Quitting the internet: As hard as quitting smoking?

A new poll finds that people experience withdrawal symptoms when they go a day without emails, texts, and Facebook. Time for rehab?

If you get frazzled and anxious when it's time to shut down your computer or turn off your smartphone, fear not. Researchers say such withdrawal symptoms are common.
(Image credit: Fotostudio FM/Corbis)

Still convinced you can stop maniacally checking email and Facebook any time you want? Think again. A new British study says kicking the internet habit is as hard for some people as quitting drinking or smoking. Here, a brief guide:

Is dependence on the internet really an addiction?

To some people, it sure feels that way. The consumer research firm Intersperience surveyed more than 1,000 people in the U.K., and asked them to go a full 24 hours without going online. Many of the survey's participants said resisting the urge to go online was as hard as giving up cigarettes or alcohol. Smartphones, computers, and other devices have become so important in our lives, says Britain's Daily Mail, that "we suffer withdrawal symptoms similar to a drug addict who cannot get a fix."

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How exactly does it feel for web junkies to go without?

One person said the experience was "like having my hand chopped off." Fifty-three percent said web deprivation made them upset, and 40 percent said it made them feel lonely. Earlier this year, researchers asked students from 12 universities around the world to go offline and record their feelings in a journal. They said the "information deprivation" made them fidgety and anxious. Such symptoms also afflict addicts attempting to quit smoking or drugs.

So is it a bad idea to swear off smartphones?

Not necessarily. Twenty-three percent of the survey's participants said spending a day with no internet access made them feel "free." And while some people were quick to see withdrawal symptoms in the loneliness and sadness the others felt, there might be a simpler explanation, says Nick Clayton at The Wall Street Journal. "Addictive drugs trigger an increase in the brain's uptake of dopamine, but then so do most pleasurable activities." Give up "reading books, eating [your] favorite foods, or checking the football scores on a Sunday afternoon," and you'll probably find that makes you "twitchy" too.

Sources: Ars Technica, Daily Mail, LA Times, Technorati, Wall St. Journal

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