Internet Addiction

The growing body of research in the area of addiction suggests that Internet Addiction Disorder, a psychophysiological disorder involving tolerance; withdrawal symptoms; affective disturbances; and interruption of social relationships, is a presenting problem that is becoming more common in society as on-line usage increases by the day.

With the growing importance of the Internet in everyday life, more and more people are accessing various on-line resources each day. The World Wide Web is informative, convenient, resourceful, and fun. For some people though–the addicted–these benefits are becoming detriments. There are varying opinions on the subject, especially among those who utilize the Internet. Some say that the Internet can be addicting, to the point that it disturbs one’s life and the lives of those around him.

Others say that there is no such thing as Internet Addiction Disorder– getting pleasure out of a computer is not the same as getting pleasure from cocaine or any other drug. Whether there is or is not a bona fide disorder, the Internet is disrupting many people’s lives. Who is to blame for this disorder? Is it the WWW companies or is it the individual? Whichever (if either), the solution is not to outlaw the Internet, as with psychoactive drugs. Simple methods of prevention do exist that can reduce the negative effects of Internet use.

Defining Internet Addiction Disorder

To be diagnosed as having Internet Addiction Disorder, a person must meet certain criteria as prescribed by the American Psychiatric Association. Three or more of these criteria must be present at any time during a twelve month period:

1. Tolerance: This refers to the need for increasing amounts of time on the Internet to achieve satisfaction and/or significantly diminished effect with continued use of the same amount of time on the Internet.

2. Two or more withdrawal symptoms developing within days to one month after reduction of Internet use or cessation of Internet use (i.e., quitting or cold turkey), and these must cause distress or impair social, personal or occupational functioning. These include: psychomotor agitation, i.e. trembling, tremors; anxiety; obsessive thinking about what is happening on the Internet; fantasies or dreams about the Internet; voluntary or involuntary typing movements of the fingers.

3. Use of the Internet is engaged in to relieve or avoid withdrawal symptoms.

4. The Internet is often accessed more often, or for longer periods of time than was intended.

5. A significant amount of time is spent in activities related to Internet use (e.g., Internet books, trying out new World Wide Web browsers, researching Internet vendors, etc.).

6. Important social, occupational, or recreational activities are given up or reduced because of Internet use.

7. The individual risks the loss of a significant relationship, job, educational or career opportunity because of excessive use of the Internet. In recent research, other characteristics have been identified.

  • The first is feelings of restlessness or irritability when attempting to cut down or stop Internet use.
  • The second is that the Internet is used as a way of escaping problems or relieving feelings of helplessness, guilt, anxiety or depression.
  • The third characteristic is that the user lies to family members or friends to conceal the extent of involvement with the Internet. And, finally, the user returns repeatedly despite excessive fees (Egger & Rauterberg, 1996).

“Addiction” and Internet Addiction Disorder, Bratter and Forest (1985; in Freeman, 1992) define addiction as “a behaviour pattern of compulsive drug use characterized by overwhelming involvement…with the use of a drug and the securing of the supply, as well as the tendency to relapse after completion of withdrawal.” Like all other addictions, Internet addiction is a psychophysiological disorder involving tolerance (the same amount of usage elicits less response; increased amounts become necessary to evoke the same amount of pleasure), withdrawal symptoms (especially, tremors, anxiety, and moodiness), affective disturbances (depression, irritability), and interruption of social relationships (a decline or loss, either in quality or quantity).

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