Internet addiction becomes growing concern

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The symptoms of Internet addiction are stark but the causes elusive: a teenager begins gaming on the Internet in the early evening and is still feverishly pecking away when the sun comes up.

Another goes to online chat rooms and e-mail sites for 12 hours at a stretch, or even 24.

A third stops eating or eats in front of the screen. Or stops washing. Their identities become twisted up, like strands of DNA, with computer characters.

"It is clear right now that there are people who really, really struggle with what we can easily define as Internet addiction. What that number is we don't know," said Louise Nadeau, a professor at the University of Montreal's psychology department who is researching the issue.

She is one part of a growing cadre of academics examining the social and psychological problems that have sprung from the explosive growth of the World Wide Web.

But drawing any conclusions or projections is a mug's game, said Nadeau, because researchers have barely delved into the issue.

She estimates that in Quebec one quarter of one per cent of those who seek addictions counselling are hooked on the web -- outnumbered by far by those trying to overcome drug or alcohol problems.

"That's really not a lot," said Nadeau. "But then there was no advertising for (Internet addiction treatment), so the people who did ask for it were really in distress."

The problem, she said, is defining Internet addiction and determining where to draw the line between avid computer user and addict.

A child who spends 12 consecutive hours a day on the web may be addicted or may just lack parental supervision, said Nadeau. And does a compulsive online gambler or porn site surfer have an Internet problem or a gambling/sexual disorder?

"Are we at the step in this province where we can advertise our addiction (treatment) service? I'm not sure we're there," said Nadeau.

"But (Internet addiction) is something new that wasn't there 15 years ago."

Cyber addictions have been the subject of a number of recent studies and test cases.

In Britain, psychologist David Lewis recently spearheaded a survey of 2,100 subjects that found close to half experienced stress and anxiety -- detected by measuring heart rates and brainwave activity -- when unable to go online, a phenomenon that has been dubbed "discomgoogolation." It also suggested that half of Britons are on the Net between one and four hours a day and 87 per cent rely on it as their primary source of information.

Karyn Gordon, a Toronto-based teen coach and author of Dr. Karyn's Guide to the Teen Years, says she has counselled some adolescents whose "entire social life is in cyberspace."

Addiction to video games is "a huge problem," particularly with boys, she said in an interview when her book was launched earlier this year.

"I don't think video games are bad and should be banned," but parents need to set limits for their children, Gordon said.

Having games is "a privilege, and with any privilege there needs to be responsibility and boundaries around that."

If it reaches the point of addiction, parents should seek professional help, she said.

"Yes, there are some parents that can handle it (on their own), but really a lot of times I find it almost just gets a lot worse."
source: London Free Press