Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Are We Internet Addicts? (I'm Afraid So)

Dear George,

I see in the newspaper that in 2012 the American Psychiatric Association will be coming out with its new Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders .  There’s a lot of controversy about whether “Internet Addiction Disorder” will make it as a new type of mental illness.   This is personally relevant to us because the mere fact of reading this blog means that one may well be an internet addict (and writing a blog is definitely far worse).  This has been making me nervous for a while, so I’ve been researching the problem.  According to Helpguide.com, you are an Internet Addict if your on-line activities are getting in the way of your “off-line” life, e.g., if you’re neglecting your family and friends, your work, or other important things in your life because of the Net.     


Most experts think that from 5 to 10% of computer users are addicted.  Like unemployment statistics, that strikes me as an under-estimate.  According to the research, there are numerous risk factors.  Thus, you are more prone to Internet addiction if you are anxious, depressed, have other addictions (e.g., drugs, alcohol), lack social support, are less socially active than you used to be, or are a teenager.  I’m afraid that I qualify for nearly all of these (even a teenager if we toss in states of mind).


I don’t like to admit it, even to myself, but there are a number of signs that I’m developing a full-blown case of this disease.  One clue is that I now often check my e-mail before I brush my teeth in the morning.  And then, as long as I get a cup of coffee, I skip breakfast altogether in order to do “important” computer stuff.  Sometimes I even forget to walk the dogs.  When Katja came home yesterday, she was shocked when she found me downstairs reading the newspaper rather than being at the computer – she couldn’t believe it, it had been so long.  I have been reading a very interesting book in my spare time, but I’ve only covered 42 pages in six weeks.  If I start to watch a TV program in the evening, I usually get itchy and quit watching after a few minutes to go online.  And then I have to win two games of Spider Solitaire on the computer before I can go to bed.  If I wake up during the night, I have to win another game of Spider.  And then, when I do drop off, I’m as likely as not to dream about blog-writing.  (By the way, making a list of this sort is not recommended -- too revealing, too scary.)        


Fortunately for us, Dr. Kimberly Young, President of the Center for Internet Addiction Recovery, has developed a scientific test which proves whether or not you are suffering from Internet Addiction Disorder.  The whole test (available through a Google search) has 20 items, but here is a shortened version.  If you’re brave enough to face the truth about yourself, just answer the five questions below using this scale:  1 = Rarely.
2 = Occasionally.
3 = Frequently.
4 = Often.
5 = Always:


(1)  How often do you find that you stay on-line longer than you intended?

(2)  How often do you check your e-mail before something else that you need to do?

(3)  How often do you become defensive or secretive when anyone asks you what you do on-line?

(4)  How often do you lose sleep due to late-night log-ins?

(5)  How often do you feel depressed, moody, or nervous when you are off-line, which goes away once you are back on-line?


When you add up your scores, if the total is from 5 to 12, you are an average on-line user and are not currently in need of psychiatric treatment (at least not because of the Internet).  Scores from 13 to 19 suggest frequent problems about which you should be concerned.  And scores of 20 to 25 indicate significant, disruptive problems in your life which ought to be addressed professionally.  A good example of a pair of high scorers is the recent news story about Michael and Iana Straw who became obsessed with an online game and discontinued feeding their infant son and daughter (who were discovered only as they neared death).


One enlightening exercise is to classify how many of your friends and family members you have primarily direct communication with (either face-to-face or by phone) vs. mainly electronic contact (e.g., e-mail, Facebook).  When I do this for 17 close relationships, I have 7 people in the face-to-face or phone category, 10 electronic.  Clearly I’m teetering on the brink, gradually sliding into virtual reality, and I’m fantasizing how my life will be when all my human interchanges are electronically mediated.


Every day more and more therapeutic approaches are being developed to combat this new form of neurosis.  The Chinese have pioneered in these efforts, initially using electro-shock therapy on nerdish teenagers, but more recently shifting to a variety of physical punishments.  Right here in Ohio, you can go to Target and buy a device which will shut down your computer for all but a few predetermined time periods during the day.  For more recalcitrant cases, a residential treatment center (ReSTART) near Seattle offers a 45-day program to wean one from pathological computer use.  I myself have not taken any of these extreme steps yet.   I’m just waiting for Katja to e-mail me about her complaints, and then I’ll go from there.




Gmail Comments:

-Donna D (2-25): David, this is great.  Isn't it interesting how many "addictions" there are? Surely addictions existed 100 years ago.  Right?  So why is addiction such a thing now?

-Jennifer M (2-23): Can get time off work to get inpatient treatment for my Internet addiction?

-Amy R (2-23):  I am dying laughing.

-Linda C (2-23):  well i love love the internet, and since i moved to ca without my friends i love it even more. when i was most of the time in bed for almost a  month i really really loved it. i love facebook, never been on twitter, getting blogs , well only yours actually, getting photos and on flickr which you sent to me recently, but ...................i am starting to love my iphone even more, i can take it in my pocket , i have lots of applications on it, and of course i can google anything, and push button for any thing i want to know . now i know it is a little expensive, but really, at our age, how can it hurt to have some little toy, and since you save money at the good will all these years i think you deserve it… 

-JML (2-23):  hey dad, my score was 9 which was surprisingly low. it's probable that i'm not being totally honest with my responses. lack of self-insight.  great blog, though. i often think we should get rid of our home computer but don't have the guts. recently, k and i decided to get rid of our tv and then 8 hours later went the other direction and bought a 46 inch hdtv.  oh well.  j


  1. I am dying laughing.

  2. Can get time off work to get inpatient treatment for my Internet addiction?