Is Internet Addiction the Socially Acceptable Drug of the 21st Century?
Internet Addicts don’t steal to pay for their habits. They don’t lock themselves in bathrooms and shove needles up their arms or snort things through their noses. Their addictions don’t cause car accidents or impair their judgment or ability to make decisions, but that doesn’t mean an Internet addiction isn’t dangerous.
Internet addictions have broken up marriages and strained friendships. They’ve torn apart families and gotten in the way of school and work. Because an Internet addiction isn’t seen as life-threatening as drug addiction, it’s a lot more acceptable. Because it’s legal doesn’t mean we should be any less aware of what can happen if we spend all our time online.
The Internet vs. The Real World
The Internet is attractive to so many people because it offers something we don’t have in the real world, anonymity. People who are shy or have trouble speaking to others can have intense discussions online. People who feel they’re unattractive or unpopular can have many online friends. In fact, there’s really no need to leave the house anymore. Now that we can shop, chat, play, date, even have sex online. One can see how easy it is for someone to get hooked.
Signs of Internet Addiction
There are those who spend a lot of time on the Internet and there are those who are just plain addicted. People who spend too much time online, might have trouble tearing themselves away from their computer screens, but people who are addicted can’t seem to do so at all. Here are some signs of Internet Addiction:
- Spending hours online without a break.
- Preferring to spend time with a computer over friends and family.
- Lying about the amount of time spent online.
- Hiding what you do online.
- Checking email several times an hour.
- Family complains about the amount of time spent online.
- Thoughts are always on the Internet – even when offline.
- Logging on while at work or school instead of working or studying.
- The first thing an addict does when family leaves the house is log on.
Internet Addiction Defense
In July 2007, a Nevada couple was charged with child neglect after their Internet gaming addiction kept them from caring for their two children aged 11 and 22 months. The couple claimed they spent so much time online, their kids where left to “fend for themselves.” The children were underweight, malnourished, dehydrated, suffered from infections and filthy. One child had cat urine in her hair. The couple was unemployed and used a $50,000 inheritance to support themselves and pay for equipment. The couple pleaded guilty to two counts of child neglect which can land them each a dozen years in jail. (Source: bloggernews)
In 2000, a teen who vowed to “finish what Columbine started” blamed his threats on his Internet addiction. 18 year old Michael Ian Campbell sent the threatening note to a sophomore at Columbine High School. The school ended up closing down for a couple of days as a result. Campbell was sentenced to four months in prison. (Source: nytimes.com)
Crimes & Other Addictions Attributed to Internet Addiction
Many Internet addicts are also addicted to:
- Online gambling – Some online addicts turn to robbery to support and pay off gambling debts.
- Pedophilia – With child pornography available online, more cases of pedophilia and predators searching for children to have sex with are surfacing.
- Identity theft – Hackers break into online databases and steal personal information.
- Cyber Harassment, Stalking and Bullying – The anonymity of the Internet allows many individuals to be bolder than they would in real life. Thus, cyber bullies are becoming more prevalent as is stalking and bullying others online.
Statistics and Studies
The Washington Post listed some interesting statistics:
- About 6% of surveyed individuals responded, “their relationships suffered as a result of excessive Internet use.”
- About 9% attempted to conceal “nonessential Internet use.”
- Nearly 4% reported feeling “preoccupied by the Internet when offline.”
- About 8% said they used the Internet as a way to escape problems
- Almost 14% reported they “found it hard to stay away from the Internet for several days at a time.”
A 2006 telephone-based Stanford University Study revealed one in eight individuals displayed at least one “problematic” sign of excessive Internet use. Elias Aboujaoude, a clinical Assistant Psycholology and Behavioral Sciences Professor at Stanford’s Impulse Control Disorders Clinic likens these problematic behaviors such as the constant need to check email or visit online forums and chat rooms as being similar to the cravings drug addicts experience.
Some statistics from the Stanford University study:
- 13.7 percent of those interviewed found it hard to stay away from the Internet for several days at a time
- 12.4 percent stayed online longer than intended very often or often
- 12.3 percent had seen a need to cut back on Internet use at some point
- 8.7 percent attempted to conceal non-essential Internet use from family, friends and employers
- 8.2 percent used the Internet as a way to escape problems or relieve negative mood
- 5.9 percent felt their relationships suffered as a result of excessive Internet use
So other than shutting down forever, how does one treat an Internet addiction? In China online addicts are put behind bars and given shock treatments to ensure they don’t abuse their access. In the German town of Boltenhagen there is actually a camp geared towards weaning kids from the Internet. These are rather drastic and there are more recommended recourses:
Most treatment involves therapy, including getting to the root of the addiction. What does the addict do when online? Socialize? Gamble? Shop? If so, the treatment might not necessarily be to control Internet use but work on socialization skills or addictions to shopping, gambling or sex. In fact, many argue the addiction isn’t to the Internet itself but what one does when one is online.
Other therapy relies on motivation. What will motivate the user to spend less time online? Since most people can’t function at work, or even at home without at a computer, the key is moderation rather than abstinence.
If you find you’re online more than off, that your real-world relationships are sacrificed to cyber friends you’ve never met, and you can’t stay away from your computer … you may be addicted to the Internet.
Because Internet addiction doesn’t impair one’s ability to judge and think clearly like drugs, it’s a more socially acceptable addiction. Plus, many who spend large blocks of time online refuse to believe there’s such a thing as Internet addiction, anyway.
If the time you spend online is straining relationships in the real world and getting in the way or school or work, do seek help or at least make an attempt to spend less time online. As many things as there are to do online, there are more in the real world. Get out and explore.