Internet Addiction: The unknown illness that is consuming the lives of many

(WMAR) - Chances are that you are probably on your phone, tablet, or computer reading this story. You might not even suspect that the amount of hours that you use in your day is dedicated to this 'substance' that may be causing you to be addicted.

According to the Digital Future Report, the average American spends about 24 hours a week online. That new average is more than twice the number reported in 2000.

Shannon Wilson-Murray is a licensed social worker in Baltimore County. She specializes in addiction and says she started to see the problem 10 years ago when smartphones and social media became very popular.

"So people went from, on average, being online about 8-hours a week when it was computers at home, home, home computers and things like that, to now suddenly having laptops and devices that are always on, are always within reach." 

Now, the biggest misunderstanding is that this only affects kids, but the problem can be found in people of all ages. 

"Lots of seniors, who are lonely, are getting online, trying to seek out connections that way, and they end up getting swindled out of life savings and things," said Murray.

In 2015, the International Communications Market Report found that the largest group that used the internet were women ages 55 years old and older, with older men only 1% behind them.

From the executive that is knowingly risking their jobs to be on chat rooms at work to the stay at home mom spending hours shopping and blogging trying to escape the pressure of the real world.

Internet Addiction can affect anyone.

"There's this kind of dopamine hit that will occur in people's brains, and so what we see is that becomes problematic for people when they are spending more of their time doing that than keeping a balance in their lives."

Something that Baltimore native Monica Moumou is very familiar with.

In 2013, Monica lost her father to heart failure. That's when she said her addiction to the internet started.

"It was just isolation from everything, and then I felt like I could be who I wanted to be online and I didn't have to like face the reality of coping with sudden death," said Monica, "It was an emotional thing, I used to wake up in the middle of the night flip my whole room around and be looking for my phone and sit there between 3:00 to 8:00 a.m."

You may connect with the notion that you or a loved one is hooked on a device during some part of your day. But how do you self-identify as an addict which only really affects about 10% of the population?

Experts say the warning signs are:

1. Depression

2. Anxiety

3. Disengagement in hobbies

4. Isolation

"If you can not sit for two hours without being on your phone, you have a problem."

Being addicted to the internet is not recognized as an addiction or disorder in the DSM, the tool health care providers and insurance companies used to diagnose and treat mental health conditions. But medical experts in the field of addiction hope more research can be done to get a better understanding of the problem.

If you or anyone you know is struggling with an addiction to the internet medical experts recommend seeking help from any addiction specialist or support group.

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