Dependence on the internet and portable devices

Dependence on portable devices

Are smartphones and the internet addictive? Many ask us: "How long do you have to stay connected to the internet, use your smartphone or portable device to talk about addiction?". There are numerous studies relating to new technologies, the internet and their effects on humans, but no one seems to define the "right" connection time (quantity and frequency), or what is the correct use to avoid risks to health. So, there are no definite answers to those who ask these questions.

In general, the suspicion of the existence of the problem can be there when the person concerned, in order to stay and use his medium (internet, mobile phone, etc.), gets to deprive himself of those pleasures commonly defined as healthy (going out with friends, dedicating oneself to loved ones, practicing sports and hobbies, etc.): when she prefers the virtual world to the real one, when she reacts nervously or in an unusual way if forced, or if she tries to do without it without success, when she neglects work activities, important relationships and even herself.

Internet and the use of portable devices can easily escape the control of the subject becoming real compulsions. The continued use by those users who discover the magnificent world of the web (online shopping, games, gambling, pornography, chat, constantly updated information, etc.), which has now become handy (always at hand ) thanks to mobile phones, ends up dictating the rules of the game to the point of making slaves.

Today, having a smartphone is cheap, convenient, accelerates work processes, makes it available anytime and anywhere, gives security. Thanks to the various apps that can be downloaded on your smartphone, it becomes easy, practical, immediate and free to have access to many services: encyclopedias and libraries, workplaces, banks, social networks, ticket offices, whatsapp, health experts, etc. . Undoubtedly many benefits! However, it is frequent that the person who makes extensive use of mobile phones, portable devices and / or the internet, more than others, often does not complete the activities he carries out; incurs accidents that are sometimes serious or even fatal; isolates himself from family and friends; experience feelings of dread, anxiety or panic.

According to a study conducted by the Pew Research Center[1], Americans spend an average of nearly three and a half hours a day on their smartphones checking emails, social networks, watching videos, and accessing applications or the web. Researcher Alonso-Fernandez (1999) observes that it is above all the smartphone that facilitates new forms of addiction. Smartphones and tablets are portable devices that make it possible to satisfy the “need for a network” whenever it arises (Cagnoni, Nardone, 2002).

The small size makes it a tool capable of gratifying compulsions everywhere (Bianchi, Phillips, 2005; Takao, Takahashi, Kitamura, 2009) and, if for some reason this is not possible, it is easy for "nomophobia" to arise, that is, the fear of not having a mobile phone or of being connected. In these cases, you panic, feel anxious and increase your stress.

There are numerous benefits offered by the internet and smartphones, paradoxically, the danger that they can make you dependent is closely linked to the advantages they offer. They increase academic success (Nalwa, Anand, 2003), allow distant people to stay in touch and make new acquaintances (Chou, 2001). The Internet, in particular, is considered an important tool for cultural and personal growth (Morgan, Cotton, 2003; Manago, Taylor, Greenfield, 2012).

Kraut and his fellow researchers (1998) from Carnegie Mellon University, however, observe how too much communication has led to the inability to communicate with the abuser, who can end up suffering from loneliness and depression. When you prefer social media to real people, when you can't stop the need to check email, facebook, whatsapp messages, you can start talking about Internet addiction.

Internet Addiction Disorder (IAD)[2] it is a rather broad definition that covers a wide variety of behaviors related to the lack of control of the impulse to enter the network. Researcher Young (1996) pioneering IAD research identifies five types: cybersex addiction; addiction to virtual relationships; online gambling; addiction to information to download; addiction to videogames.

The addiction created by the internet and portable devices grows just like that of drugs and alcohol. Like the latter, in addition, are also the logic and the underlying neurochemical reactions. For example, while waiting to receive the message, to send the beautiful photo taken and to share, to go and look for the information, the word that is missing or not remembered, or to do something else, in the person dependent on these tools. it causes a state of excitement to grow which at a neurochemical level translates into the release of dopamine (a neurotransmitter that seems to affect mood).

The satisfaction of the stimulus can arrive after a more or less long interval and is gratifying, while, when the period of abstinence exceeds a certain threshold (variable according to the level of dependence reached), then behaviors appear that signal states of anxiety and losses. control, up to more or less violent actions. Continuing to use / abuse and always engaging in the same behaviors increases the level of tolerance. Therefore, what formerly gave pleasure after a while, by repeating it, is as if it were exhausting its effectiveness. There is a need to increase the dose (internet exposure in this case) to avoid unpleasant symptoms. Exactly the same thing that happens in the case of substance addiction.


The effectiveness of strategic therapy

Growing is the number of patients who in presenting their problem - defined as social phobia, hypochondria, relationship problems with parents, partners and others, eating disorders, etc. - tell us more or less directly to spend many hours a day on the internet using a portable device: the most used are smartphones and PCs, often used in the workplace.

Most of them connect to the internet to access social networks, to play online, see videos on youtube, whatsapp with friends, etc. They devote so much of their useful time to these practices until they get headaches. Rarely does the person with this problem ask for help directly for addiction. These are highly resistant patients (Papantuono, 2007[3]), since the compulsion from which they are taken is based on the sensation of pleasure.

Awareness, therefore, is insufficient to activate them towards the spontaneous change of their pathological behavior which they cannot do without. For this reason, it happens that it is not the dependent person who requests the intervention, but those around him. The latter try in every way to achieve changes, but are often forced to observe a situation that gets worse in front of their eyes day by day.. Deeply tested by what they go through and desperate they end up asking for help.

As a first step, the therapist will block those attempts at a solution that have not produced results and, after having identified the secondary advantages created over time, (Papantuono, Portelli, 2016[4]) will gradually and respectfully eliminate them. The collaboration of parents and / or those who live in the same environment is of great importance when the patient persists in not recognizing the problem or if he refuses therapy.

The treatment of patients who are unable to recognize the problem and / or oppositional is better that begins indirectly, with cohabitants. They are instructed to avoid interfering in the patient's life and to limit themselves to observing carefully without intervening, precisely in order to know the enemy to be fought. Generally it turns out that the problem feeds on the attempts made to deal with it, which for the patient turn into advantages to be blocked and eliminated. By blocking the attempts at a solution put in place by those around, it is often possible to intervene and reduce the secondary advantages. This brings out the need for help.

The patient without the advantages can feel more clearly the state of discomfort that he experiences as an addict. At the peak he will ask for help from those around him, who will advise him to turn to experts for the intervention. At this point, the therapist aware of the possible boycott attempts by the patient who will try to remain tied to the spoiled pleasure that he knows, to avoid the drop-out will have to move with caution in small steps and show safety and delicacy.

During the investigation, the therapist will make sure to find points of contact (resources) to create a functional relationship (transform opposition into collaboration). To try to see what the patient is capable of (motivation) he might challenge him, sometimes even provoking therapeutically. The therapist will recognize the patient's needs by expressing understanding for his or her difficulty / inability / impossibility. On the other hand, however, precisely because the therapist is the one who recognizes the needs, but is also the one to whom the request for help has been addressed, this expert will be the one who will guide.

The conditions, times and methods will be agreed with the patient. Our prescription provides for the possibility of choosing the preferred device to connect to the network and do all the desired activities, but, for half an hour, neither a minute more nor a minute less and at set times. In this way we ritualize the ritual. The therapeutic objective of this maneuver is to bring order to the disorder in order for the patient to experience the possibility of regaining lost control.

After the first changes, the interval technique is introduced. It consists in postponing the display and / or the response to the arrival of a notification, in the first phase for seven minutes, then fifteen, twenty-five and so on. After some time, access to the device becomes complicated. It is a technique based on the Chinese ploy "leave later to arrive earlier". In other words, the patient is asked to uninstall those apps that facilitate access to sites and some activities that he or she carries out with the smartphone. Increasing the number of steps and connection time complicates how to access the site, the game, etc.

Having achieved greater control over the device, you are invited to turn off the phone at certain times of the day, for example during meals, in the evening before going to bed, at school, etc. As one proceeds, gradually, the patient is made to return to wholesome pleasures. By reducing the exposure to electronic tools and the connection time, as well as limiting exposure to blue rays due to the reduction of sleep and greater psychophysical fatigue, the patient regains control of himself, returns to having real relationships, wins time . In summary, he reclaims the life he was wasting.


Dr. Claudette Portelli
(psychotherapist, official researcher and lecturer at the Strategic Therapy Center)


[1] The PewResearchCentre based in Washington, is a research center on social problems, public opinion, demographic trends.

[2] Term coined in 1995 by Ivan Goldberg.


[4] For further information go to the website:



- Alonso-Fernández F., 1999, The other drugs. Food sex television shopping game work, Ed. Univ. Romane
- Anderson M. (2015). Technology Device Ownership: 2015, In Pew Research Center 10.29. 2015
- Bianchi A., Phillips JG (2005). Psychological predictors of mobile phone use, In Cyberpsychology & Behavior, 8, 39-51.doi: 10.1089 / cpb.2005.8.39
- Chou C. (2001). Internet heavy use and addiction among Taiwanese college students: An online interview study, In Cyberpsychology & Behavior, 4,573-585.doi: 10.1089 / 109493101753235160
- Goldberg I. (1995). Internet Addiction disorder,
- Kraut R., Patterson M., Lundmark V., Kiesler S., Mukopadhyay T., & Scherlis W. (1998). Internet paradox: A social technology that reduces social involvement and psychological well-being, In American Psychologist, 53,1017-1031
- Manago AM, Taylor T., Greenfield PM (2012). Me and my 400 friends: The anatomy of college students' Facebook networks, their communication patterns, and well-being, In Developmental Psychology, 48, 369- 380.doi: 10.1037 / a0026338
- Morgan C., Cotton, S. (2003). The relationship between Internet activities and depressive symptoms in a sample of college freshmen, In Cyberpsychology & Behavior, 6,133-142. doi: 10.1089 / 109493103321640329
- Nalwa K., Anand AP (2003). Internet addiction in students: a cause of concern, In Cyberpsychol Behav. 2003 Dec; 6 (6): 653-6. DOI: 10.1089 / 109493103322725441
- Nardone G., Cagnoni F. (2002). Perversions on the net: psychopathologies from the Internet and their treatment, Ponte alle Grazie, Milan
- Papantuono M. (2007). Identify and use patient resistances. In
- Papantuono M., Portelli C. (2016). Strategic-systemic intervention for families and young people addicted to Cannabinoids. In
- Takao M., Takahashi S. & Kitamura M. (2009). Addictive personality and problematic phone use, In Cyberpsychology & Behavior, 12, 501-507.doi: 10.1089 / cpb.2009.0022
- Young KS (1996). Internet addiction: The emergence of a new clinical disorder, In 104th annual meeting of the American Psychological Association, August 11, 1996. Toronto, Canada.

PHP code snippets Powered By: