In the process of becoming a user, a healthy person passes (1) a phase of compulsive craving, (2) a phase of rejection, (3) a phase of balance. Users with “complexes” get stuck at the first phase.
Quite often we hear the arguments of scientists about the damage caused by the achievements of human progress: computer monitors reduce visual acuity, mobile phones are suspected to be involved in the occurrence of malignant tumors, computer games create hyper-aggressive and inadequate people. The doctors also often bash the Internet. We are talking about an addiction that becomes apparent in an increasing number of users.
There are four forms of Internet addiction:
• Addiction to virtual sex (men are the majority in this form);
• Addiction to communicating in an online form (mostly women prefer endless chats with friends);
• Addiction to interactive games;
• Information addiction and a general attraction to online activities (purchases in online shops, online betting, trading through the web and just randomly surfing from site to site with no specific purpose).
To make it even scarier, let us say that with every month there are more and more doctors who are talking about the existence of Internet addiction. The final recognition of this disease will be its inclusion in the “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.” The new disease was not included in the last (fourth) edition because of insufficient clinical materials. But there will be enough materials before the 5th edition comes out.
Scientifically speaking, Internet addiction is called “Internet Addiction Disorder” or simply - IAD. Nowadays it is a known fact that it affects the physical condition of a person. In a neglected condition when a user spends up to 18 hours a day near the computer, he experiences a real withdrawal syndrome, which is accompanied by high temperature, hand tremor, twitching limbs and fever.
Incredible stories have started to appear in various reports about women who were so much occupied with Internet-surfing that they did not feed their children for weeks and eventually lost their parental rights, or about adolescents that crush everything around when not able to go online and then just fall down - exhausted and inadequate.
Those who have suffered prolonged depression or have had problems with alcohol and drugs have the biggest inclinations to Internet addiction. Also, among the Internet-dependent citizens there are many people who often experience anxiety in real life and cannot get rid of it there.
Who makes the diagnosis and treatment?
In the U.S. the struggle with IAD has not reached state level yet, but several psychiatric institutions began a series of serious studies. They create the social and psychological portrait of the patient, the reasons for his psychic addiction and ways of influencing it. Some pedagogical universities are going to introduce a course which will help to identify those children who are prone to this addiction, as well as diagnose an already chronic case of IAD.
Most branches of “Alcoholics Anonymous” and “Drug Addicts Anonymous” have opened support groups for Internet-addicted people, who are undergoing a difficult return to normal life. Moreover, there are groups for relatives who wish to return a family member to normal communication.
“Center Internet/Computer Addiction Services” is a more serious organization, which has undertaken to treat young users. It is located in Seattle and is lead by Dr. Hilarie Cash and Jay Parker. According to their data, every 10th user in the U.S. suffers from IAD.
We can also mention Ivan Goldberg, head of the “Internet Addiction Disorder Support Group”, who insists on using the term “Pathological Computer Use”, as well as cyberpsychologist (it is the official name of the new specialization) Lynne Roberts.
Dr. David Greenfield, founder of “The Center for Internet Studies” is considered to be the most authoritative expert who is often invited to all kinds of broadcasts.
And, finally, there are commercial psychologists and psychiatrists, who (ridiculously enough) will treat you online. For example, Dr. Kimberly Young will hold a 50-minute consultation in a chat for just $89 and if you agree to three therapy sessions - it will cost $250. If you don’t like chats, you will be offered treatment through correspondence - $25 for one letter from the doctor and $60 for three. And if you don’t like any of those options, you can buy a book called “Catch in the Net” for $25, where Dr. Kimberly Young will tell you in all details how to live without the Internet. However, let’s put irony aside - who knows, maybe her advice will help someone... Besides, nobody believes the discoverers, and an ordinary session of psychotherapy is much more expensive.
So how can “it” be treated?
Believe it or not, but it is treated the same as alcoholism and drug addiction. Moreover, the most common program with the help of which people who are “caught in the web” are being cured is the well-known program of 12 steps. The whole point of this program lies in taking away the “cyberdrug” and filling the real life with meaning at the same time. It is considered that a sign of recovery is when the user can control the time spent on the Web, not exceeding 4-6 hours. Parallel to this there is social rehabilitation - the person tries to regain lost connections and relations, gradually moving away from group therapy.
As with any other addiction several degrees of “immersion into an illusory world” have already been identified. Firstly, pictures start to “scroll” in dreams. Secondly, when an Internet connection is being established the blood pressure rises, the pulse quickens. Thirdly, during the long time near the computer the person is experiencing something similar to “heightened awareness” - he does not perceive his body and what is happening around. From the side it looks like meditation. In rare cases the sensitivity is dulled and there is a frozen expression on the face, often expressing nothing.
While traditional psychology refuses to deal seriously with this problem, it wouldn’t hurt to test yourself. Here’s a rough list of questions that are asked in cases of suspected Internet addiction:
1. Are you able to determine in advance how much time you are going to stay in front of a computer?
2. Have you ever broken any plans because something prevented you from breaking away from the computer at the scheduled time?
3. Do you feel something similar to euphoria when working on a computer?
4. Do you have a desire to spend more time at the computer than you spend now?
5. Do you sacrifice socialization with friends and family for the sake of working on the computer?
6. Do you feel irritable, restless and dissatisfied while being offline?
7. When working on a computer, do you hide from colleagues and family what exactly you are doing?
8. Have you ever (even once) had some problems due to the overuse of your computer and everything connected with it?
9. Did your routine change because of the work on the computer?
10. Do you experience a syndrome of restricted consciousness, tension in the eyes, pain in the back or weight change?
11. Do you tend to deny, minimize or seek to explain the negative effects connected with long time periods at a computer?
12. Have you given up your offline hobbies?
13. Have you begun to resort to the Internet to build online erotic and sexual relationships?
14. Do you embellish yourself while searching for the ideal partner for cybersex?
This simple questionnaire shows the emphasis in the diagnosis in general. Psychologists believe that if any activity is expanding its authority in your life, then it is an addiction. Especially if it starts to dominate at the expense of social relations and natural needs.
According to statistics, cyber-addiction is characteristic for people with two types of disorientation: social and sexual. The social disorientation is expressed in low self-esteem, in avoiding problems and responsibilities, in an attempt to get distracted from any other dependence (simply “switch”). Sexually disoriented Internet-addicts - those are generally a new type of people, worthy of a separate description.
Internet sex addiction is called “Cybersexual Addiction” (CSA), and in the U.S. media it is much more discussed than simple Internet addiction. According to statistics, every fifth user is somehow involved in online sexual activity. And it is a known fact that men prefer porn sites, and women - sex chat rooms, reaffirming the adage that a man loves with his eyes and a woman – with her ears.
The drama of CSA is that it catches people in the transition age, whether it is puberty age - and then the adolescents have an antisocial view of sex, or when the spouses are tired of family life, or when a man in his old age discovers his penchant for prohibited forms of sex.
Most of the problems are in the last group, because here we already talk about criminal contacts in the form of virtual pedophilia and sodomy. There are many cases when solid and successful older men are “caught” on child pornography and erotic chats with minors.
Approximately only one-fifth of the “patients” - women as well as men - try to bring the online sexual communication into real life, but in general it is noted that a person suffering from CSA doesn’t form a relationship with a real partner, and if he does, then he requires “inappropriate” behavior from the partner.
Most men resort to cyber sex because of the fact that he is ashamed of his appearance (aged usually from 30 to 50) – bald spots, big belly, small penis, and so on. Women prefer cybersex to a “live contact”, because social attitudes and requirements do not allow them to realize their fantasies.
Here, two things may occur in the sexual life of the user: either he starts to focus on his “achievements” online and then in real life it is difficult to repeat such feelings, or he interprets this experience as part of his overall sexual experience. And then he is healthy and happy.
Only a small part of cyber-sex-addicts suffer from a real pathology. These people understand absolutely clearly what and why they are doing. The so-called “defilement” comes with a growing sense of power over the “victim.” In such cases the “victim” may complain to the police and accuse the “seducer” of sexual harassment. There is a Website called PedoWatch.com, which has been tracking incidents of sexual harassment of children on the Internet quite successfully for six years already. The author of the site, an independent researcher Julie Posey (aged 37) has already initiated 40 trials on charges of sexual harassment.
A few words about the symptoms
There is a list of signs that indicate that you have “fallen for cybersex.” Firstly, most of your online contacts are made with a sexual motivation - just chatting does not work: it’s boring. Secondly, during anonymous contacts you prefer forms of sex that are not typical for you in real life. Then, even before entering the Internet you feel sexual arousal. You start to lie and hide your online meetings from your partner or other significant people in your real life.
Remember, if the first thing you do in the morning is going to your computer and sitting on the Internet late into the night, you should know - you have a real illness that needs serious treatment.