more geared towards her and may be less appealing to the rest of Internet addicts. Theo would not have thought of receiving therapy either. He is single, lives alone. As a student who can organize his own daily routine, he belongs to a risk group. Only when a circular from the adjoining University Clinic for Psychiatry and Psychotherapy landed in his inbox, in which people suspected of being addicted to the Internet were asked to take part in a therapy study, did he take off his blinkers. "I read the catalog of criteria and it became clear to me: you are one of them."

Ways to abstinence

There is still no therapy that specifically deals with the dependence on social networks. So far, those affected have usually been put with the computer game addicts, observes the addiction doctor Petersen, who examined the therapy offers in Germany on behalf of the federal government a few years ago. Often there is not even a distinction between online gamers and normal gamblers. Over the past few months, Petersen has been working with colleagues to update the inventory at that time. The Federal Ministry of Health will comment on the results in April. “The study could help ensure that the offers are geared more towards the target groups in the future,” says Petersen. Internet addiction therapies are also not available on prescription. As a "non-substance-related addiction" - including, for example, sex or shopping addiction - it is not yet recognized by health insurers as a behavioral addiction. Doctors have to make do with alternative diagnoses such as "impulse control disorders" or "depressive moods" so that the health insurers can still pay for a therapy. "Internet-based addictive behavior is like substance-related addiction, but not the same", says Petersen. However, research is lagging behind, also because there is no consensus on whether it is an addiction disorder. "You can't even agree on a uniform name for a diagnosis," says Petersen. The therapies come from classic addiction treatment, the approaches range from systemic to depth psychological therapy. Theo attended behavior therapy that is currently being tested in four cities. In individual and group discussions, the participants learn to analyze their addictive behavior. Then they are shown ways to "abstinence". “I've tried a few things,” says Theo. He blocked problematic sites - and shortly thereafter regained access to them using the administrator account. He dragged the software for WLAN access from his notebook to a USB stick - and his study stalled because he was missing important information from the network. Then he made deals with himself: one day access, one day none. He recently logged off the WiFi in his home. He can now only send e-mails in the library. "At least that's how I get to my sleep," he says. Making a clean cut is much harder for Theo than it is for a gambling addict. As with bulimics who have to eat anyway, he too cannot completely escape the Internet. Gamers, on the other hand, can log out of their game and either digitally bury their “avatar” - their online identity - or, if this has achieved a certain reputation, sell them to other players. "Saying goodbye can be extremely painful, but it helps those affected to close the chapter once and for all," says the psychologist Sara Hanke, who accompanies the therapy concept in Tübingen. In parallel with the process of breaking away from the websites, participants have to think about how they want to spend the time that is freed up. «The internet is eating up all the interests of addicts. If the vacuum is not filled immediately, there is a high risk of relapse, ”says Hanke. So she asks the participants what they would like to have done before they became addicted. A hobby? "After all the overstimulation, many find it difficult to find something that casts a spell over them like the computer," says Hanke.

Boot camps in the mountains

As with other addictive behavior, the motto is: the earlier it is recognized, the greater the chances of getting rid of it. "Unfortunately, those affected only come to us when the job has already been lost or the woman has already run away." The stigma of being an internet addict, an adult on top of that, is great. The federal government has recognized the dangers of the Internet and taken them up in the coalition agreement. At the next annual meeting of drug commissioners in November 2016, online addiction should be the central topic. While the German politicians are still listening to experts, South Korea has already had to take drastic measures. Almost every household there has broadband internet - and according to the latest studies, one in ten is an online addict. After the government gradually introduced a daily curfew on servers for popular online games - it had little effect - it has since asked game manufacturers to design their products in such a way that parents can control the playing time of their children. She has also set up boot camps in the mountains where internet addicts have to survive for twelve days without a PC or smartphone. Internet addiction is better researched in South Korea or Taiwan, says addiction expert Petersen. "However, the findings can only be transferred to Germany to a limited extent." Mentality and behavior are too different. Theo has largely defeated his addiction today. "I've logged out of the worst chat forums," he says. He doesn't have to think long about what to do with his time. "I would like a girlfriend," he says. A real one.