Internet Addiction – The New Age Drug that Is Harming Muslims

The symptoms of internet addiction are in many ways scarily similar to those caused by illegal drug addiction, and may even be more potent.

Social media addiction, or more generally, ‘internet addiction’ is an umbrella term that refers to the unnecessary and excessive usage of the internet, often to the point that the real life of those addicted suffers.

But what is the nature of addiction?

According to contemporary biological science, the neurons in our body communicate with each other via special chemicals called neurotransmitters. And one of these transmitters is known as ‘dopamine’.

Whenever we anticipate a reward, special dopamine-releasing neurons are activated. This dopamine then communicates with the reward center in our brain in order to affect our behavior. The stronger this release of dopamine is, the more we get motivated to repeat the same behavior over and over again in order to generate the same reward.

These effects are caused via natural dopamine. However, synthetic drugs that have structures similar to this and other neurotransmitters can mimic its effects, and elicit a feeling of reward far more potent than the natural route. To the point that it is labelled ‘euphoric’.

RELATED: Drugs As Escape from Dunya

After the high wears off, the person feels empty inside. The world around him loses color, and everything is dull. His natural dopamine just can’t give him the awesome yet temporary hit he desperately craves. Not thinking of the consequences, he once again uses the drug.

Little does he know that the body has a funny way of adapting to whatever it’s exposed to. The dopamine spike after his first few hits no longer reaches that peak. He has become ‘tolerant’ to the drug. Alas, he can no longer relive that fleeting moment. And so, in his mind, there is only one thing left to do.

Keep using. Keep numbing his mind so he doesn’t have to return to his boring reality, so he doesn’t have to speak to his dull family, so he doesn’t have to live a colorless life.

Muslims are forbidden from indulging in intoxicants like alcohol and drugs. And I’m sure most of the Muslims reading this have never taken a single illegal drug in their life. And yet, I can also guarantee that a lot of the audience could relate to some of the symptoms I described above.

How is that possible? If they didn’t experience similar symptoms via drug-abuse, then where? The answer is, as you guessed it: The internet.

The internet is a drug that, just like physical drugs, elicits a higher than normal release of dopamine. A study discovered:

A significant positive correlation was found between participants’ weekly online time and their peripheral blood plasma dopamine levels. It was indicated that the more the time subjects spend on using Internet, the higher peripheral plasma level they had. Precious studies revealed that addictive substance could increase the release of dopamine.

In addition, this study also found another similarity between drug and internet addiction:

However, this positive correlation was not continued, an opposite effect would occur after over stimulation that decreases the number of receptors and the remaining receptors become less sensitive to dopamine. This phenomenon is called tolerance.

Just like drugs, the internet gives its users dopamine imbued rewards. Rewards in the form of likes on Facebook and Instagram, views on YouTube, upvotes on Reddit, retweets on Twitter, and so on. And just like drugs, this instant gratification lasts but mere seconds.

WOW, I GOT 10 LIKES!

Wow, I got 100 likes!

No way, a 1000 likes, let’s see how much more I can get.

10,000, not bad. But imagine what a 100,000 would be like. Maybe even a million? More?

And it’s not just how many likes the user gets. They’re also addicted to the content on these apps. Just think. How many hours of your life have you spent browsing through apps like YouTube and TikTok in the last week?

RELATED: Why Muslims Should Be Concerned By the Metaverse 

Another thing to note is that gradually you’ll spend more time looking for something to watch rather than actually watching something. Why? Because just like a drug-user, you’ve become ‘tolerant’. Most of the content available doesn’t excite you anymore. It doesn’t give you the same hit of dopamine. And so you scroll endlessly, looking for that one sweet post to hook you back in. But you won’t find it. Instead, you’ll pass out from exhaustion, until you wake up and resume this morbid routine once more.

The human pit of desire is endless, and these social media companies capitalize on that fact. They are designed to keep you, the user, engaged for as long as possible. A BBC article reads:

“It’s as if they’re taking behavioural cocaine and just sprinkling it all over your interface and that’s the thing that keeps you like coming back and back and back”, said former Mozilla and Jawbone employee Aza Raskin.

“Behind every screen on your phone, there are generally like literally a thousand engineers that have worked on this thing to try to make it maximally addicting” he added.

Another study states:

Social media today has become an integral part of people’s lives worldwide. It can cause addiction with dopamine implicated. This is perpetuated through feedback loop mechanisms acting through dopamine reward system; keeping the users in the loop.

Even Teen Vogue released an article stating:

New testimony from Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen and thousands of leaked documents show that Facebook knew the harm it can cause, particularly to young people.

This idea of a vicious cycle designed to keep the user trapped in an infinite merry-go-round, coupled with the fact that the internet is far more accessible than illegal drugs, right at our fingertips, is what gives it the potential to be much more addictive and destructive.

So, what should the Muslim Ummah do to get out of this massive Fitnah, given that many of us have been affected by it?

Instead of our brain, we need to give our spirit what it craves. What it has been deprived of. Connection with Allah. Our soul needs to be replenished through the remembrance of Our Creator. This is why we need to be regular in our prayers, and recite adhkar. When our soul is fulfilled, our mind won’t feel empty either.

RELATED: Make Social Media a Spiritual Exercise

One of the most important things we should do as Muslims is remind ourselves of the bigger picture. Of our purpose in this life. Remind ourselves that it is not befitting of a Muslim to waste countless hours doing nothing.

The importance of time is reiterated many times throughout the Qur’an:

By time, (103:1)
By the night when it covers, and the day when it shines! (92:1-2)

Remind ourselves that this life is as fleeting as the temporary satisfaction these apps give us, that death will come for us all, and that we will be held accountable for our actions in front of Allah:

You will then be presented ˹before Him for judgment˺, and none of your secrets will stay hidden. (69:18)
Say, “The death you are running away from will inevitably come to you. Then you will be returned to the Knower of the seen and unseen, and He will inform you of what you used to do.” (62:8)

In conclusion, I’ll leave a quote by Ibn al-Qayyim:

Wasting time is worse than death, because death separates you from this world whereas wasting time separates you from Allah.

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Baz (SL)

“So, what should the Muslim Ummah do to get out of this massive Fitnah, given that many of us have been affected by it?”

I know this may not be suitable or easy or comfortable for everyone, but One of the obvious solutions is to give up many modern technologies, including the Internet, and live a relatively low tech lifestyle in a village or small religious lifestyle community living isolated from the mainstream urban liberal society. This is a solution that has already been tried and proven over millennia to avoid all the problems of Internet addiction, since the people of before more than 30 years ago (including all vthe prophet’s and sohaba) never suffered the problems of Internet addiction and yet they were still able to live a normal fulfilling life including preserving all the necessary deeny things.