DO ANY OF THE FOLLOWING BEHAVIORS APPLY TO YOU?
· Neglect family activities, social events, work, school, and personal health in order to spend more time on the Internet
· People (i.e., employer, friend, family member, partner) complain about amount of time you spend online
· Constantly anticipate and think about the next time you will go online
· Do not know how to cut back or spend less time at the computer
· Have no self-control over the time spent online and cannot commit to a schedule of computer use
· Constantly check e-mail, forgets to eat lunch, miss classes or appointments
· Prefer to talk and hang out with cyber friends rather than spend face-to-face time with people
· Sleep fewer hours because you would rather be online for fear of missing out on anything
WHAT IS INTERNET ADDICTION?
Internet addiction is a broad term covering a variety of behaviors and impulses. There are five specific types of Internet addiction, which we will specifically address, in greater detail.
· Cybersexual addiction - addictions to adult chat rooms or cyberporn
· Cyber-relationship addiction - online friendships made in chat rooms, interactive games, or newsgroups that replace real-life friends and family. This category includes cyberaffairs
· Net compulsions - compulsive online gambling, online auction addiction, and obsessive online trading or information overload - compulsive Web surfing or database searching
· Computer addiction - obsessive computer game playing or obsession with programming aspects of computer science
Anyone who has access to a modem and the Internet is a potential addict. Even though Internet addiction is not as easily recognizable as alcoholism or eating disorders, it is a flourishing addiction that threatens to overwhelm the daily life of addicts. There is a growing number of people who are becoming entangled in the World Wide Web.
Internet junkies typically use the Internet as a way to socialize, escape from reality, overcome anxiety, deal with depression, and reduce isolation or loneliness.
It is not uncommon for someone to get hooked simply by playing on the Internet or trying to seek help for another condition.
MAJOR SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS OF ADDICTION TO THE INTERNET
The first step toward help is keeping an open mind and recognizing the symptoms.
Symptoms of Internet Addiction
· Obvious preoccupation with the Internet (a constant obsession about going online or with a past online experience)
· The need to use the Internet for increasing amounts of time in order to achieve satisfaction
· Repeated and unsuccessful efforts to cut back and spend less time on the Internet
· Restlessness, moodiness, depression, or irritability when trying to cut back or stop using the Internet
· Staying online longer than originally intended; not being able to stick to a schedule and/or stop using the Internet Jeopardizing or negatively affecting relationships, job, education, career opportunities, or physical health due to Internet usage
· Lying to family members, teachers, friends, or therapist in order to conceal or hide the extent of involvement with the Internet
Using the Internet as a way to escape from problems, or as a way to feel better and avoid distress
The one common link between all types of Internet addiction is the escapism and numbing sensation that the Net provides. The escape is temporary, however, for all users. When the addict logs off, the dark screen obliterates the fantasy world. Real-life problems return and become even harder to endure. As the burden of guilt intensifies, the user feels increasingly inclined to stay online.
TYPES OF INTERNET ADDICTION
MUDs are interactive Internet games that can be compared to a Dungeons and Dragons spin-off. One way in which a person becomes addicted to the Net is through these adventurous, interactive games. The MUD realm enables the user to take on the name of a character who competes through battles. As the player wins battles, he or she accumulates points, status, and a following of fans (other players), with whom to relate. Every player has the potential to rise in status to the “immortal” wizard level, and once this status is achieved, he or she is superior to the other players.
The MUD world never ends - the game is continuous - and the only way to become a wizard is to play constantly. This is a fantasy world in which a player believes he or she is in control of his or her own destiny. It is very common for MUD users to feel powerful and invincible while MUDing, but less than competent, and even awkward, when not playing.
Similarly, relationships formed in online chat rooms and newsgroups often become more important than real-life friends and family. A typical user may search the Internet and sign on to listings for depression, medication, or for just about anything. The chat rooms within each newsgroup provide a network of people waiting to share stories and offer advice to fellow sufferers.
The information addict can easily get caught up in the Web. By simply taking advantage of the abundance of data available, anyone has the potential to become an information junkie. The typical user often plays on the Net or does some kind of search, and then is bombarded with Web sites and places to find more data and information. Once a person starts the search process, his or her motives may become fueled by the desire to find the best and most specific data, which can often lead the user to chat rooms.
Cybersex addicts use the Net to download pornography and erotic images, and as a means to engage in cyberaffairs and cybersexual relationships. The Internet provides an uncensored, open-door policy to anyone who wishes to download pornography. This freedom and unhindered facility makes it very difficult for the user to stop. The actual search for the next best pornographic site or image in and of itself becomes part of the thrill.
The person cruising the Web for cybersex may be someone who longs for love or affection, but fears rejection, AIDS, or being caught by a spouse or significant other. Sometimes the cybersex addict is a shy loner who feels self-conscious and has a low self-esteem. The anonymity also appeals to the user, either married or single, searching for a no-strings-attached fling. The distance - sometimes even continents apart - provides a buffer against the prospect of meeting in person, although it is not atypical for users to meet in person.
Although the most common Internet addicts typically fall into the cybersexual or cyber-relationship category, some junkies use the Internet to feed a desire for compulsive online gambling, online auction addiction, and obsessive online trading. The ability to take control over one’s own investing and the ability to purchase practically anything on the web has created a competitive climate for users that further perpetuates the bidder’s, investor’s, or shopper’s Internet compulsion.
WHAT’S GOING ON WITH THE ADDICT?
The Internet addict typically denies his or her problem. It is difficult for the addict to recognize as addiction what he or she sees as a hobby. When questioned by a loved one about excessive Internet usage, the addict often responds with something like: “No one can be addicted to a machine! This is just a hobby, and besides, everyone is using it today!”
Because the Internet is not a physical substance ingested into the body, it is difficult and confusing for the Internet junkie to recognize or admit that he or she has a problem. The addict often argues that the Internet is simply part of a computer and “it’s impossible to get addicted to an object.”
Cyberspace and the Online Underworld
It is difficult for the addict to see beyond his or her own hurt and disappointment. They are seeking relief from the bruises left by repeated loss, shame, anger, and betrayal. By taking a closer look at the triggers and reasons that the addict uses, you may see your loved one’s addiction in a different light.
The Internet addict not only prefers to spend time online rather than in the real world, he or she feels an uncontrollable urge to stay in cyberspace. It’s very common for the addict to feel that he or she cannot stop using the Internet, just as an alcoholic cannot refuse a drink. Even if asked by loved ones to stop using, the addict refuses to give up the online underworld of nonstop chat rooms, fantasy dungeons of monsters and mayhem, and electronic bulletin boards with more and more listings.
Most Internet addicts lose themselves in the Web and have no sense of time passing. It is very common for the addict to abandon rational thinking. Consequently, the addict may arrive at work late and/or exhausted.
The Need to Lie
The Internet addict often lies about the amount of time spent surfing the web. One Internet addict confesses, “It’s like when she [his wife] used to ask me how many beers I had during the day. I’d say two when I really drank a six-pack. I lied then to avoid the hassle, and I lie now to avoid the same hassle.”
It is very common for the Internet addict to lie about his or her identity online and pretend to be someone else.
Like alcoholics or drug addicts, Internet addicts suffer from the same daily problems and struggles involving family, work, relationships, and/or school. Many Internet users who try to quit cold turkey say that they experience withdrawal symptoms comparable to those of people hooked on chemical substances. Some Internet addicts say that when quitting cold turkey, they have experienced nervousness, shakiness, and anger as a result of being denied access to the computer.
Withdrawal From the Outside World
Not all Internet junkies isolate when using. It is very common for the addict to hang out with fellow Net heads and use together as a group. Sometimes a large number of Net heads (i.e., a group of college students) will go to the computer lounge rather than partake in typical college revelry. Even though they go as a group, they still withdraw from the outside world in order to hang out on the Internet.
Internet junkies prefer to hang out with their own, just as alcoholics prefer the company of fellow drinkers who will support their addictive behavior. It is not uncommon for the addict to become less social and sacrifice going out with friends, family, or spouse in order to spend more time online.
The addict’s withdrawal hurts his or her loved ones. They may even question whether or not they did something wrong. Family and friends may assume that they are the problem, but this is never the case. The loved ones may also become defensive.
The Internet Becomes a Second Home
The Internet is a live, active, breathing community for junkies, and it’s a world far more appealing to the user than real life. The addict becomes hooked and dependent on the underworld of cyberspace.
The cyber world and cyber friends perpetuate and enable the addict to feel free and uninhibited. The computer provides anonymity that allows the addict to say what she or he might not be able to express if the dialogue occurred in person. Online, people reach out to each other faster than they would in real life. The addict can become a character or use the Web as a safe way to express opinions. The freedom to be whomever you want empowers, tempts, and lures the addict to stay online and learn to prefer this make-believe world. The addict also feels less judged and more able to share. Cruising the Web and possessing the freedom to tap into the information superhighway heightens the addict’s sense of power.
The Internet’s constant stimulation provides a rush that keeps the addict online. The excitement of meeting and chatting with other users throughout the world maintains and heightens the intrigue. Relationships formed on the Web fill a void and nurture the user. The temporary emotional benefits can further seduce the addict. The many affirming and validating remarks that the addict may receive in chat rooms also makes it difficult to sign off and face reality. Going online connects the addict to a new community and support system that appears to offer more than the addict’s own family and friends. One of the most difficult things for the Internet addict to do is sign off. The temporary relief from the addict’s real-life problems fades the moment he or she logs off. It is not uncommon for the addict to feel depression, loneliness, and guilt for having neglected loved ones while online.
OVERCOMING MY ADDICTION TO THE NET
Recovery and How to Heal
If you think that you have a problem with the Internet, it is important to think about the consequences of your addiction. In order to fully realize the extent of your problem, it is essential to ask yourself the following questions:
· Who am I hurting?
· Where will I be in terms of my job and school life one year down the road?
· Where can I find greater rewards for my time, effort, and energy?
· Who was I before I started using the Internet so much?
· Do I really want to be spending so much time on the Internet?
By answering and pondering these questions, you will at least begin to understand and see the long-term consequences of Internet obsession. Another method for becoming more aware of your Internet addiction is to make a top-10 list of all the activities or aspects of your life that have suffered because of addiction. The list may be just a starting point to help you look into your own habits and the consequences of those habits.
In order to regain control over your life and the Internet, the most important first step towards recovery requires a full admission and acknowledgment of the problem. The addict must also treat the Internet addiction just as seriously as any other kind of addiction. The addict must try to be as conscientious as possible and think of all the triggers that fuel the desire and compulsive need to be online.
The next step would be to take a closer look and write down all the activities, events, personal obligations, and relationships that have suffered due to excess Internet use. The process of looking inward, rather than outward at a monitor, will help bring the addict back inside. By looking inward and paying close attention to the triggers - all the feelings and reasons you turn online - you will also become aware of the reasons you use the Internet - the underlying problems or issues such as depression, loneliness, and/or the need to re-connect with a spouse or loved one - may also become apparent.
The person seeking recovery should write down personal reminders of the major problems caused by the Internet addiction. Then the addict should seek concrete, realistic ways to gradually put their life back together. For example, if a person lost their job due to an Internet addiction, then an appropriate remedy would be to focus and brainstorm on finding another job. By taking at least one concrete step and becoming aware of the triggers, the addict has already commenced the healing process.
If you are a college student or young adult and think that you might be addicted to the Net, the first thing you should try is to learn all you can about how behavioral addictions function. For example, eating disorders and gambling addictions exhibit many of the same symptoms experienced by Internet addicts. It is important for you to recognize the problem, but you should also seek professional help.
If a counselor does not initially understand Net addiction or is skeptical, it is important for you to explain the similarities to other recognized addictions. To help a counselor understand, you may have to explain the triggers and the specific needs you are trying to meet by using the Net.
If you want to stop using and you are particularly addicted to chat rooms, MUDs, cyberporn, and newsgroups then you need to take the step and eliminate these applications.
Another practical way to help wean yourself from the Net is to set up certain blocks of time where you allow yourself to be online. Star keeping a chart of the number of hours you spend online and specifically keep track of where you hang out. One of the most important aspects of the recovery process is learning and implementing time management skills and adhering to these limits or schedules. Try and set up a schedule so that you have specific things to do throughout the day; this will help you detach from using because you will have concrete obligations and things that must get done.
One of the most effective ways to heal oneself is by helping others. By talking to fellow Net heads, family members, friends, and teachers and sharing the problems that you’ve encountered with Internet obsession, you will be doing a great service to yourself and to others.
WHAT IF I RELAPSE?
Recovery from any addiction poses the risk of relapse. Sometimes relapse is necessary for the healing process. Know that it is okay if you relapse, but you must gain control again. Most Internet addicts who fall into relapse do so because they deviated from the time schedule. Once you decide to create a schedule, stick to it for at least three weeks before trying to make any more changes. It is also incredibly important to take small steps and know that you should not be entirely deprived of the Internet. You must be patient and supportive of yourself. It’s imperative to remind yourself that it is natural to slip a little; the recovery process is a journey that has different bumps along the way. Try to focus on the positive and emphasize what you have accomplished.
If individual therapy doesn’t feel right for you or if you are unable to find a counselor, you may want to try and find a support group. Even if you are unable to find an Internet addiction support group, which is a high likelihood, try going to other kinds of support groups that focus on addictive behavior, such as gambling and eating disorders. You may be surprised and learn something about your own addictive patterns and behavior as well as gain support from fellow members.
You can always contact your local mental health center, hospital, or drug and alcohol rehabilitation centers for leads and specific referrals. Only you will know for sure if you are in the recovery process, but family and friends may also be a wonderful resource to offer support, encouragement, and an impartial opinion on your recovery process.
For Further Assistance in seeking help for Sexual Addiction, see our resources page or contact us for a confidential assistance!