Karen has taken on the primary role of caring for her home and her three young children. Her husband works long hours and occasionally travels away from home on business. After her children have gone to bed Karen has become a late-night regular of Internet chat rooms as a way to relax and enjoy adult company. She often stays up until 5:00 A.M. while she swaps endless stories about her life with her chat room pals who share similar experiences and offer understanding and support. This “second home” has become more appealing than her real life home. She feels so free and uninhibited, so cared for and desired, so connected. Karen knows she is falling behind in her household responsibilities and is ignoring her husband and children but she simply doesn’t have the strength to control or stop her Internet connections.
Karen may not realize that she is addicted because we are used to viewing addiction as an overuse of some substance like alcohol, cocaine, coffee, or food. But like compulsive gambling or obsessive shopping, people like Karen who get hooked on the Internet are addicted to what they do and the feelings they experience while they’re doing it. Through the Internet it becomes possible to escape into a fantasyland where one can make instant friends (and lovers) and talk any time of the day or night from the safety of one’s own bedroom, office, or kitchen and while maintaining complete anonymity.
The downside, however, is that the escape is temporary. When the computer is turned off for the night and the screen goes dark, real-life problems return and now they’re even harder to endure. Loneliness intensifies, depression deepens, and there’s the added burden of guilt for neglecting spouse, family, or work. This propels the addict into going online even more often for even longer periods of time to find relief from their painful feelings and to chase after the “high” they remembered from their last walk through a chat room or newsgroup. Unhappiness creates a natural breeding ground for addictions and the Internet is all-to-readily available. Internet addicts cut across age, gender, social, educational, and economic lines. An Internet addict can be your best friend, your child, your parent, your partner, or your employee. Maybe even you.
Of course, millions of non-addicts do use the Internet regularly to 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. Those who do fall into habits that constitute addictive behaviour usually experience a craving to return to the Internet for emotional support. They will generally have a tendency to conceal their Internet use and will minimize their use if confronted.
All or some of the following signs are indicative of problematic Internet use and possibly addiction:
* Often spend more time online than intended.
* Often neglect responsibilities such as household chores, work, or homework and performance suffers.
* Internet relationships are more exciting than real-life relationships.
* Attempts to cut-down have been unsuccessful.
* Preoccupied with thoughts of going back online.
* Become defensive or secretive about online activities.
* Often feel depressed, moody, or nervous when off-line.
* Loss of sleep due to late night log-ins.
* Discord with spouse, family, or friends due to on-line activities.
If you or someone you care about appears to being experiencing problems due to Internet use, an addictions counsellor may prove helpful.
Ref: Young, K. S. (1998). Caught in the Net. John Wiley & Sons, Inc.