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"I don't even help [my children] with their homework in the evening because I'm in the chat rooms, and I don't help put them to bed because I don't realize how late it is. I also don't help them get ready for school in the morning like I used to do because I'm checking my e-mail. And I just can't stop myself."-Raymond, an Internet addict.
Internet addiction is real. Like alcoholism, drug addiction, or compulsive gambling, it has devastating effects on the lives of addicts and their families: divorce, job loss, ...
"I don't even help [my children] with their homework in the evening because I'm in the chat rooms, and I don't help put them to bed because I don't realize how late it is. I also don't help them get ready for school in the morning like I used to do because I'm checking my e-mail. And I just can't stop myself."-Raymond, an Internet addict.
Internet addiction is real. Like alcoholism, drug addiction, or compulsive gambling, it has devastating effects on the lives of addicts and their families: divorce, job loss, falling productivity at work, failure in school, and, in extreme cases, criminal behavior. The problem has already reached epidemic proportions in the United States, and the number of "netaholics" continues to grow rapidly as more households and businesses go on-line. Yet, until now, no one from the mental health community has come forward with a specific description of Internet addiction and its effects or a strategy for treatment and recovery.
In Caught in the Net, Kimberly Young shares the results of her three-year study of Internet abuse. Often using the words of the Internet addicts themselves, she presents the stories of dozens of lives that were shattered by an overwhelming compulsion to surf the Net, play MUD games, or chat with distant and invisible neighbors in the timeless limbo of cyberspace.
Why is the Internet so seductive? What are the warning signs of Internet addiction? Is recovery possible? Dr. Young answers these questions and many more. She provides a questionnaire to help Net users determine whether they are addicts, and offers concrete steps to help problem users regulate Internet usage and devise a more balanced place for it in their daily lives.
For Internet addicts as well as their parents, spouses, friends, and employers, Caught in the Net offers guidance on where and how to seek help from counselors, therapists, and other professionals who take this affliction seriously. For mental health professionals, this book provides insights into the nature and causes of Internet addiction and encourages counselors and therapists to expand their addiction recovery programs to address the specific problems of Internet addicts.
"Think that computer addiction is a joke? Think again. This groundbreaking book is the first to explore on-line addiction in a serious way and to consider the effects on individuals and their families. Caught in the Net is an important book for anyone who spends mornings and evenings connected to the Net."-Clifford Stoll, author of The Cuckoo's Egg and Silicon Snake Oil.
"An excellent account of the dangers of the burgeoning Internet industry. Dr. Young carefully outlines the traps into which people can fall and offers pragmatic self-help suggestions. Caught in the Net is valuable for both consumers and the professionals who deal with them."-Maressa Hecht Orzack, PhD, Founder and Coordinator, Computer Addiction Services, McLean Hospital Lecturer, Harvard University Medical School
"I don't mean to spend all my time this way, but I can't stop. It's the only place my opinion matters and I feel important."-bobage38.automechanic.internet.addict
"I feel guilty about it, but when I tried to break free, I simply didn't have the strength....I'm a long-time smoker, but I've found the craving to go on the Internet first thing every morning is stronger than my urge to light a cigarette."-marylouage40.motheroffour.internet.addict
"When you're talking about the Internet, you're talking about power. It's the most powerful information tool I have ever known. When I explore the on-line world, I feel like that robot in the movie Short Circuit. I need more input! More input!"-daveage28.militarytelecommunicationsexpert.internet.addict
"I feel the rush every time my mind gets connected to this intensely powerful information whirlpool. When I enter cyberspace, I become one with my mind. It's like Mr. Spock doing the Vulcan mind meld."-joshage29.computerprogrammer.internet.addict
itt.edu and view her website at: www.netaddiction.com.
tour, you won't hear President Clinton insist that every child in every classroom must be hooked up to the Internet for Americans to raise their standard of education and stay competitive in the global economy. You won't be harassed by advertisements that invite you to "visit us on the World Wide Web." You won't be encouraged to utilize the ease and convenience of doing all your banking and shopping from the comfort of your home computer. You won't learn Howard Stern's personal on-line address. And after you watch the TV news or read your newspaper, you won't be told how to find the latest breaking news on the Internet.
meeting the men, women, and children who have emerged through my research on Internet addiction. Caught in an on-line underworld of nonstop chat rooms, fantasy dungeons of monsters and mayhem, and electronic bulletin boards with more listings than a small city's telephone directory, these Internet addicts are engrossed in a very different experience than the one you might imagine exists for eager learners and dedicated information seekers. Internet addicts' confessions suggest that there's a different dimension to the same Internet you see glorified in the mass media every day. Rather than becoming the technological savior of our times, the Internet just might be emerging as the addiction of the millennium, surpassing even TV with its pervasive grip on our minds and souls.
information superhighway at a pace that simulates the rapid-fire speed of cyberspace. You'll catch glimpses of these Internet junkies and their families, and get an idea of the problems they encounter. Later in this chapter, and throughout the book, you'll learn much more about Internet addicts--who they are, why they get hooked, the damage the addiction causes, what sucks them into cyberspace, and how they can climb out. The Internet Addiction Test at the end of this chapter will help you or your loved one determine whether you're already hooked.
THE ON-LINE UNDERWORLD
But first the tour, which kicks off with the word that triggers any action on-line:
Internet Usenet groups. He spends most leisure hours reading and answering postings on everything from business and politics to auto repair and bartending. When his wife and two children invite him along on a weekend camping trip or even to a movie, he tells them to go on without him. Son Josh, 13, pleads with his dad to shoot baskets with him in the driveway. "Can't you see I'm busy?" Bob snaps. Bob once got so immersed in typing car repair advice to a "friend" in the Midwest that he forgot to pick up 11-year-old daughter Tracy at school. "I don't mean to spend all my time this way, but I can't stop," Bob sighed. "It's the one place my opinion matters and I feel important."
Carolina town with primary caretaking of her four children under age 12. As a late-night regular of Internet chat rooms, she stays up until 5 A.M. She's falling behind in her housework, her cooking, and her business. And while she swaps endless stories of her day with her chatroom pals, she ignores her husband and children. "I feel guilty about it, but when I tried to break free, I simply didn't have the strength to turn the computer off and leave it off," Mary Lou lamented. "I'm a longtime cigarette smoker, but I've found the craving to go on the Internet first thing every morning is stronger than my urge to light a cigarette!"
administrative assistant in a busy real estate office. But instead of streamlining her work communication, she cruised the relationship groups--the singles ads of cyberpace--and "met" a man she liked. They typed love messages back and forth throughout the workday. When Christine's boss caught on, he cut off her Internet privileges and gave her an official warning. "So I convinced a friend at work to let me borrow her Internet account," she confessed. "When my boss found out, he fired me on the spot."
until Brenda discovered chat rooms. Now she only steps out of the computer room to go to the bathroom or get something out of the refrigerator, and when she comes to bed, Eric's been asleep for hours. They argue about this constantly. "I even tried to get him to use the computer just to stop the fighting, but he wanted nothing to do with it," Brenda explained. "He wants me to give up the Internet, but I need it too much in my life. When it comes right down to it, I won't give it up--not even for him."
night to go on-line to slay monsters and dragons and beat up opponents in the interactive game DOOM-II. "By day, I am a mild-mannered husband and dedicated worker." Tony told me, "but by night, with a click of the button, I turn into the most aggressive bastard you can imagine. And no one knows it's me doing this. I think it keeps me from actually hurting people--like beating my wife. It's scary to me. I need help with this."
manufacturing job. Home alone all day while his wife, Leslie, works, he spends eight hours surfing the Web instead of studying the help wanted ads. When Leslie gets home and asks him how long he spent on the computer, he says two hours maximum. "It's just like when she used to ask me how many beers I had during the day. I'd say two when I really drank a six-pack," Rick admitted. "I lied then to avoid the hassle, and I lie now to avoid the same hassle."
when she gave in to the lure of the adolescent-geared chat rooms, where she would share her fears and insecurities for 100 hours or more per month. Within a year, her grades had tumbled, she had withdrawn from her real-life friends and family, and she began complaining of symptoms of several diseases that doctors could not identify. Her mother, Nancy, believes Jennifer fell prey to the suggestions of her new Internet friends. At 18 she left home to live with a group of them. "I'm at a loss as to which way to turn," Nancy confided. "I've tried social services, our church, her school. No one seems to know how to deal with this Internet addiction and what happens to kids there."
THE ADDICTION AND THE DAMAGE DONE
The examples just presented illustrate clearly that Internet addicts, like alcoholics or drug addicts, suffer major problems in the main categories of everyday life: family, work, relationships, school.
kids, Bob's children can't get through to him, and Jennifer disappeared so far into the black hole of cyberspace that her mother worries that she won't get her back. At work, Christine got so engrossed in chat rooms that she got fired.
so strong that she's choosing her on-line world over her 10-year marriage, and Tony fears that the monster he becomes playing interactive games may be unleashed as violence against his wife. At school, Internet abuse sabotaged Jennifer's former standing as a straight-A high school student. A college student from my study told me that he fears flunking out because that would mean losing his free, unrestricted, 24-hour-a-day Internet access!
of their habit in order to maintain it, just as alcoholics or drug addicts do. Rick recognized that he was lying to his wife about his Internet usage the same way he had deceived her about his drinking. When Christine's employer cut off her source of Internet use, she snuck off to gain access to her friend's on-line account.
admits that he spends much longer periods on-line than he intended, like an alcoholic drinking more than he wants to or even can remember. Mary Lou compares the craving for the Internet to the urge for a cigarette, and her habit is so severe that she can't stop when she tries. She's losing all control over her Internet usage, and her life. Those are clear indicators of addiction at work.
out with their friends on the Internet, much as alcoholics prefer the company of fellow drinkers who will support them in their addictive behavior. And many Internet users who try to quit cold turkey speak of withdrawal symptoms comparable to those hooked on physical substances. Kenny, a 16-year-old brought to a drug and alcohol treatment center by his parents to help him curb his destructive Internet habits, got so nervous, shaky, and angry from being denied access to a computer that he began throwing chairs and banging tables.
That's what confuses many Internet addicts who simply don't recognize or want to admit that they've become hooked. The Internet is just part of a computer, they argue, and you can't get addicted to a simple object. In the last two decades, psychologists and addiction counselors have begun to acknowledge that people can form addictions to more than physical substances. They point to common addictive behavior in such habits as compulsive gambling, chronic overeating, sexual compulsions, and obsessive television watching. In behavior-oriented addictions, those who get hooked are addicted to what they do and the feelings they experience when they're doing it. That's how it works for Internet addicts.
NEW FRIENDS, NEW LIFE
Consider Jeanne, a 34-year-old wife and homemaker from South Carolina. By appearances, Jeanne had a perfect life: an attentive husband, a nice house, two healthy toddlers, a few good friends through her church.
tried the chat rooms out of curiosity and met a few new friends, mostly other women who stayed at home during the day. Conversation flowed easily, and she found that if she felt just a bit lonely or stressed from keeping up with the kids, she had a ready-made, always-available circle of allies to call upon for comfort and supportive listening. Because most of her real friends from church worked during the day, Jeanne found chat rooms especially appealing. As an added bonus, she didn't have to worry about what she looked like when one or more of these Internet friends "dropped by" to visit, as the following excerpt illustrates:
she was engaged in actual interactions with "real" people. What these Internet friends didn't know was that Jeanne is 50 pounds overweight, a source of great shame for her. The fun grew more serious as she grew closer to these women and began sharing her most personal thoughts and intimate details of her life. They, not her husband or real-life friends, became her confidantes. And as she looked forward to each new day of chatting, they became her life.
her chat-room experiences. "These are feelings I had never experienced in my life."
his wife's on-line relationships, he knew how much time she was spending there from the bills for their on-line service. And he could easily detect the changes in Jeanne's behavior. She became more preoccupied and withdrawn, and much less affectionate. When he came home from work and dinner wasn't ready the way it used to be, he'd get angry and call her an addict. She got defensive. Maybe she's just lonely, Tom thought, and it's a phase that will pass. When his friends complained that they could never reach him because the phone was always busy (from Jeanne's on-line connection), Tom was too ashamed to admit the truth. He put in another phone line for Jeanne's modem.
began encroaching into their formerly shared evening hours. She refused to go out to dinner with Tom because that would mean sacrificing time in the chat rooms. Soon she even stopped cooking, cleaning, and doing the laundry. And she met a new friend in the chat rooms--Fred.
her moods, especially when she shared her sadness and regret over her choice to marry Tom at 19, before she had a chance to explore other relationships. He offered her support and encouragement, more than she had ever imagined a man could offer. Then he started asking about her sexual fantasies, and he revealed his own. That led to the exchange of erotic messages--cybersex. Next, they swapped pictures electronically and soon arranged a real-life rendezvous. Within weeks, Jeanne filed for divorce. Through the Internet, she had formed a bond so close that she tossed aside a 15-year marriage.
THE SEDUCTIVE LURE OF CYBERSPACE
As Jeanne's story indicates, the Internet is truly alive, a living, breathing electronic community. For obsessive Internet users it's a second home, a special place where they feel they belong. Like the old TV show Cheers, the Internet becomes the place where everybody knows your name--or at least your "handle," which is the name and persona you choose to go by.
more appealing than their real-life home. They become hooked on what they do and find there, dependent on the feelings they experience in this virtual community. It may be the only time they feel so free and uninhibited, so cared for and desired, so connected with others. Naturally, then, they want to use the Internet more and more to capture those good feelings and bring them into their day-to-day existence. As they chase after what stirs their deepest desires, they easily can feel tempted to kiss their old home good-bye.
a new life, of course. But throughout my three-year study of this phenomenon, I've found that some form of escape usually lies at the heart and soul of the drive toward Internet addiction. Many of these people are depressed and lonely, held back by low self-esteem, insecurity, and anxiety. Maybe they're unhappy in their relationships, or their jobs, or their social life. A few are battling diseases like cancer, or living with a permanent disability. Teenagers who succumb to the Internet's pull often say they're misunderstood by their parents and feel trapped at home.
They escape into a fantasyland where they make instant friends and talk any time of the day and night. From the safety of one's bedroom, office, or dorm, this electronic community emerges with remarkable ease. You don't have to get dressed up, check yourself in the mirror, or drive anywhere to meet your on-line companions. And unlike an earlier generation's experience with pen pals, you don't have to wait days or weeks for a response. With every message you type, you instantly connect with fellow users all over the world. They say something witty or provocative, you immediately answer in kind. Soon you're typing words you wouldn't dream of saying in your real life, where you may be inhibited by how people might react. In the safe haven of cyberspace, you share your deepest feelings, offer your strongest opinions, and reach out to people much faster and more openly than you would in real life.
they don't know who you are. You can be whomever you choose, act however you want. If you're shy in real life, you can become outgoing on the Internet. If you're dull at a party, you can be witty in cyberspace. As one woman explained: "I can get tongue-tied in real life, but I don't get finger-tied on the Net."
cyberspace. If you're considered unattractive and overweight by people who meet you in person, with a little artistic license on the Internet you can become younger and more alluring. To borrow from Garrison Keillor's description of Lake Wobegon, the Internet community becomes the place where all the women are assertive and adventuresome, all the men are blond, 25-year-old hunks, and all the children are wonderfully creative and mature beyond their years.
an informational or communication tool, nor do they use it simply for enjoyment. To them, it's a form of escape that allows them to forget their problems for the time they spend on-line, much like the numbing sensation alcoholics report when they drink.
the Internet addict finally logs off for the night, the screen goes dark on the fantasy world. Real-life problems return, and now they're even harder to endure. Depression deepens, loneliness intensifies, and there's the added burden of guilt for neglecting spouse or family. That propels addicts into going on-line even more often for even longer periods of time--to find a panacea for the awakened painful feelings and to chase after the "high" they remembered from their last walk through a chat room or newsgroup.
problems; feel worse afterward; drink more to wipe away those worsening feelings. Similarly, compulsive gamblers often start betting to escape their unhappy lives and economic difficulties. They feel temporary relief from the high that comes from the hope of winning the bet at the track or hitting the lottery jackpot, fed by an occasional payoff. Then the problems of real life come rushing back to the front, along with guilt for throwing away money and amassing greater debts, which leads to a stronger need to escape into betting.
But the lure of cyberspace reaches well beyond a desire to escape. The appeal of an electronic world without limits is multidimensional. For computer lovers, the Internet dazzles the senses with its immense power and capabilities to connect and communicate. That's how Dave experiences it. He's been tinkering with computers since he was seven years old, and his work in the telecommunications center of a military base keeps him in touch with the latest technology. He spends hundreds of dollars every month on the newest software and technological wizardry, and with his expertise he's not easily impressed. But the Internet has penetrated all circuits of his brain and emotions.
power. It's the most powerful information tool I have ever known," Dave told me. "When I explore the on-line world, I feel like that robot in the movie Short Circuit. I need more input! More input!"
Internet's constant stimulation of the senses with a cornucopia of electronic delights. If you're drawn to the Net for information, you'll find avenues of facts, opinions, statistics, and data that seldom seem routine. If you took all the channels from the most extensive cable TV system and multiplied it by 50, you still wouldn't come close to matching the sources of information that lay before you on the Net. Some information-hungry Internet addicts told me they're so wired from what they see while sitting in front of the computer that they want to climb inside their terminal.
intensely powerful information whirlpool," explains Josh, a 29-year-old computer programmer. "When I enter cyberspace, I become one with my mind. It's like Mr. Spock doing the Vulcan Mindmeld."
Of course, you need not have grown up as a computer whiz like Dave or Josh to fully experience the magnetism of mindthrill. Any Internet user can be hooked by the power, stimulation, and excitement of going on-line. Browsing thousands of Web pages on your favorite subject can capture your mind's full attention, even if you haven't a clue about the technological mechanisms that make it all possible. And if you're an Internet user in Pennsylvania who's never traveled west of the Mississippi River, the first chat-room message from someone in England, or even in Idaho, can entice you with the wonder of stepping into a worldwide melting pot from your own home.
knowledge to learn your way around the Internet. Many survey respondents told me they had been living as computer-phobics for years until someone introduced them to the Internet. When they discovered the logic of the Internet's organization, they found navigating the Net simpler than programming their VCR. Indeed, the quick and easy mastery of the Internet becomes part of the allure. If you didn't believe you could ever conquer a computer, and within a few weeks you're casually pulling up all the background information on the actor you liked in a movie 15 years ago, you begin to fancy yourself as a young Mozart, mastering your new instrument while still a cyberchild.
If your surfing lands you in the Net's chat rooms, the temporary emotional benefits may seduce you into forming deeper attachments. As we saw with Jeanne, the people you encounter in the chat rooms appear to offer not only companionship, but also the kind of caring, support, and encouragement that often takes years to cultivate in a real-life friendship. Even in the aggressive interactive games, participants tend to compete against the same players for weeks or months on end, so deep bonds form. In cyberspace, connections are formed as quickly as time zones are crossed. And those real-life friends who expect more than a few typed messages of caring suddenly don't seem so important.
chat-room friends," admitted Internet regular Susan. "But when I'm with my chat-room friends, I never think of my real friends. One day, one of my chat-room friends told me she was going to stop talking to me. I cried for days, and I kept replaying our electronic conversations over and over."
Net stranger you bump into at 2 A.M., your Internet family can appear to serve a multitude of critical needs. Sometimes Internet users simply get on-line to vent their common daily frustrations, without expecting feedback from anyone who "listens in" on another computer screen somewhere far away. If you're still angry with your boyfriend about something he did last weekend, you can type your feelings about it the same way you might write a letter that you never intend to send. If you had a fight with your boss and you don't want to worry your wife with all the details, you can explode on-line with no repercussions (except in that unlikely event that your boss is logged on to the same chat room).
than previous coping strategies like watching violent TV shows and vicariously acting out their emotions through the characters. On the Internet, you are the character acting out your own feelings, and it doesn't hurt to know that you've got a captive audience out there.
or religion enjoy the freedom to express their deepest convictions and strongest opinions about whatever topic is on the board. You don't actually see anyone's physical response to your messages--no facial expressions that say you're weird, no shaking of the head that tells you you're stupid or naive. Even if someone types a response to your opinion that you don't like, you simply ignore it and wait for the next message from a more affirming source. Then you feel the kind of instant validation and recognition that's tough to count on in most social situations.
disagrees with aspects of the Catholic faith, such as not allowing women to be priests and mandatory celibacy. Yet he would never voice his reservations publicly to his congregation. But in the alt.recovery.catholicism discussion group, he openly states his opinions without fear of retribution. Those who share his views comfort the priest, and those who challenge him allow him an opportunity to debate these issues without ever having to reveal his vocation and true identity.
you most detest, with strong arguments and witty insults, then five minutes later another caller from across the country calls in to agree with you. You feel smart that you're tuned in to popular viewpoints.
Instead of listening to two callers agreeing with you in the next hour after your call on talk radio, you get dozens of affirming and validating remarks in the next two minutes. And when you find someone on your same wavelength, you can invite them to a private corner of the discussion room and talk back to them, which opens the door to discover where else you two click. Your self-esteem rises. Like Bob from our initial tour, you may come to feel that the Internet is the only place you feel important and valued for your ideas and intelligence.
A WEB OF MYSTERY
Internet usage is rising rapidly. One survey completed in December 1997 revealed that the on-line community had expanded to 56 million people, an increase of 4.9 million new users within the past three months. How many of those users are addicted already? If we base our estimate on the accepted range of 5 to 10 percent of all users used to estimate the number of those addicted to alcohol or gambling, we would be led to conclude that over 5 million Internet users are addicted today.
and many people may spend years in occasional drug or alcohol use before becoming ensnared in addictive patterns. Not so with the Internet. I found that 25 percent of all respondents reported getting hooked in their first 6 months on-line. An additional 58 percent had met my criteria for addiction within six months to a year of their Internet initiation. The remaining 17 percent didn't become addicted until after their first year on-line. With so many users becoming addicted so soon after their initial log-in, the actual number of Internet addicts already may be considerably higher--and soaring upward every day.
walk by the college computer lab late at night and see hundreds of students rapidly typing away on their keyboards, you're tempted to conclude that they're gathering research information or writing and rewriting papers. The truth is, a large percentage of them are gossiping in chat rooms and blowing up monsters in interactive games, like teenagers in a video arcade at the mall.
four hours on-line, you want to believe he's following up on that important project from work. The truth is he may be sharing intimate details of your life together with another woman or even engaging in cybersex--an affair with no paper trail or threat of disease. When you see your employee apparently studying the Web pages of your competitors, the truth may be that she's chatting with on-line friends about the weather, her social life, and your unfair treatment of her in the office. When you buy separate modems for your two children to allow each to work on their homework in their own rooms, you may unwittingly be opening the door to marathon chat sessions that lead to declining grades, secret plots to run away with a cyberfriend, and a disconnection of family life more destructive than stationing individual TV sets in every room of the house.
enhance their lives. Even playing in the chat rooms or with interactive games now and then can be harmless fun--if it's not done to excess or does not cause problems in real life. But it's now quite clear that the dark side of cyberspace is not limited to a tiny corner of the basement. It's permeated our entire culture.
A MILLENNIAL ADDICTION
When we consider our circumstances as we near century's end, the emergence of Internet addiction today really should not surprise us. For one thing, we live in an era that celebrates technology. Computer mavericks such as Bill Gates have become models of creative imagination and business acumen. Each new technological development is hailed as a tool that will better prepare us for the twenty-first century, with the Internet leading the way. It's natural that people feel compelled to check it out, and once on-line to overindulge in the technological smorgasbord.
immediate delivery of anything we want, coupled with the ability to instantly leave behind anything we find boring or tiresome. The rapid clicking of the TV remote was simply good practice for the even more rapid clicking of the mouse. With today's prevalence of such passive pursuits as spectator sports, soap operas, and virtual reality, we've become accustomed to involvement at a distance. The Net is a vicarious paradise, entered without any walking, driving, flying, or even dialing the phone. The couch potato of the '80s has become the mouse potato of the '90s.
cultural malaise. We see the breakup of family and community, as well as mounting evidence of isolation and fear, and cynicism. Going on-line can connect us to a new family that at least appears to offer what our real families can't. And the Internet community that welcomes us to our new home is thousands of times larger than the neighborhood block parties of a bygone era. Your cyberspace friends won't be making any insulting remarks about the color of your carpet, either.
economic struggles, we can tap into the limitless power of the information superhighway. If we feel isolated, we can pour out all our repressed feelings and act out hidden aspects of ourselves in meeting rooms and interactive games. If we long for love and affection but fear rejection or AIDS, we can cruise for cybersex. And if we're bored with our family or cynical about our society, we can retreat into a subculture of Internet addicts who offer support, encouragement, excitement and intrigue, and maybe even an invitation to come run away from it all.
The Internet has tapped into that source. And because the conditions are ripe for addictive behavior throughout our culture and our world, Internet addicts cut across age, gender, social, educational, and economic lines. An Internet addict can be your best friend, your own child, your parent, your partner, or your employee. An Internet addict could be the local bank's president or its custodian, the public school principal or an average student. Or you!
ARE YOU AN INTERNET ADDICT?
How do you know if you're already addicted or tumbling toward trouble? Everyone's situation is different, and it's not simply a matter of time spent on-line. Some respondents to my survey indicated they were addicted with only 20 hours per week of Internet use, while others who spend 40 hours per week on-line insisted it was not a problem to them, and their answers did not fit the criteria for established addictions. It's more important to measure the damage your Internet use causes in your life. What conflicts have emerged in family, relationships, work, or school--similar to the problems we've seen in this chapter?
know or strongly believe you are addicted to the Internet, this test will assist you in identifying the areas in your life most impacted by your excessive Net use; (2) if you're not sure whether you're addicted, this test will help determine the answer and begin to assess the damage done; and (3) if you suspect or fear that someone you know may be addicted to the Internet, you can give that person this test to find out.
To assess your level of addiction, answer the following questions using this scale:
1 = Not at all 2 = Rarely 3 = Occasionally 4 = Often 5 = Always
10. How often do you block out disturbing thoughts
numbers you selected for each response to obtain a final score. The higher your score, the greater your level of addiction and the problems your Internet usage causes. Here's a general scale to help measure your score.
look back at those questions for which you scored a 4 or 5. Did you realize this was a significant problem for you? For example, if you answered 4 (often) to Question #2 regarding your neglect of household chores, were you aware of just how often your dirty laundry piles up or how empty the refrigerator gets?
lost sleep due to late-night log-ins. Have you ever stopped to think about how hard it has become to drag yourself out of bed every morning? Do you feel exhausted at work? Has this pattern begun to take its toll on your body and your overall health?
problems caused by your Internet use and help you gain a greater understanding of their roots. If you scored over 70 on the test, you are in particular need of this information. If you found yourself in the gray area with a score of 40 to 69, I'll help you begin to zero in on the areas of greatest concern to you. Together, we'll construct a new program to a better way of living, both on-line and off. And if you scored in the 20 to 39 range, indicating that you only occasionally spend too much time with the Internet, you'll learn simple time-management techniques to help you regain control over the clock. The ground we cover along the way will be equally as useful to parents, partners, and friends of Internet addicts.
found that many of the questions don't seem particularly relevant to you. If you're reading this book, you've probably wondered if you might be prone to Internet addiction down the line. This is the best time to learn of the danger signals and the potential damage from excessive use. Like Luke Skywalker in Star Wars, if you learn about the dark side right from the start of your Internet training, you have a far better chance of not giving in to it later. So let's continue on a deeper exploration of this new galaxy that's as close as your school, office, or home.
The Dark Side of Cyberspace.
The Terminal Time Warp.
Profiles of On-Lineaholics.
The Faceless Community.
Cyberwindows: Victims of Terminal Love.
Parents, Kids, and a Technological Time Bomb.
Fraternities of Netheads.
No Work Today-Everybody's Gone Surfin'.
Staying on Track.
On Wednesday, March 25, barnesandnoble.com welcomed Kimberly S. Young, author of CAUGHT IN THE NET.
Kimberly S. Young: Very good,and honored to be here.
Kimberly S. Young: Well, that's a good question. That was the first hurdle that I had to overcome on how to differentiate normal from addictive use on the Internet, because it is so common to use the Internet. Basically I took the same criteria they use to diagnose compulsive gambling or alcoholism. When somebody becomes very preoccupied with their use [of the Internet], they lose control, they find that they try to stop and they can't, they begin to lie or hide about how long they've been online, they use it to escape problems in their real life, they lose interest in other activities, and I guess lastly they show signs of withdrawal, in that they become depressed or very anxious when they go offline, and it goes away when they are online.
Kimberly S. Young: I think prevention and education are two key variables. i think we often think of the Internet as this benign tool, but what my work tries to identify is sort of the online underworld, meaning that I've found that I'm highlighting an unintended consequence of Internet use, such that I think people aren't aware that it could cause their marriage or jobs or school to be in jeopardy. Basically if we educate people on some of the warning signs of Internet addiction, it can be used to prevent newcomers from getting obsessed and going too far with this tool. I think my hope is that with greater awareness of the problem, people can avoid becoming addicted such that it causes problems in their real life.
Kimberly S. Young: Good question. Often times the Internet can be a great educational tool, but I think parents have to look for warning signs such that their children start showing academic problems because of their use, they might have less interest in hobbies that they once enjoyed, preferring time online, they start withdrawing from friends and family, and they begin to be disobedient or act out. For example, a child who stays on late, sneaking on often after parents are asleep, throwing a tantrum when time limits are set, becoming very fatigued, tired for school the next day -- I think those are some very common signs. But I think a parent also needs to be concerned about what a child is doing online -- if they are involved in chat rooms that leave them open to the possibility of online pedophiles or even cyber pornography. Again, I think education is important to help the child know the dos and don'ts of the kind of information to give out online, like don't give out your phone number or your name, and try to encourage children to discuss the kinds of people they are meeting online and not keep it a secret.
Kimberly S. Young: If you are framing the question that people get hooked to different aspects of the Internet, I don't find personality to be as much of a variable as I do gender. For example, women seem to be more drawn to chat rooms to form relationships because it's anonymous, and they can oftentimes hide their physical appearance, or like if they're having a bad hair day, and that's something I hear a lot from women. And men might be more drawn to the information on the Web and finding the information that they want.
Kimberly S. Young: Yes, I think there are different levels. I think a milder form is that annoyance -- when you are disturbed because you are so engaged in what you are doing online -- versus a more severe form, when in a way it has taken over your life. For example, I met a woman who spent 100 hours a week online and neglected her husband and two young children and contemplated running away for a man she met online only two months ago. So I think there's definitely a difference between spending too much time and changing your entire life based on something that occurred online.
Kimberly S. Young: No, I don't consider myself a recovering addict, but I understand it. In the early days of my research, I saw myself beginning to get sucked in to chat rooms, but I think I was able to stop and see that if I was to keep doing this, I would be neglecting my friends and family. What triggered my research was, back in 1994, a girlfriend called me in a panic, because her husband seemed addicted to chat rooms and was spending 40 hours a week online and was spending $350 a month on online fees, and she couldn't get him to stop, so she called me because I was a psychologist and she thought I could help. That was pivotal, because I realized that I myself had read a lot of jokes about Internet addicts, but this time I began to take it seriously and see that it was a problem, and that snowballed into my research as it is today.
Kimberly S. Young: Good question. I don't think it's practical to prescribe banned Internet use as a mode of treatment, because there are many legitimate uses in business and academic use. What I find best for treatment is moderation -- similar to treatment for eating disorders and food addiction, because there you can't abstain from food, you have to know how to moderate it and identify the triggers for binge behavior. In CAUGHT IN THE NET, I outline several techniques to identify triggers and moderate use.
Kimberly S. Young: I guess initially, find out what the person is doing online, because the Internet is a term used to denote a multitude of functions, and what I've found is a person gets addicted to a particular function or application of the Internet such as chat rooms or newsgroups or games. After you've assessed what they do online, find out if there is a pattern of when they use it and for how long. For example, if somebody is using chat rooms for 40 hours a week, that pinpoints what they are doing online. Then look at different time-management strategies to reduce that time. But time in and of itself isn't the only aspect of treatment, it's finding out why they're using the chat room, what emotional fulfillment are they gaining from this, and figuring out what is missing in their real life that they may be using this as a substitute for, keeping in mind with the chat room example, are they unhappy with their job, marriage, and are they turning to their chat room friends as an escape. Ultimately, it seems that these addictions are some form of escapism, and the goal of treatment is to uncover what drives the addiction.
Kimberly S. Young: It depends, based on what a person has initially found online, although I will say that the larger population of the people I studied got addicted to the interactive applications, such as chat rooms or games, commonly knowns as MUDS.
Kimberly S. Young: It's a common debate, and I think the problem is that in the mental health field there is no agreement on what constitutes an addiction. Some focus only on its application to substances while the term has been applied to food, gambling, sex, television, shopping. I think the controversy of Internet addiction is that the Internet is a very popular and socially promoted tool, and the term "addiction" has such a negative connotation; when you juxtapose the two, it causes a lot of skepticism, more so than when it is applied to other compulsive behaviors. However, there is an abundance of research that supports that both behaviors and chemicals are equally addictive, causing the same physiology changes in the body, such as increased levels of dopamine. Yet, I think the point should be made that more research is necessary to see how the body is reacting to addictive behavior. Also, in CAUGHT IN THE NET, I outline how depression and anxiety are related to addictive use of the Internet.
Kimberly S. Young: That's a good question. In terms of looking at any addiction, though, the problem is that the person often suffers from denial, and so the person may not often recognize the problems it's causing in their real life. So, it's important to examine how the Internet is changing the way people are living and the negative side effects of their Internet overuse.
Kimberly S. Young: I'm just glad you had me on here and gave me the opportunity to discuss CAUGHT IN THE NET.