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A Growing Epidemic in America: Internet Addiction
The Internet has become one of the most universal methods for communication with over 100 million users worldwide. From e-mail to the possibly billions of web pages, there is an infinite amount of information flowing. And another enticing aspect of the Internet, is the opportunity to interact with other people. Chat Rooms and MUD (Multi-User Dimensional) games offer the person the ability to talk and mingle with others online. But with this newfound freedom, also comes the possibility of abuse and addiction.
Internet addiction, also known as Pathological Internet use, has emerged as a very destructive force in today’s society. David Greenfield believes “an estimated 6 percent of the web users 100 million people are thought to be online addicts, and that number is growing everyday.” But what causes Internet Addiction? There are many different causes, but one of the most essential, is thought to be a personality disorder. Carol Potera, an author in Psychology Today says, “The lone, bored, depress, introverted, lacking self-esteem, or have a history of addictions are most vulnerable.” This group of people seems to be the most susceptible to all mental disorders, psychologically or physical. These people need to fill the void that has been created by not having any real life relationships, so they turn to the Internet, just as if someone would turn to drugs. Greenfield thinks “people feel closer, quicker to the people they communicated with online than in real life; time passes freely, and people like the anonymity.” (Greenfield)
A study conducted by the Stanford Institute for the Quantitative Study of Society and InterSurvey (headed by Norman H Nie and Lutz Erbing) had some interesting findings. Twenty-five percent of the surveyed participants (4,113 in 2,689 households) say that web time has reduced their time spent with friends and family and participating in events outside the home. They also found that nearly 60% of the surveyed cut back on television viewing also, in which
Erbing added that “the Internet could be the ultimate isolating technology that further reduces our participation in communities, even more than TV did before.” (Erbing)
This is a relatively new disorder, and there hasn’t been much studying or research of it. So how does one know if he or she is a pathological Internet user? There are a few symptoms that are good indicators of a problem, says Kimberly S. Young of AddictionSolutions.com. “Neglecting family activities, social events, work, school in order to spend more time on the Internet is probably the biggest sign of Internet addiction.” (Young) But also suffering withdrawal symptoms, not being able to limit time online, constantly thinking about the next online session, and preferring to talk to cyber-friends rather than face-to-face conversations are also signs.
There are about 3 distinct situations in which internet addiction can take form although they all are based on the need of personal contact, and ability to change personal status to gain peer recognition Online games, chat rooms, and cyber-sexual addiction. Greenfield tries to identify these separate cases. “One way a person becomes addicted to the net is through online games. It is a fantasy world where the player takes on the name of a character and they battle other on-line players accumulating “points” and status from other players. While online, the player feels in control of their destiny, yet off-line they feel less competent and maybe awkward when not playing.” (Greenfield) I have been part of this MUD gaming system, and I must say that it was exciting. Although I wasn’t that really interested in it after a few times of play, because the others were a lot better than I was, and I would lose almost every match almost indefinitely. I didn’t feel a real need to return to the site to continue the game mostly due to the fact that I wasn’t successful in it. But if I would have better at it, and had fun, it could have been a different story. A more taboo type of addiction presented by the Internet is the cyber-sexual addiction. The Internet provides pornographic images to anyone, and there is almost no sort of safeguard to young children. This sort of freedom makes it hard to stop. Also there is always the expectation to find a better site. Dori Jones Yang says “with the Internet, there is always another link, another banner, and always something better to find.” (Yang) Chat rooms are more accessible to a bigger range of people, which makes them probably the most abused part of the Internet. The only requirements is being able to communicate effectively and having a computer. Greenfield had this to say about chat rooms; “chat rooms create imaginary relationships, which to the user seem to be more ideal than those in real life and becomes more important. But once contact has been made, and the online mate didn’t turn out the way he or she planned, they are in turn drawn back to the Internet in the perpetual hunt for a perfect mate. All those cyber chatters are drawn to others who are depressed or lonely like them.” (Greenfield) This is often one of the most destructive in relationships. Users start off causally surfing the web, perhaps stumble upon a chat room. They find a room that they can relate too, and begin chatting. A contact they talk to begins to turn into a relationship-based bond. If this person is involved in a relationship, such as dating partner, or marriage, it could turn into disaster. There are numerous cases of divorce accounted to the Internet. Take for instance Bob and Judy, a Seattle couple. Bob began receiving credit card bills with $350 charges for online services. Soon he began neglecting household chores, stopped joining Judy for dinner, and would stumble into bed late at night. So it was apparent that Bob had chosen his virtual life over his real one, so Judy left. (Potera)
Internet addiction has been growing more and more, and there is a small chance that it has affected you in your life. But if it does, do you know how to cure this ailment? Obviously, the most used treatment, is to just limit use of the Internet. But this is like asking a smoker to quit cold turkey; it usually isn’t a good diagnosis. Maressa Hecht Orzack says there are two main options in therapy, Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT). “CBT is a familiar treatment based on the premise that thoughts determine feelings. Patients are taught to monitor their thoughts and identify those that trigger addictive feelings and actions while they learn new coping skills and ways to prevent a relapse.” So they are taught to ask themselves which are more important, the relationships online, or the real ones. Another treatment is Motivational Enhancement Treatment (MET). “MET is less familiar. Its aim is to help patients acknowledge that they have a problem and need to change their behavior. The stages of change are contemplation, determination, action, maintenance, and contemplation again after a relapse.” Therapists also assess the computer the use of patients in great detail and reaffirm their acknowledgment of the need for help. Therapy groups are the most advised way for treatment. When you can relate to others with others who also have the same problem.
The Internet has opened the door of the information age to many people. Actually, the information age was created due to the Internet. Yet, the negatives will never out shadow all the positives that the Internet has done for the world probably, and the Internet is almost assuredly here to stay. So people must be able to use it, without abuse. This isn’t the first time that something has been reared a society-destructive force, and it probably won’t be the last. It is just another way that people can escape the real world, and enter their own sort of utopia. Whether drug-induced or via e-mail, its all the same.
1. David Greenfield, People Weekly, “Internet Addiction” 2000, Time Inc.
2. Dori Jones Young, U.S. News and World Report, 2000, U.S. News and World Report Inc.
3. R.W. Greene, Computer World, “Internet Addiction”, 1998 Computerworld Inc.
4. B. Bower, Science News, “Survey Raises issue of isolated Web Users”, 2000 Science Service Inc.
5. Peter Mitchell, The Lancet, “Internet Addiction: Genuine Diagnosis or not?” 2000 The Lancet Ltd.
6. Carol Potera, Psychology Today, “Trapped in the Web”, 1998 Sussex Publishers Inc.
7. Kimberly S. Young, AddictionSolutions.com, “Is Internet Addiction a Problem for You?” 2000 AddictionSolutions.com
8. Ron Harris, Black Issues In Higher Education, “Study: All Net and No Play Makes Johnny a Social Recluse.”, 2000 Cox Matthews & Associates
9. Arthur Fischer, Popular Science , “It’s an Addiction!”, 1999 Times Mirror Magazine
10. Maressa Hecht Orsack, Harvard Mental Health Letter, “Computer Addiction: Is it Real or Virtual”, 1999 Harvard medical School of Health
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