Resources for Internet Addiction
- What is Internet Addiction?
A passion adds value to one's life, an addiction takes away value. When the line between these two is crossed, the addict is often the last to know, due to their denial. A family and social history will reveal that the subject is being evaluated by close friends as actually suffering a great loss from their activity.
Internet Addiction Disorder is the term first proposed by Dr. Ivan Goldberg for pathological, compulsive Internet usage. The criteria for this disorder are listed in appendix 1 and are based on similar criteria for substance abused disorders found in the DSM-IV. It is ironic that Dr. Goldberg was not serious about proposing this as an official diagnostic category, yet this term became used extensively. Dr. Goldberg recently revised his suggestion to change the term for this condition to Pathological Computer Use, and changed several of the criteria.
Pathological Computer Use Disorder was proposed by me as the name for a disorder in which people overuse computers to the extent that (A and/or B):
A. Such use causes them distress;
B. Such use has a detrimental effect on their physical, psychological, interpersonal, marital, economic, or social functioning.
A parallel unofficial disorder would be 'workaholism" and the parallel official DSM-IV diagnosis would be "Pathological Gambling."(Goldberg, 96)
In another note posted to the Internet, Dr. Goldberg refers to this condition as one that causes "Decreased occupational, academic, social, work-related, family-related, financial, psychological, or physiological functioning." For this study, the term Internet Addiction Disorder (IAD) will be used to designate a pathological use of computers, to engage in social interactivity. The term Pathological Computer Use (PCU) will be reserved for the broader category in which someone is pathological about any aspect of computers, and includes uses that are not social in their nature.
- Internet Addiction Disorder
To be diagnosed as having Internet Addiction Disorder, a person must meet certain criteria as prescribed by the American Psychiatric Association. Three or more criteria must be present at any time during a twelve month period:
1. Tolerance: This refers to the need for increasing amounts of time on the Internet to achieve satisfaction and/or significantly diminished effect with continued use of the same amount of time on the Internet.
2. Two or more withdrawal symptoms developing within days to one month after reduction of Internet use or cessation of Internet use (i.e., quitting cold turkey) , and these must cause distress or impair social, personal or occupational functioning. These include: psychomotor agitation, i.e. trembling, tremors; anxiety; obsessive thinking about what is happening on the Internet; fantasies or dreams about the Internet; voluntary or involuntary typing movements of the fingers.
3. Use of the Internet is engaged in to relieve or avoid withdrawal symptoms.
4. The Internet is often accessed more often, or for longer periods of time than was intended.
5. A significant amount of time is spent in activities related to Internet use ( e.g., Internet books, trying out new World Wide Web browsers, researching Internet vendors, etc.).
6. Important social, occupational, or recreational activities are given up or reduced because of Internet use.
7. The individual risks the loss of a significant relationship, job, educational or career opportunity because of excessive use of the Internet.
In recent research, other characteristics have been identified. The first is feelings of restlessness or irritability when attempting to cut down or stop Internet use. The second is that the Internet is used as a way of escaping problems or relieving feelings of helplessness, guilt, anxiety or depression. The third characteristic is that the user lies to family members or friends to conceal the extent of involvement with the Internet. And, finally, the user returns repeatedly despite excessive fees.
Due to the nature of Internet Addiction Disorder (failed impulse control without involving an intoxicant), of all other addictions, IAD is said to be closest to pathological gambling. However, the effects that the addiction can have on every aspect of the person's life are just as devastating as those of alcoholism.
- Symptoms of Internet Addiction
- Using the online services everyday without any skipping.
- Loosing track of time after making a connection.
- Goes out less and less.
- Spending less and less time on meals at home or at work, and eats in front of the monitor.
- Denying spending too much time on the Net.
- Others complaining of your too much time in front of the monitor.
- Checking on your mailbox too many times a day.
- You think you have got the greatest web site in the world and dying to give people your URL.
- Logging onto the Net while already busy at work.
- Sneaking online when spouse or family members not at home, with a sense of relief.
- The Net Effect: Internet Addiction and Compulsive Internet Use
Dr. Dave N. Greenfield
The Center for Internet Studies
It may be known by many names. Internet addiction, Compulsive Internet Disorder, or Pathological Internet Use. What ever we call it there is hardy a mental health or addictions practitioner who hasn't seen some form of this modern digital malady in their practice. Family Law attorneys are reporting record numbers of divorces related to cybersex and cyber affairs. Employees are being fired for cyberslacking at work, due to excessive e-mail, downloading pornography, or endless cybersurfing. There is no doubt that the Internet is the spearhead of the digital industrial revolution, but is also the sword of Damocles when it comes to its powerful psychological impact on some people's lives. In my research survey of nearly 18,000 people (in conjunction with ABCNEWS.com) I found that nearly 6% of those surveyed met the strict criteria for Compulsive Internet use, with another 4-6 % abusing the Net on a regular basis. The Internet is not as benign as we might think, it has powerful mood altering capabilities, and over 29% of those I studies report using the Internet to " alter their mood or escape on a regular basis.
The Reality of Internet and Computer Addiction
Compulsive Internet use seems to produce the same type of tolerance and withdrawal as other addictions. There is also growing research evidence supporting the conclusion that many Internet users, perhaps as many as six percent, are being negatively impacted by their Internet use. It seems that you can develop a tolerance to Internet use, as you may need greater amounts of time online or to access more stimulating material. Although Web sites need not be sexual in nature in order to become addictive, they often are for a great number of Netheads. Of those who meet the criteria for Internet addiction, 62 percent regularly logged on to pornography sites, and reported experiencing sexual arousal while online "sometimes." They spent an average of over four hours per week viewing material on the adult sites, and 37.5 percent reported masturbating while online! For these Internet users, the Net offered a high degree of stimulation and sexual excitement.
Fred's story reflects a fairly typical scenario of a man whose sexual preoccupation became dangerous when combined with the power of the Internet. Fred is a 29-year-old professional with a very promising career. His excessive, and at times, self-defeating Internet use pattern demonstrates how sexually addictive the Internet can be.
Fred is on the corporate fast track to money, success, and is contemplating becoming engaged to his girlfriend of three years. Everything seems great, except that Fred is addicted to pornography on the Internet. When I first met him, he was spending several hours during and after work viewing pornographic pictures, sometimes until 3:00 am only to be at work again by 7:00 am. He compulsively rented adult videos and planned his business trips around having access to the Net or to adult video stores. Sometimes he would buy sexual products over the Net, and has even found himself ripped off through his credit card.
Fred spent hundreds of dollars on Internet access while surfing on the Net for hours searching for naked women. He described himself as obsessed, and out of control, but unable to stop on his own. He'd tried a half-a-dozen times before, but with no lasting results. Fred finally came to see me after he saw our ad and Web site that discussed Internet addiction issues. He'd hit bottom. He no longer felt he had control of this part of his life and he was scared. He could control every other aspect of his life, but this one was too powerful to handle alone. Through psychotherapy and a therapy group he has been getting the help he needs, and his life is beginning to turn around. For Fred, and many others, any interaction with the Internet can become so sexually stimulating that it leads to an addictive pattern of use.
Is it Physical or Psychological?
The distinction sometimes made by health professionals between physical and psychological addictions is probably irrelevant, and is certainly impractical. We are holistic beings. After all, you don't see many bodies walking around without brains or visa versa do you? (Ok maybe you know a few people who fit the bill!) This artificial distinction between the mind and body has little practical validity for understanding how addiction actually works, because our minds and bodies are actually integrated and function as one in the same. There are distinct chemical pathways that connect virtually every part of the body to our central nervous system, including the endocrine system. In short, we are what we think , what we feel , and do . Everything we experience impacts our psychological and physical health and visa versa. Health then, is the integration and appreciation of the interrelationship between all parts of us, including the less tangible spiritual side of ourselves. To follow, disease then is the absence of that healthy integration, and one experiences a " dis-ease" in their life. Addiction can be a chief symptom for how that disharmony can become expressed in our lives.
The psychological dependence that occurs when someone becomes habituated (tolerant) to a behavior or substance is very powerful. You can develop strong rituals and habits around the behavior and this becomes woven into the very fabric of a person's life. Almost all of the people I treat for an addiction feel a real " need" for the behavior or substance which controls them. And many of the people I have interviewed for this book state that they need their Internet use in much the same way. The Internet has become out of control for them and has taken a central, and dysfunctional, position in their life.
Perhaps no case better expresses the power of Internet addiction then Sandra Hacker's (Yes that really is her name!) She made front-page news as the first well-publicized legal case involving Internet addiction. She was charged with neglecting her children while spending all day and night online. She had apparently left her children to live in squalor while she locked herself in a nice clean room with a new computer and modem. This case drew a lot of publicity because it broke the country's collective denial about the possibility of addiction to the Internet, and it showed how children can be negatively affected by the Internet. The story demonstrated that the power of Internet addiction could override even the most basic instincts of protecting our children. And while it does reflect an extreme example, her case is probably less unique than we think. Since then, I have been contacted numerous times to consult with individuals about Internet addiction and child custody issues, along with cases where Internet addiction has affected marriages, jobs, finances, and relationships.
We Get High From What We Do.
Behaviors that are potentially addictive include work, sex, gambling, food, exercise, shopping, television, computers, the Internet, in addition to drugs and alcohol use. This list is by no means exhaustive. There are probably as many possibilities as there are potential pleasures. It is my contention that the basic psycho-biological process of addiction is fairly similar regardless of the initial source of the "high." What do all the above behaviors have in common? What makes them addictive? And why do some individuals become psycho-physiologically dependent on these behaviors, while others do not? After all, these are behaviors that most people engage in on a regular, if not daily, basis without any problems, however, when combined with certain circumstances, an addictive pattern can emerge. Often this addictive pattern is not appreciated until the addiction has taken serious hold and there are obvious negative consequences. It is likely that many people become addicted to seemingly innocuous behaviors; the Internet is simply the most recent addition to a long list of behaviors that we may find addictive. In fact, a cable modem installer recently commented to me that he has never seen such strong reactions from people as when their Internet service is interrupted. He described a significant "withdrawal" from the Internet (as compared to TV) when their Internet access went down.
The Use and Abuse of the Internet
Why is the so Internet addictive? To answer this question, let's look for a moment at the nature of gambling which may have a lot in common with the Internet. Few people would argue that gambling is potentially addictive for some people. Just look at the presence of Gamblers Anonymous (GA), support groups for family members of gambling addicts (GAMANON), and the numerous programs sponsored by private and governmental agencies. Even state lottery commissions and casinos offer assistance! In Connecticut there are advertisements for help glued onto the lottery machines! Clearly, gambling addiction is a real phenomenon and there are those individuals who, for whatever reason, find themselves gambling well beyond their means, in a compulsive and self-destructive manner. This behavior has tremendous implications on the quality of their relationships and their health. People can lose their house, car, family, and job, all the while continuing to find themselves gambling. They may be in a casino, betting on a sporting event, playing the stock market, lotto, or simply playing bingo—all for the purpose of receiving that "hit." All of these behaviors most likely involve an elevation of the neurochemical Serotonin that we experience as a temporary sense of exhilaration. This process is short-lived, but very intense, pleasurable, and habit forming. We know that most people like to experience pleasurable things, as well as to stop unpleasant things. We also know they will repeat experiences they see as pleasurable. Normal life seems dull compared to the excitement of the addiction "hit" and many addictions get their start from a general sense of boredom. Boredom can present you with a very uncomfortable feeling, a sense of being ill at ease, which many people try to escape from. I believe that many self-destructive behaviors get their start this way. They are initially an attempt to solve a problem (boredom), but in the process, the addiction develops, beginning a new problem.
We don't like to feel uncomfortable and we don't have time to feel bad. Feeling bad requires us to think, feel and perhaps do something that might take some effort to change our life. This can be a hard thing for many of us to do. The reasons why this is so hard are complex. It probably involves an expectation in our culture that we shouldn't have to feel bad at all ; and if we have to feel bad, it should not be for very long. Addictions may, in part, be the result of a society that has lost its ability to heal itself. A society with no tolerance for pain, and no patience to change. Addictions are a way of separating us from our inner experience and this is done with the implicit approval of everyone we meet, including the media. No one wants to feel anything , least of all, anything uncomfortable. So we go on and try to numb our discomfort in a wide variety of ways, with the Internet being the latest. That is not to say that the Internet is all bad; it certainly is not. It has made a huge contribution towards improving the quality of our lives. It is both a mode of communication, and a virtual place to communicate to; it is not simply a communication tool by any means! However, the Internet's addiction potential is simply the opposite side of the coin and represents a dialectic of the good it can do.
The Longest River: Denial
A hallmark of someone who is engaging in this addiction pattern, but who has not accepted that their behavior is out of their control, is denial . Denial is a psychological defense mechanism that enables a person to continue to engage in a behavior in spite of relatively obvious negative consequences on their life. It's a way to protect ourselves from seeing or feeling things that are unpleasant.
In the case of the gambling addict, there may be repeated warnings from his or her spouse that they will not tolerate continued spending of household savings, job loss, and constant harassment by creditors. In light of this, the gambling addict will still deny that they have a problem with gambling and will believe that they have complete control over their actions. Denial permits one to distort reality, a very powerful psychological defense; it can have devastating consequences on our life, and the ability to disregard such negative consequences while continuing the behavior is a hallmark of denial.
Denial is present, to some extent or another, in all addictions. It's necessary, in the development of an addictive process, to experience a sense of denial while the addiction is beginning to take hold. Otherwise we would not continue with the addictive behaviors. Because of denial, the impact of our negative behavior is never fully appreciated until the consequences become so overwhelming that they can no longer be ignored. This is sometimes referred to as " hitting bottom ." People may continue their behavior indefinitely, with no recognition of the negative consequences of their actions, in spite of numerous personal disasters. Often an individual will not seek help for a specific problem, unless they've recognized that they are no longer in control of the situation and need help. This usually happens at a point when the negative impact of their addiction has become grossly obvious and their denial is broken. It is a process that cannot be rushed. Each person has to discover their own time frame for how and when to deal with their addiction. This, of course, can be very frustrating for family and friends of the addict, who often notice the problem long before the addict does.
Negative consequences of Internet use vary considerably. I have been consulted on Internet cases where employees have been caught using their work computer for personal Internet access (in some cases wasting considerable company time and/or downloading sexually related material onto their computer). In some cases, individuals could be charged with sexual harassment as a consequence of exposing fellow employees to sexually explicit material against their will (even accidentally!). There may even be a legal liability for employers who allow (even unknowingly) their employees to use the company network to send personal email or other material that might be seen as objectionable by others. I've also seen numerous cases of couples with significant marital or relationship problems due to Internet abuse; at times even resulting in child custody investigations!
Everyday I hear or receive stories of people who are getting into trouble with their online behavior at home or at work. It may take the form of abusing the Net by staying online longer than you had planned, having cybersex/cyberaffairs, or spending too much money online by gambling, stock trading, shopping, or auctioning. . I fear that as broadband access increases from the current 6% level, that we will see an increase in compulsive Internet use; The increase may occur because just as the faster modes of absorption of a drug increases the addictive potential a drug. Broadband Internet access could provide the "hit" in a much more rapid manner enabling a faster psychological impact and effect. This may translate into a more habit-forming experience.
Few people, except for those who have had a problem, recognize the power and attraction of being online. This is changing rapidly however. Although it is probably not an epidemic, I have little doubt that millions of people are experiencing a negative impact in their lives because of their compulsive use of the Internet and I believe that number will continue to grow. Recognition of both the dark and light side of the Internet will enable us to be served by technology, instead of ensnared by it!
This article was excepted in part from the book "Virtual Addiction: Help for Netheads, Cyberfreaks, and Those Who Love Them" (New Harbinger Publications, 1999) by Dr. Dave Greenfield. Dr. Greenfield is the President and CEO of the Center for Internet Studies ( www.virtual-addiction.com ), and is the Founding partner of Psychological Health Associates in West Hartford, CT. He currently serves as President of the Connecticut Psychological Association, and maintains a clinical, consulting, and lecture practice. Dr. Greenfield may be contacted by e-mail at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 860-233-9772, ext. 14.
Copyright, ©2000, Dr. Dave Greenfield, The Center for Internet Studies
- Suggestions to Help you Manage Internet Use: Ten Steps to Reclaim Real-Time Living
Article by Dr. Dave Greenfield
The Center for Internet Studies
1. Consider Taking a Technology Holiday
Turn off the computer. Don’t use it on a daily basis. If you have to use it, use it only for necessary tasks. Force yourself to go off-line, and say 'goodbye' temporarily (or possibly, permanently) to those people you are conducting a life with on the Internet. You can start this in a gradual way by creating a computer-free day, gradually extending this to include larger periods of time. Start by designating one day per week that you will not turn on the computer or log onto the Internet. The reason for this is simple. You want to begin to train your nervous system to recognize that you can tolerate a day or an evening without something that you use on such a consistent basis. Until you prove to your body and mind that this can be done, you're going to continue in the repetitious cycle of your behavior. This acceptance and acknowledgement of the possibility of your having a problem allows your personal resources to be focused on the possibility of change. The important thing to remember is that change has to start somewhere. If you make no changes in your life, time will continue to pass. It will pass just as easily as you begin to make small changes in how you expend your time and energy. Craziness is simply the resistance to change or, rather, the insistence that something be different, in spite of making no efforts to change.
2. Find Other Interests
Preferably something that has nothing to do with computers or the Internet. Try a new activity or hobby. It would be even better if it could include your spouse, friend, or significant other. Force yourself to expand what you think you can do and try something new – it doesn’t matter what. Don’t give in the voice inside you that says you can’t do it.
There is probably no one single recommendation that I can make that can have as many positive implications for your life. Exercise offers a variety of potential benefits. It’s fun. It can improve your health; increase your longevity; improve your overall functioning on a daily basis; improve your energy; increase your mood; and improve your self-esteem. There is considerable research on the efficacy of exercise in improving psychological well being along with improvement in treating addiction problems. There appears to be evidence in the addiction literature that many addictive behaviors produce changes in the neurotransmitter Dopamine (among others). This is what may produce the ‘kick’ or ‘high’ to behaviors such as gambling, compulsive eating, alcohol, or drugs. Dopamine is a responsible for changes in brain chemistry that "feels" good. It is this "good feeling" that contributes to the repetition of the behavior over and over. It seems plausible that Netheads' and Cybernuts' may be experiencing such chemical changes when on-line compulsively, although this is not fully understood. Before starting up any exercise program it is important that you consult your physician or healthcare practitioner.
4. Watch Less Television
I am convinced that the use and abuse of television exacerbates many problems in our society. TV is a passive activity that takes your time and energy and gives you little in return. Although there are many positives about television, it has the negative probability to waste your time just as the Internet can. Further, it can take the time you could use to focus on your relationships or other activities in your life. It is also quite addictive. TV can also be a trigger to engage in other addictive patterns of behavior such as eating or sex. Try to reduce the number of hours you watch TV or better yet designate TV-free days.
5. Talk to your friends and family about what is happening in your life
Tell them that you’re worried about your Internet use. Shame, often associated with secrecy and isolation, further contributes the problem. Telling others offers the potential for support, decreases shame, stops social isolation, and promotes the healing process. All human problems exist in a social context and, therefore, so are the healing process. The hallmarks of any addictive behavior are often shame, secrecy, and isolation. Compulsive Internet use or addiction is potentially insidious because the Internet is a behavior that is typically practiced alone. The more you use it, the more isolated you become; the more isolated you become, the greater the likelihood that you will continue to engage in the self-defeating/addictive pattern due to guilt and shame.
6. Try Treatment or Psychotherapy to assist you in dealing with the addictive behavior
A psychologist or other trained mental health professional can help you identify your options. The psychologist or therapist you chose should have experience in the treatment of addictions. Perhaps more importantly, the person you chose to work with should posses the ability to instill confidence in being able to assist you. Do not be afraid to ask questions of the psychologist with regard to his or her background and experience. Above all, find a person that you are comfortable with. The psychotherapy relationship is a very personal one, one which requires trust and honesty. Take care and time in finding the right doctor or therapist to work with. It will pay off in the long run. You can get a referral to a competent, psychologist by contacting your local or state Psychological Association. Most associations operate a statewide referral service, which can be found in the yellow pages.
Try Treatment or Psychotherapy to assist you in dealing with the addictive behavior. A psychologist or other trained mental health professional can help you identify your options. The psychologist or therapist you chose should have experience in the treatment of addictions. Perhaps more importantly, the person you chose to work with should posses the ability to instill confidence in being able to assist you. Do not be afraid to ask questions of the psychologist with regard to his or her background and experience. Above all, find a person that you are comfortable with. The psychotherapy relationship is a very personal one, one which requires trust and honesty. Take care and time in finding the right doctor or therapist to work with. It will pay off in the long run. You can get a referral to a competent, psychologist by contacting your local or state Psychological Association. Most associations operate a statewide referral service, which can be found in the yellow pages.
7. Consider a Support Group
There are several support groups for Internet abuse and addiction. Unfortunately many of these groups are on-line chat rooms. It seems contradictory to me to spend time on-line to try to spend less time on-line. However there may be good support and information in these groups. Other support groups for alcohol, drugs, or gambling may be useful as well. The principles of a 12-step recovery group can be applied to any compulsive behavior that is interfering with your life. Don’t be afraid to use them. No one will judge you and there is often great support available.
8. Develop New Relationships and Friendships
Developing new friendships can expand the inner satisfaction you experience in your life. Although technology is stimulating, it does not provide the personal/emotional connection that relationships do. The computer and the Internet may have the capacity to connect you to the world, and to make the world a smaller place; however, these activities are typically engaged in alone and can be socially isolating. The advances in technology create opportunity for new adventures, but they cannot create the intimacy of human contact. It is my belief (and I like technology) that the greatest inner peace and satisfaction is derived from such relationships.
Develop new relationships and friendships. Developing new friendships can expand the inner satisfaction you experience in your life. Although technology is stimulating, it does not provide the personal/emotional connection that relationships do. The computer and the Internet may have the capacity to connect you to the world, and to make the world a smaller place; however, these activities are typically engaged in alone and can be socially isolating. The advances in technology create opportunity for new adventures, but they cannot create the intimacy of human contact. It is my belief (and I like technology) that the greatest inner peace and satisfaction is derived from such relationships.
9. Talk to Other About Your Overuse of the Internet
Don’t keep it a secret. Secrecy breeds shame and shame adds to the isolation. If the isolation continues, depression can occur. The more depressed a person becomes the more likely he/she will resort to behaviors that will artificially elevate their mood. All addictive behaviors have the capacity to do this. Gambling, Internet drugs, alcohol, shopping, and sex can all have the effect of altering mood. The problem is that we tend to repeat those behaviors that make us feel good even if they have a cost or consequence. This creates the addictive paradox: doing something over and over that negatively impacts us.
10. Shorten Your Internet Sessions
Because the Internet seems to distort the passage of time, steps need to be taken ground the user to the here-and-now. One way to decrease your focus and dependence on the Net is to spend less time on-line. This can accomplished by putting an old fashioned (analog) clock next to the computer to help you keep track of the time. The clock will encourage you recognize the reality of passing time and hopefully act as reminder of your "real-time" commitments. Once you are grounded in real-time you can potentially make more reasonable decisions regarding time spent on the Net. It is easier to deny overuse when you don’t keep track of the hours you spend. Keeping a log for a month will confront you with the reality of what is actually happening.
The key is to first acknowledge that you may have problem with the Internet. Remember that having a compulsive or addictive problem is not a sign of poor will power or weak moral character. It is a human problem that can impact any of us. The act of acknowledging this creates the context for the beginning of change. Making some small, but measurable, change in the pattern of your Internet use should follow this important first step. Do something different. Even a small change can produce greater changes in the future in your overall pattern of use. Don’t be afraid to try something new. Good luck!
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