INTERVIEW with internet addiction expert
1. What are the major categories of internet addiction? Have they been recognized by the medical establishment?
Internet addiction is a general term used to describe several subtypes. These can be broken down as follows: Internet pornography, Internet gambling and gaming, social networks such as MySpace, Facebook, chat rooms, and instant messaging, and finally, Internet auctions and shopping can be another subtype such as addictions to eBay or online malls. Overall, the compulsive use is Internet is the main feature. People usually stay online longer than intended and their use causes problems in their lives, be it to their personal or professional lives. The disorder is gradually gaining recognition in the US, it is already established in countries such as China, Korea, and Taiwan, where Internet addiction has reached, by some observations, epidemic proportions.
2. What are some of the most obvious signs of internet addiction?
The obvious signs are compulsive use of the Internet for non-business or non-academic purposes. Someone who uses the Internet to chat at 80 hours a week or uses Facebook for 80 hours a week or plays online games for 80 hours a week (or more) can be considered excessive users. The main criteria of addiction is to ask how the behavior causes problems. What kinds of hard does the behavior produce? This varies depending upon the person. A college student might be kicked out of school for playing online games too much and not studying enough. A 50-year-old man might be terminated from his job because he chats during work hours or looks at online pornography from his work computer. A homemaker might risk marital separation or divorce because she is having an online affair. The issue or sign here is that the online use has created a problem in the user’s life.
3. What should a parent/partner/employer/friend do when s/he recognizes signs of internet addiction?
The biggest issue is recognizing the problem. We live in a technology-rich culture. People are expected to use the computer. The answer lies in how much is too much. There are no cut offs or time limits to define addictive or compulsive use of the computer. There are only guidelines to how the behavior can negatively impact one’s life. Usually, a spouse or parent or friend are the ones to notice a problem first. They are the ones who say, I think you have a problem, but like any addict, denial is a certain response. It is easy to minimize how much time a user spends online in our computer-savvy age but the reality is that someone can suffer from an addiction to the Internet. Getting the addict into some form of treatment is the first step – so confronting the addict with their addiction, helping them to see that a problem exists, are also first steps to treating the problem.
4. What are the treatment options for internet addicts?
Right now, in the US, they are fairly limited. Centers specializing in Internet addiction recovery are emerging, but with our current healthcare crisis, not at a fast-enough rate to treat all the new cases. Countries like Korea have over 140 treatment centers but the US has been slow to respond to the problem. In this case, when an addict is confronted with having a problem such as Internet addiction, seeking help from any qualified professional is the first step. Looking up referrals in the local or state health association would be the best place for someone to begin to identify good treatment professionals. Other places to contact are addiction hospitals and clinics, especially to evaluate the person for other possible clinical problems such as depression or anxiety-related syndromes.
5. Where do you see the most growth in internet addiction?
I have seen a tremendous amount of growth in the number of people addicted to multi-user online role-playing games such as World of Warcraft or EverQuest or Final Fantasy. These games seem very addictive. They are more than video games but interactive, social environments. They create a society or culture within each game that a player can adopt to…and allows each player to create a character within this environment. The issue of video gamed addiction has grown so much that the American Medical Association, who have estimated approximately 5 million children may be addicted.
6. Who are internet addicts? What’s the demographic? (age, gender, socio-economic, location, etc.)
There is not a typical profile of an Internet addict. The demographics vary, usually based on the type of problem a user is having. Anyone with a computer and Internet access can become addict, very much like drug or alcoholic dependence, one type of person is not usually suspect. However, given the vast types of Internet addiction, some profiles can be formed regarding who is more likely to become addicted. Children and teenagers become more addicted to online games and Internet gambling. They often feel more comfortable spending money online, engaging in fantasy worlds, or making new connections with other players. Adult males are more likely to look at online pornography, adult females are more likely to look at chat rooms and instant messaging to form new relationships. Some are based on age, some are based on gender, but these would be the largest profiles we could talk about. Location, such as what country someone is from, or social-economic status has not been formally studied.
7. Finally, what professional programs, features or services do you plan for the coming months/years that we should know about?
Early detection is key to understanding and treating Internet addiction. If you go to www.netaddiction.com, you will see an array of self-tests to help determine if you or a loved one may be addicted. We invite you to look over the site to read articles and gain a deeper understanding of the problem, much of the literature is new, but it is a fast-changing field. We at Netaddiction.com strive to provide updated and current information regarding this emergent field. We also provide support groups and treatment options.