When I was playing online games with friends, it could take hours. Sometimes the sun would come up again before we finally crawled into bed.


Did you know this?

The internet is extremely popular with young people. 40% of people between the ages of 18 and 25 use social media and the internet for three hours or more every day. 4% of young people have problematic internet use, and 1% are struggling with an addiction, which goes hand in hand with neglecting other activities such as studies and maintaining friendships. The fastest growing group of internet addicts is online gamers. This affects men in particular.

The importance of the internet

Social media and the internet are an important part of our daily lives. The internet is crucial for daily activities, studying, working, social activities and leisure. It gives

  • access to relevant information;
  • provides entertainment;
  • enables social contact around the world.

When internet use becomes risky

Most young people use the internet without any problems. Internet use becomes problematic when you spend too many hours online, when your mind is constantly occupied with the internet and you neglect other activities such as your studies, your personal hygiene or social contact.

Very often you also develop physical complaints such as headaches, eye issues, an unhealthy eating pattern and sleeping problems, such as a poor sleep quality and shorter sleep duration.

Problematic internet use is especially common among young people who play online games or use social media.

Internet addiction

Excessive internet use can be a step towards internet addiction. This is a disorder that is often linked to other problems such as depression and social anxiety.

Symptoms that indicate that you have an internet addiction:

  • You feel an urge to spend increasingly long periods of time online and have a fear of missing out (FOMO).
  • You isolate yourself more and more in order to spend more time on the internet. Interest in offline activities declines. You neglect your friends, family, studies and hobbies.
  • You use the internet as an escape route to avoid thinking about problems.
  • You are restless when you can't use the internet. When you're not online, all you think about is the internet. You experience withdrawal symptoms such as anxiety, irritation and irritability.
  • You are ashamed of your frequent internet use. You minimise or deny the time you spend online, and lie to those around you about it.
  • It is difficult to keep agreements on how to limit your internet behaviour. Attempts to stop or reduce internet use fail.

These symptoms don't all necessarily indicate an internet addiction, however. Someone who uses the internet a lot may just as well do so for work, study or other purposes. Addiction only occurs when an inner urge to use the internet arises and affects your normal functioning.

Forms of internet addiction

The most common forms of internet addiction are:

  • Cybersex - you use the internet to watch pornography, download it or participate in online chat rooms for sexual role-playing. This can lead to neglect of your real sex life.
  • Chat and relationships - you are constantly in contact with others through chat rooms or online networking sites, at the expense of spending time with family and friends in real life. This can also lead to having online affairs or 'cyberadultery'.
  • Gaming - you spend excessive amounts of time gaming, gambling or shopping. This can lead to serious financial problems.
  • Information overload - you compulsively check, search or collect information on a specific topic, such as constantly looking at financial pages to check the share price or checking your email every five minutes.

Test yourself

Often online? Would you like to find out how risky your internet use is? Do the anonymous self-test on Drugline.be and get immediate advice.

Digital balance

Some tips to keep your internet use in balance:

  • Make your problems with internet use public so that people can pay attention to your use, and help you.
  • Check your checking. Decide in advance how long you are going to be online. Set the time on an alarm clock and force yourself to stop when the alarm goes off. There are apps that keep track of your time use. You can also download programmes that automatically shut down your computer if you are on the internet for more than two hours.
  • Disconnect to reconnect. Don't do everything online. Alternate. Meet up with friends, take a walk, read a book, meet up with friends outside.

I'm glad that I discussed my excessive internet use with my study coach. We've now made a concrete list of tips to make my use more balanced.


Talk about it

Do you spend too much time online? And does this affect your studies and contact with friends? Have a conversation with someone you feel comfortable with and trust, like a good friend, your parents, sister or brother. This can bring relief and help you sort things out. You can also find help together.

If you don’t immediately have the courage to tell someone in your direct surroundings, then try to approach someone who is familiar with similar experiences, such as a GP or a student counsellor at your college or university.

Would you prefer to share your story anonymously? You can always call on Awel (102 or awel.be) or Tele-Onthaal (106 or tele-onthaal.be). If you have suicidal thoughts or questions about suicide, contact the Suicide Hotline (1813 or zelfmoord1813.be). Talking helps.

Seek help

If you think you are addicted to the internet or have difficulty controlling your internet use, it is important to seek professional help. You can contact a counsellor who specialises in addiction, for example. More information can be obtained anonymously from Druglijn.be or directly from your doctor.

Multiple types of assistance and help are available, though there is no single magical method that will solve all your problems at once. Practically all types of help have several active elements in common, including:

- enhancing your motivation to quit or fitting internet use into your everyday life without disrupting it

- teaching you to identify risky situations

- enhancing your self-confidence, for example by emphasising your abilities and skills

Worried about a friend?

Have you noticed that a friend spends too much time online and that it interferes with their daily life? Then you may not know what to say or do.Talk about the problem, don't judge but voice your concern.

Keen to learn, read or hear more about this topic?

TED Talks


  • Drugline.be offers a listening ear and a self-test to find out how risky your gaming behaviour is, followed by an initial recommendation.


  • Mediawijs, the Flemish Knowledge Centre for Digital and Media Literacy, offers a dossier on gaming.
  • The Center for Internet Addiction Recovery has a dossier on internet addiction.