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Internet addiction may be one click away

The Internet is where we spend more and more of our time. But for a growing number of people, it’s an out-of-control habit instead of a necessary part of life.

Internet addiction — an online-related compulsive behavior that interferes with normal living and causes severe stress on family, friends, loved ones and work — is a psychological and behavioral problem that is spreading around the world, experts say.

Kimberly Young, clinical director of the Center for Internet Addiction Recovery and author of the book “Caught in the Net,” said that about 5 percent to 10 percent of Americans –15 to 30 million people — may suffer from Internet addiction. And the problem may be even greater elsewhere. Young said 18 to 30 percent of the populations of China, Korea and Taiwan, where the Internet is even more popular than in the U.S., may be addicted.

“I’ve seen a lot of growth in the field of Internet addiction,” said Young. “More research and studies (are) trying to understand it better. … It’s a global problem.”

The main types of Internet addiction are cybersex, online affairs, online gambling, online gaming, compulsive surfing and even eBay addiction, Young added.

An article by Dr. Jerald J. Block in the March issue of the American Journal of Psychiatry stated that “Internet addiction appears to be a common disorder.”

Centers specializing in Internet addiction have been created to offer treatment.

Coleen Moore, coordinator of resource development at the Illinois Institute for Addiction Recovery, said she has clients from college age to early adulthood who spend 14 to 18 hours a day online.

But Young noted that it’s not just how long people spend using a computer, it’s what they’re doing online.

“A lot of people can use the Internet, like alcohol, and not be addicted, but when they lose the control, [then] it becomes an issue,” she said. “You’re not looking at how much time do you spend online but at the quality of how that is affecting your life.”

To help people with their diagnosis, Young developed a test that uses a 20-question survey to measure levels of Internet addiction.

“There are no real drugs for this yet,” she said. “It’s not about medication, it’s more about therapy.”

The estimated recovery time varies.

At the Illinois Institute for Addiction Recovery, some patients need 30 to 90 days in-patient treatment, followed by a continuing care program.

But Internet addiction recovery, as any other addiction, requires lifelong treatment, experts said.

“This [problem] can reactive itself any time if the person does not keep working on the recovery,” said Moore. “We see recovery as a lifelong endeavor.”

In addition to private treatment centers, nonprofit organizations like Gamblers Anonymous, Kickporn.com, Online Gamers Anonymous and Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous were created to help addicts.

Online gaming is the form of Internet addiction that is rapidly growing among young people.

“Initially we primarily had people addicted to surfing the Web, chat rooms, virtual communities and things like that. Now we are looking more to gaming,” Moore said.

Brian Robbins, of the entertainment agency Fuel Industries Inc. and a member of the International Game Developers Association, said there’s been a big increase in the number of people playing video games online.

“The vast majority of the Web-based games, … probably 90 to 95 percent, are free to play,” said Robbins.

San Francisco-based Zynga.com offers a huge variety of free games online through Facebook, one of the most popular social networking Web sites. Poker and blackjack are the most popular games, with more than 12 million and 4 million registered players, respectively, according to its Web site.

“Gaming is certainly one of the things that could get people addicted to the Internet because it’s such a compelling content…,” said Robbins. “But I don’t think games are any more susceptible to Internet addiction than any of the other forms of entertainment.”
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source: Medill Reports, http://news.medill.northwestern.edu

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