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Internet/Computer Addiction

With advances in computer technology, problems related to computer use are on the rise. When Internet use becomes excessive and uncontrollable it can have devastating consequences on family, career, school, and social life. Seeking help in order to gain control before things get out of hand can be one of the most important decisions a person makes.

Unfortunately, due to the many ways in which computers are used on a regular basis (e.g., work, communication, gathering information, playing games etc.), it can be difficult to determine precisely when “normal” becomes “problematic” use. Without knowing the signs to look for, real problems often go untreated.

Researchers Heron and Shapira (2003) created a checklist that uses the acronym “MOUSE” to give some guidelines for diagnosing “Internet addiction”. If the following statements ring true to some extent it is probably a good idea to meet with a professional and determine whether a treatment program would be beneficial.

More than intended time is spent online (or playing games)
Other responsibilities are neglected (as a result of Internet/Game use)
Unsuccessful attempts have been made to cut down on use
Significant relationship problems occur because of use
Excessive thoughts or anxiety when not online or playing games

Currently there is no formal diagnosis referred to as “Internet Addiction” although many clinicians and researchers use this term to describe people who engage in excessive and problematic Internet and computer/video game use. The signs and symptoms often mimic the signs and symptoms of drug and alcohol addiction. As with other addictions, problems with computer use may be a sign of other major life problems (interpersonal, family, emotional, scholastic, educational, marital), and can often serve as a response to or an escape from the stress of such problems. Conditions such as major depression, anxiety disorders such as obsessive-compulsive disorder, as well as other addictive disorders such as alcohol/substance abuse and pathological gambling have also been shown to be present in people with problems controlling Internet usage.

The following is a list of some if the specific things you can look for to help determine if there is a problem. If the majority of the following have been present for 3-6 months or more it is probably time to seek help.

  • Using secretly, lying about use
  • Using approximately 24-30 hours or more per week (non-work/school related)
  • Mood shifts when not using (e.g., increased irritability)
  • Increase in arguments about excessive use
  • Work performance drops, or grades drop significantly
  • Significant decrease in social, non-computer related activities
  • Major sleep problems
  • Neglecting important responsibilities
  • Deterioration in health or hygiene due to computer-related use

When it comes to Problematic Internet Use, it is easy to deny a problem exists (particularly during the early stages). We often hear parents say, “At least he’s not out on the street using drugs,” or “At least she’s not hanging out with those other kids who are getting into trouble”. Meanwhile, their son or daughter is spending excessive time online at the expense of their studies, social activities, and even health and hygiene. A spouse may say, “I had no idea what he was doing, I thought he was working”. Meanwhile, their partner has lost control engaging in online activities that may pose major problems to their marriage. Because computers are involved as opposed to drugs or alcohol, it is understandable that people tend to to look the other way and to minimize the idea that a potential problem exists.

If after reading the information on this page you still believe you or someone you know may be suffering from “Internet addiction” please do not hesitate to call for more information or to set up an appointment.
Fortunately, at Behavioral Associates, our staff has extensive experience in assessing and treating a wide range of addictive behaviors. Our knowledgeable and friendly staff will be happy to answer your questions and assist you in scheduling an initial consultation if requested. At this consultation you will meet with a psychologist who will assess your specific situation and match you with a suitable therapist so treatment may begin.