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Caught in the Web
of Internet Addiction

By Christine Melgarejo • May 19th, 2008 • Category: Public Affairs

The little boy on the YouTube video emits ear-splitting screeches and curses at his older brother who is threatening to unplug his computer or sabotage his Myspace page. The older brother and his two friends look on as the boy hyperventilates and cries hysterically.

Sure, everybody spends tons of time on the internet these days, but there are degrees.

Robert Pimentel, 20, a junior at Brooklyn College admits that he, along with many other college students, is on the Internet 10 or more hours a day. But then there’s his friend. “He clocked over 1000 hours in Star Wars Galaxies,” Pimentel said, “and it was all he talked about, online and off. My uncle has spent thousands of dollars in monthly fees and item auctions on World of Warcraft. It is really starting to ruin the relationship between him and my aunt.”

The problem of virtually all-consuming Internet passion is steadily growing in the United States. In one of the largest surveys on the topic done to date, Greenfield Research, a market research company, found that 6 percent of Internet users, some 11 million people in America, suffer from some sort of web addiction. Intense Internet use has turned into addiction when” it becomes totally consuming and you are losing your job, your friends and family and your health because of it, Kent Norman, a psychology professor at the University of Maryland in College Park, told the Washington Times.

The problem is serious enough that the CIA hired the Center for Internet Addiction Recovery to run a workshop in 2000.

Dr. Kimberly Young, founder of the center, has written three books on the issue. The first, Caught in The Net has been translated into six languages and features dozens of stories of internet addiction ruining lives.

One of the temptations to addiction is over involvement in things the Internet allows people to do, like bid in auctions on eBay or engage in “cybersex,” sexually explicit e-mail conversations.

Talking to Entertainment Weekly, Dr. Eric Hollander, director of the Compulsive, Impulsive, and Anxiety Disorders Program at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine said he has seen a dramatic increase in compulsive online shopping. Online auctions are even more addictive since they add the rush and satisfaction of winning the bidding. Those with a serious problem tend to lie about their purchases and put themselves in debt, accord to Dr. Hollander.

“The internet is fantastically convenient, but the convenience draws us in,” said Larry Shore, P.h.D, a professor in the Department of Film and Media studies at Hunter College. “It’s easy to slip into overuse.” Shore teaches a class at Hunter called Internet & Society, which focuses on the changes the online world has brought to our lives. “Maybe people are afraid they’ll be out of touch, or lose control, but the problem is potentially dangerous.”

The malady seems particularly severe in Asia. A 30-year-old man in China died of exhaustion after gaming for 3 day straight, according to an Associated Press article in September, 2007. In October of the same year, in South Korea 24 year-old man died in an internet café after gaming for 86 hours straight. Ten days later in Taiwan, a 27 year-old man died after 32 non-stop hours playing computer games.

While this sort of desperation might be a sign of some dependency, the consequences of extreme addiction are more serious. There are physical symptoms of withdrawal like “cyber-shakes”, physical convulsions when not online. One inpatient program at Proctor Hospital in Peoria, Illinois has seen patients with signs of withdrawal similar to those observed in drug addictions, such as paranoia, profuse sweating and severe anxiety.

Rick Zehr, the vice president of addictive services at Proctor, told the New York Times in 2005 that “the prevalence of other technologies – like Blackberry wireless e-mail devices, sometimes called CrackBerries because they are considered so addictive; the Treo cell phone-organizer ; and text messaging – has created a more generalized technology addiction” said

In Korea, the government-run Internet Addiction Counseling Center has implemented boot camps where young men go through counseling sessions, therapeutic workshops on pottery and drumming, and even a military-style obstacle course — anything to get them off the net.

There is some question whether internet addiction is an actual disorder or a “fad illness”. In fact, the term “internet addiction disorder” started as a joke on an e-mail list as a parody of psychiatric diagnoses, created by Irving Goldberg, who himself was a psychiatrist, according to a July report from CNN. At this point, the real DSM-IV does not include internet addiction as a mental illness.

Other psychiatrists say it is the DSM-IV that needs to change. Writing in the March 2008 edition of the American Journal of Psychiatry, Dr. Jerald J. Block said that this syndrome should be taken seriously and that internet addicts have a very high relapse rate. American therapists need to screen specifically for the problem when assessing a patient, he said.

For those who believe they have a problem, treatment for internet addiction disorder is similar to that of any other addiction. There are inpatient and outpatient care, as well as self-help groups. Instead of avoiding the internet all together, addicts are taught how to limit themselves and use moderation when using the internet. Twelve step programs are also available.

 

For more information on the advocacy and treatment centers, e visit www.netaddiction.com and www.virtual-addiction.com. Block’s article in the American Journal of Psychiatry, is at

http://www.virtual-addiction.com/documents/InternetAddictionDSM-V.pdf

 

 

 

Are You Addicted to the Internet? Answer these five questions:

 

How often do you find that you stay on-line longer than you intended?

How often do others in your life complain to you about the amount of time you spend on-line?

How often do you become defensive or secretive when anyone asks you what you do on-line?

How often do you lose sleep due to late-night log-ins?

How often do you choose to spend more time on-line over going out with others?

To test yourself further, go to The Center for Internet Addiction’s self-test

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Christine Melgarejo is a 21 year-old student at Hunter College, majoring in Media and minoring in English. She spends far too much time watching reruns of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Still, she hopes one day to earn the title of video game journalist and prove that women are gamers too.
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