COMPUTER AND CYBERSPACE
ADDICTION

by John Suler, Ph.D.

To Part I

So far, researchers have only been able to focus on that first criteria - trying to define the constellation of symptoms that constitutes a computer or internet addiction. Psychologist Kimberly S. Young at the Center for On-Line Addiction (see the links at the end of this article) classifies people as Internet-dependent if they meet during the past year four or more of the criteria listed below. Of course, she is focusing specifically on internet addiction, and not the broader category of computer addiction:

 

Do you feel preoccupied with the Internet or on-line services and think about it while off line?
Do you feel a need to spend more and more time on line to achieve satisfaction?
Are you unable to control your on-line use?
Do you feel restless or irritable when attempting to cut down or stop your on-line use?
Do you go on line to escape problems or relieve feelings such as helplessness, guilt, anxiety or depression?
Do you lie to family members or friends to conceal how often and how long you stay online?
Do you risk the loss of a significant relationship, job, or educational or career opportunity because of your on-line use?
Do you keep returning even after spending too much money on on-line fees?
Do you go through withdrawal when off line, such as increased depression, moodiness, or irritability?
Do you stay on line longer than originally intended?

Ivan Goldberg, the facilitator of an internet addiction support group, proposed his own set of symptoms for what he prefers to call "Pathological Computer Use" Other psychologists are debating other possible symptoms of internet addiction, or symptoms that vary slightly from Young's and Goldberg's criteria. These symptoms include:

 

drastic lifestyle changes in order to spend more time on the net
general decrease in physical activity
a disregard for one's health as a result of internet activity
avoiding important life activities in order to spend time on the net
sleep deprivation or a change in sleep patterns in order to spend time on the net
a decrease in socializing, resulting in loss of friends
neglecting family and friends
refusing to spend any extended time off the net
a craving for more time at the computer
neglecting job and personal obligations

On a listserv devoted to the cyberpsychology, Lynne Roberts (robertsl@psychology.curtin.edu.au) described some of the possible physiological correlates of heavy internet usage, although she didn't necessarily equate these reactions with pathological addiction:

 

A conditioned response (increased pulse, blood pressure) to the modem connecting.
An "altered state of consciousness" during long periods of dyad/small group interaction (total focus and concentration on the screen, similar to a mediation/trance state).
Dreams that appeared in scrolling text (the equivalent of MOOing).
Extreme irritability when interrupted by people/things in "real life" while immersed in c-space.

To Part III

John Suler, PhD, is Professor of Psychology at Rider University and a practicing clinical psychologist. He has published on psychotherapy, mental imagery, and eastern philosophy. He currently maintains several web sites.

 

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