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With technology connecting the world at an ever-increasing speed, much focus is on how the Internet bridges gaps and increases communication around the world; however, there is a dark side: online addiction.
According to Dr. Debra Moore, a psychologist and director of Fall Creek Counseling, with more than 25 years experience, it is unknown how prevalent the problem is, but estimates it affects 5-10 percent of the population. Moore says there are several sub-categories to online addiction as well, which include cybersex (pornography and adult chat rooms), cyber-relationships (addiction to social networking sites), financial compulsions (such as online gambling, spending a disproportionate amount of time online shopping, obsessive stock trading), computer gaming and information overload (compulsive Web surfing leading to lower work productivity). “Internet addiction is not a recognized diagnosis,” Moore says. “It would be classified as an impulse control or obsessive disorder.”
So how do you know if you or a loved one might be afflicted by an online addiction? According to Moore, signs may include repeatedly spending more time online than can be justified, neglecting important tasks at work or home, becoming isolated from family and friends, feeling guilty or defensive about the amount of time spent on the Internet, feeling anxious when you aren’t online or connected to the Internet, or experiencing a sense of euphoria when using the Internet. Bob Parkins, a licensed family and marriage therapist in Gold River who deals with sex addiction and other family issues, suggests looking at what Internet usage has cost – particularly in regards to time, relationships and job performance. He adds that if people are asking themselves if there is a problem, then that might be the first sign.
In addition to signs, there are symptoms of online addiction. “Psychological symptoms vary from person to person,” Moore says. “Some people become anxious. Others become numb, apathetic, depressed or irritable.” Parkins adds that symptoms can include relationship problems.
Physical symptoms are also associated with online addiction and include carpal tunnel syndrome – pain and numbness in the wrists, strained vision, dry eyes, muscle pain in the back and neck, headaches and inability to sleep soundly. Other symptoms of a problem include excessive masturbation (when online addiction is associated with pornography), lack of exercise and loss of sleep.
If the addiction is caught early, self-treatment might be possible, but by the time it becomes recognizable as an addiction, it is usually too late, and counseling from a professional therapist should be sought. “People can see any mental health therapist familiar in working with addictions or obsessions,” Moore says. Common treatment approaches include cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and couples or group therapy to deal with damage done to others. Most treatments address multiple aspects of the addiction, including the actual behaviors, thoughts that trigger and accompany the behaviors, underlying issues such as social anxiety or relationship problems, and altering daily routines to ensure healthier activities replace the addiction.
For more information, visit sacramentopsychology.com, which contains reprints of Internet addiction questionnaires for adults, spouses and parents.