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IMAGE It is an understatement to say that the Internet has changed the way we communicate. We turn to our computers in search of information and e-mail friends rather than pick up the phone. Some of us shop online while others spend hours reading blogs, playing games, or even searching for romance. If you click around long enough, you might even stumble across an Internet addiction quiz. Could you have a problem?

A Result of Computerized Life

A number of psychologists and other medical specialists have claimed that certain people really are at risk for computer overuse.

Dr. Ivan Goldberg, a New York City psychiatrist, has coined a term for this problem, calling it Internet addiction disorder. He claims that victims of this disorder are growing as our culture becomes more and more dependent on the computer, not only through work that is ever more computer focused, but also through socializing that is increasingly computer mediated.

Priscilla C., in fact, met her current boyfriend through an online card game in a chat room. "I am not sure how you get attracted to someone over the computer, but that is how our relationship started," she says.

John D., a computer technician, also spends many hours online playing computer games at work and connecting with various people through instant messaging. "In my role as tech support, there is a lot of downtime when we are just waiting for someone to call for help. Having the computer around really helps with those slow moments." While neither Priscilla nor John has a problem, both use the computer to supplement face-to-face relationships rather than replace them. There are others who use the computer to avoid human contact or their responsibilities.

When the Computer Takes Control

Internet addiction can come in different forms. You may be familiar with the termscomputer addiction, Internet addictive disorder, or cyberaddiction. They are all terms used to label abuses that can range from overuse of computer games, excessive monitoring of pornography sites, or simply staying online with little regard for the time. These behaviors become a problem when they start effecting relationships and work.

Internet addiction is a growing social issue that is also associated with other psychiatric problems such asdepression or anxiety.

Defining Internet Addiction

A clear definition of Internet addiction is difficult because it encompasses many different components. There are however, signs of psychological and physical that you may recognize.

The following are the some of the psychological characteristics:

  • A sense of well-being at the computer and/or a sense of depression or emptiness when not at the computer
  • Craving more and more time at the computer and an inability to control computer time
  • Problems with job or school because of the time spent at the computer
  • A lack of honesty about how much time is spent on the computer
  • Ignoring family and friends

There also may be some physical signs that something is not right. Some of these include:

A Compound Problem

Internet addiction disorder is often linked with depression, anxiety, or attention deficit disorder (ADD), and many people are seeking help for another condition when they are diagnosed.

There are also some risk factors. People at higher risk for Internet addiction include those with other addictions, higher stress levels, or no social support.

Although it may be difficult to cut back your usage, you can overcome your Internet addiction.

Treating the Addiction

As with any addictive pattern, people have the ability to control their own behavior if they so desire. In other words, if you want to change, you can. Here are some tips to get started:

Moderation, Control and Time Management

Moderation and controlled use as a form of primary treatment is the best way to get started. It is unrealistic to expect to cut out Internet usage completely. In fact, in today's society, it is nearly impossible. Try to set times and schedules for Internet use. Evaluate when and how the Internet is used and try to modify habits. Consider scheduling Internet time with a real life event that will force you to walk away.

Behavior Modification

Some evaluation methods at Internet addiction treatment centers include standard measures for stress, impulse control and anxiety, and depression, as well as parameters designed specially to measure computer addiction. Most treatment is based on cognitive behavior therapy, a therapeutic method that allows the patient to identify the problem, take an active role in determining the solutions, and relearn skills.

If you feel that your computer use is negatively impacting your life, talk to your doctor or a therapist. There is help available.

  • American Psychological Association

    http://www.apa.org

  • Mental Health America

    http://www.nmha.org

  • Canadian Mental Health Association

    http://www.cmha.ca/bins/index.asp

  • Health Canada

    http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/hl-vs/mental/index-eng.php

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  • Is Internet addiction real? American Psychological Association website. Available at: http://www.apa.org/monitor/apr00/addiction.aspx. Added April 2000. cessed January 30, 2013.

  • Korkeila J. Internet addiction. Duodecim. 2012;128(7):741-748.