Internet Addiction

"Infatuation with the Internet has taken over the U.S.: newspapers, radio, TV and magazines are constantly talking about it.," said Randy Watkins, a writer, consultant and trainer on technology issues. Watkins is addressing the issue of internet addiction1. "Businesses are scrambling to get a part of the action. Even on Wall Street, every week a new company is created or an old company revives due to involvement with the Internet. But nowhere has the Internet had a greater impact than in the homes of America.

"It seems everyone is clamoring to get connected to the Internet and then, once they are connected, they get hooked. Think of it as cable television with 4.3 billion channels."

In a related article, Lisanne Carothers states, "the American Psychological Society says there's actually a disease called 'Internet Addiction Disorder.' And, a recent study of 396 Internet participants conducted by the organization revealed that obsessing over e-mail and the Internet can hurt daily relationships and work performance. Those suffering from IAD most often have neglected real-life relationships and are thrilled by the chance to develop a new persona, play out sexual fantasies or have instant access to new information and new people."2

At left is a picture of technology pioneer Bill Gates, founder and owner of Microsoft. This pic of Gates shows him fully-wired. For those interested in the lengths Gates goes in surrounding himself with new technology, check out the Dec. 1, 1997, issue of U.S. News & World Report in which a foldout of Gates' outlandish mansion details just how wired the man is.

Internet Addiction Syndrome (IAD) has been confirmed by Kimberly Young, a professor of psychology at Pittsburgh University. She has started the Centre for Online Addiction and assembled data on more than 400 cases.3

Young says that "those most at risk are not young students but middle-aged housewives or house-husbands. The addiction typically strkes people who had never used a PC before."

Britain's Dr. Mark Griffiths, an expert in behavioral addiction at Nottingham Trent University, has reviewed sufficient case studies to be certain that IAD exists. He wants to find out if people become addicted to Internet usage because it allows them to reach other items of addiction on the Net, such as pornography or gambling, or if it is the Net itself.

The tell-tale symptoms of IAD include a loss of control over how long somebody spends on the Internet, lying to spouses about the time spent online, a need to log on immediately after waking in the morning, increasing amounts of online time needed to achieve satisfaction, recurring dreams and fantasies about what is happening on the Internet and repeated, but unsuccessful attempts to cut down on the amount of time online.

Young says that these addicts are not sad people who previously had unsatisfying lives. They are often people whose lives were fine before going online. "It is a real and very definite high and if people were not inadequate before they went online they may become so afterwards, because they cease to care about the real world."

The best treatment of IAD, according to Dr. Griffiths, is a gradual weaning. Quitting cold turkey, like treatment suggested for alcoholics and drug abusers, won't work, he states. "The first step is to set time limits on Internet usage because one of the first symptoms is that people lose all sense of time when they are online. I suggest an alarm clock beside the computer and limiting Internet usage to two hours a day, five days a week."

If that fails, Young suggests patients should plan to go online an hour or two before they have to go out or undertake some other fixed commitment.

A big problem facing doctors is that that Internet, unlike other focuses of addiction, is certain to become increasingly compelling. Compulsive areas, such as chat rooms, are just starting to add virtual-reality graphics which allow users to select avatars - graphic character representations - for the identities they assume.

Do you think you could be addicted to the Internet? Take this humorous survey to find out!

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