The 5 Steps

The Five Stages of Internet Addiction Recovery

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Internet addiction, which includes addiction to gaming, social media, online shopping, pornography, and web surfing does not happen overnight. The process takes years to unfold and months to fully realize. Likewise, those who expect a swift and linear recovery will be sorely disappointed.

People who overcome their Internet addiction problems go through the 5 stages of recovery:

  1. Detachment
  2. Contemplation
  3. The Reckoning
  4. Progression
  5. Mastery
Five Stages of Internet Recovery


During stage one (detachment), the individual is oblivious to reality and shrugs off criticism or suggestions of behavioral change from others.

Advice from parents and friends fall on deaf ears. Why? The virtual world simply represents too great of an asset to relinquish. Adolescents will attempt to skirt and evade external regulations (rules set by parents) whenever the opportunity presents itself. College students will skip class without giving it a second thought. Quality of life, academic or work performance, and physical health continue to deteriorate.

During stage two (contemplation), the individual begins to realize the error of his or her ways and will make token efforts to improve.

These efforts can include “putting away the smartphone” during certain times of the day or staying at the library to complete homework instead of rushing home to play PC games. The efforts are genuine but do not make any “real progress” because the will to quit is not strong enough to overcome the “benefits” of going online. Internet addiction is only briefly interrupted by periods of moderation or abstinence.

During stage three (the reckoning), a strong breakthrough, event, or epiphany enables the user to piece together the final puzzle.

This stage involves defining a concrete and realistic purpose in life, coming to terms with “fate” (one’s place in society), and a renewed oath to break free from addiction.

Although the shortest of the 5 stages, it is also the most critical. We will discuss this in more detail in the second half.

During stage four (progression), the individual finally starts to make real progress in reducing Internet/gaming use and truly embraces alternative activities to fill in the void.

Relationships and academic performance improve. 9 hours of Internet use falls to 7 hours, then 5 hours, and so forth.

This stage is marked by irregular intervals of relapse. Relapse occurs when the individual experiences bouts of temptation and hunger to return to the “old ways.” However, these temporary periods of regression do not erase the already earned gains once the individual regains control.

Recovery can take years or months depending on two factors that we identify in the second half.

During stage five (mastery), the individual is no longer held captive and develops a strong competency in other facets of life. This stage marks a “return to normal” and perhaps more, given all the lessons learned along the way.

The individual’s internal ability to regulate is powerful enough to prevent relapse. “Cravings” greatly diminish or go away entirely.

Why is this important?

During each and every stage, some tactics will work more effectively than others. Some tactics will not work at all.

Lesson #1: People in stage 1 are almost always going to reject reason and logic.

In fact, you have a better chance of converting a dedicated atheist group to Islam or Christianity by showing up to the organization’s doorstep and handing out pamphlets or proselytizing. To put it simply, the benefits of their compulsive Internet use (to evade a painful reality and to forget about the negative aspects of daily life) far outweigh any alternative you can provide.

If you are a parent whose son or daughter resides in stage 1, then your best bet is to follow a “damage control” protocol. “Damage control” means to limit the amount of damage (both to you as a parent, and to your son or daughter) that their compulsive Internet use creates.

For adolescents, this means restricting Internet/gaming time and making it an earned privilege instead of a right. For college students, you will have to assess whether they truly want to continue a college education and what alternatives are acceptable to them. For those beyond the age of 22, it’s time to let go and have them experience reality as an adult.

At True Digital Detox, we accept clients who are in “stage 1.” However, we keep it short with 2 sessions at the maximum because we know that repeating the same points over and over (or trying to reason with logic/facts) is unlikely to convince them to change their minds.

Lesson #2: True Internet addiction recovery requires Stage 3.

Without stage 3, you are simply on “borrowed time” before the next crisis hits.

There are many reasons people sink into Internet addiction during their adolescent and young adult years. One of them is mentally refusing to accept their “role in society.”

Most parents (and people in general) have difficulty empathizing with such a belief since they have never had such thoughts. Additionally, American culture tends to prolong adolescence and indulgence in whimsical desire, which makes it easier to justify such immaturity.

However, the notion of accepting all the “adult responsibilities and burdens” with all its unsavory aspects (possibility of divorce, financial hardship, the monotony of work, the long commutes, etc.) can be overwhelming. People who turn to Internet addiction will subconsciously delay accepting the rough road that lies ahead (or perhaps a road already experienced and failed) by escaping into a cozy and comfortable virtual reality.

There are two points worth noting from our end:

“Life skills” and greater competency helps people to navigate through adult life much more easily. “Talk therapy,” for all the emotional support it provides, does not address this issue at all.

Second, getting from stage #2 to stage #3 can take a long time; sometimes it can be lengthier than the other steps combined. This is because gathering the necessary resources, values, mindset, and self-awareness to reject addiction does not come naturally for most people.

However, once the participant reaches stage #3, everything will start to “fall in line” and recovery will finally begin to accelerate. How long it takes is just a matter of technical skill, much like graduating from a university.

Lesson #3: Stage 4 involves a lot of painful moments.

Anyone who prepares for an athletic competition will tell you that it’s not easy. The long hours of training combined with pain endurance is pretty much a given. Recovering from Internet addiction (or any addiction in general) is a similar process.

Most people going through recovery will have 2 or 3 major “relapse” incidents where they sink into old habits. However, as long as they know what they truly want (out of life), and have alternative means of coping with stress/anxiety, these incidents will not impede the gains already made.

Having a well-defined purpose in life and learning to deal with difficult moments (“triggers” like stress and anxiety) will serve as the ultimate means of eradicating addiction.

Final Words

True Digital Detox provides non-medical (personal) consulting services for families with an adolescent/young adult member who suffers from Internet addiction.

To learn more about us, visit our “About” and “Services/Pricing” pages.

If you want to get started, please follow the instructions here.

Don’t hesitate to contact us if you have questions.

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