Medical Explanations for Internet Addiction
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Internet Addiction Defined

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Created by Andy Oliver

Sociocultutral Explanations

Addictions vary according to sex, age, socioeconomic status, ethnicity, religion, and country. Some addictions are more common among persons of different categories. For example, alcoholism is most common in the middle socioeconomic classes, in Native and Irish Americans, and in Catholics. Whites are more likely to use PCP and hallucinogens, but less likely than Blacks or Latinos to use heroin(Sue, 1994). Not enough data is World Wide Web available yet about those persons addicted to the Internet to determine if a particular class is most predominant. In addition, at this point there is not enough diversity among Internet users to make any definitive statements. As the diversity among users increases, and as the amount of research on the problem increases, hopefully we will know more about this interesting aspect of addiction with regard to the Internet.

Behavioral Explanations

These explanations are based on B.F. Skinner's studies on operant conditioning (Sue, 1994). The person performs a behavior and gets either rewarded or punished for the behavior. To illustrate, there might be a child who is painfully shy and fears meeting new people. Whenever it is time for recess, he goes off on his own, and does not play with the other children. Thus, he avoids having to talk to anyone new, and consequently avoids the anxiety associated with new encounters. This avoidance of anxiety is rewarding and reinforces his behavior. This means that he is likely to engage in this behavior (escaping from the problem) the next recess, or the next time he must meet new people. This relates to addiction, and specifically Internet addiction in the following way: Drugs, alcohol, sex, gambling, the Internet, and shopping offer many rewards. They offer love, excitement, physical, emotional, and material comfort, and the means to escape from reality. These can all be rewards. If an individual wants these rewards and learns that the Internet will allow him to escape, or receive love, or have a lot of fun, he will probably turn to the Internet the next time he feels these needs. This becomes reinforcing, and the cycle continues.

Biomedical Explanations

coffee These explanations focus on hereditary and congenital factors, chemical imbalances in the brain and neurotransmitters. There could be chromosomes, hormones, and surplus or lack of certain necessary chemicals and neurotransmitters that regulate activity in the brain and the rest of the nervous system. According to this perspective, this would cause a someone to be susceptible to addiction (Sue, 1994). There is definitive research that shows that some drugs act to fill in the synaptic gaps of the neurons in the brain, fooling the brain into sending out faulty information. This, it is thought, is one reason for the "high" one gets from engaging in activities such as running, drug use, and gambling. This might apply to Internet addiction, since many opportunities on the Internet are fun and exciting.


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