Adults spending hours at a computer run risk of addictive
By Jocelyn Green
Many parents are tuned in to their children’s technology
use, on the lookout for signs of inappropriate or excessive behavior. Yet
experts say Internet addiction is a serious problem among adults — and
it’s getting worse.
“Internet addiction is more common than people want to think
about,” says Dr. Kitty Harris-Wilkes, director of Center for the Study of
Addiction and Recovery at Texas Tech University. “The stress people face on a
daily basis almost makes it necessary or at least attractive to find an
Internet addicts can be obsessed with any of the following
subcategories: cybersex or pornography; social networking, chat rooms, or
instant messaging; compulsions such as online gaming, online gambling and eBay;
or information overload, whereby the addict compulsively searches and surfs for
data. The most common forms of Internet addiction are online gaming, cybersex
addiction and online affairs.
Seventy-one percent of office workers abuse the Internet
during work hours — visiting social networking sites; shopping online;
reading personal e-mail; or visiting pornography, gaming or gambling sites,
according to studies at the Center for Internet Addiction Recovery in Bradford,
For mothers feeling isolated at home, social networking
sites offer both an escape and a sense of connectedness with others. If not
used in moderation, however, a habit of checking Facebook can create an
The number of American adults with an online social network
profile has quadrupled in the past three years, according to a survey earlier
this year. Thirty-five percent of adult Web users have a profile on a social
network, the Pew Internet & American Life Project survey found, up from
just 8 percent in 2005.
Social networking can be a harmless tool to connect with
friends. For Internet addicts, however, it’s more, says Greg Hasek, executive
director of the Misty Mountain Family Counseling Center in Tigard, Ore.
“It could be a way of building up self-esteem, feeling
valued, finding a sense of identity,” says Hasek. “Addicts are trying to ease
the feeling of loneliness. Ironically, though, social networking can cause more
detachment from real relationships.”
Dr. Kimberly Young, director of the Center for Internet
Addiction Recovery and author of Caught in the Net, points out that social
networking can also be a dangerous temptation.
“If someone is spending more time on Facebook or MySpace
than talking with a spouse or loved one, it can lead to relationship problems
down the road,” Young says.
Research by the Fortino Group suggests that one-third of
divorce litigation involves online affairs.
How do you know if your Internet use is excessive?
“If it causes a problem, it is a problem,” says
Harris-Wilkes. “You know you’re involved in some type of addictive disorder
when it becomes the central organizing factor of your life.”
“If it has a negative impact on relationships and spiritual
life but you continue to do it, then what you’re doing has more power over you
than you have over it,” Hasek says.
Young developed eight criteria to diagnose Internet
• Do you feel preoccupied with the Internet (think about
previous online activity or anticipate the next online session)?
• Do you feel the need to use the Internet for increasing
amounts of time in order to achieve satisfaction?
• Have you repeatedly made unsuccessful efforts to control,
cut back or stop Internet use?
• Do you feel restless, moody, depressed or irritable when
attempting to cut down or stop Internet use?
• Do you stay online longer than originally intended?
• Have you jeopardized or risked the loss of a significant
relationship, job, or educational or career opportunity because of the
• Have you lied to family members, a therapist or others to
conceal the extent of your involvement with the Internet?
• Do you use the Internet as a way of escaping from problems
or of relieving a mood (e.g., feelings of helplessness, guilt, anxiety or
Answering yes to five or more questions may mean a person
suffers from Internet addiction, according to Young.
Internet addicts include college professors, pastors,
businesspersons and stay-at-home parents. Hasek has found that many
conservative Christian women fall into Internet addiction because they believe
their emotional needs are unmet in their marriages. One study from the Center
for Internet Addiction Recovery found that individuals who suffer from
depression, anxiety disorders, social phobia and other compulsive disorders are
more likely to develop Internet addiction.
Addiction of any kind also causes spiritual harm.
“When you feel guilty about your behavior, you’re going to withdraw
from God because you know you shouldn’t be doing what you are doing, but you
still do it,” says Hasek. “You’ll pull away from God.”
Those sensing their Internet use is becoming obsessive
should try limiting the amount of time they spend online. Hasek recommends
finding an accountability partner; not checking the phone all the time; and
dropping the automatic messages to phone and e-mail every time a Facebook
comment or tweet from Twitter is received.
Other ideas include:
• Set a timer when online.
• Keep a journal, noting feelings before logging on, how
much time is spent online, and feelings afterward. It may reveal how dependence
is growing on the Internet.
Install a Firefox add-on called MeeTimer for added
self-awareness. It tracks how much time is spent on the Internet each week, and
categorizes the sites visited.
Young’s advice is to aim for moderation.
“People need to find a balance between technology in general
and other aspects of their lives,” Young says. “To use the Internet is one
thing. To be consumed by it is another.”
JOCELYN GREEN is a frequent news contributor who lives in
Cedar Falls, Iowa.
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