A cry in cyberspace from junkies of the Internet

Researchers are to launch a study into what must be one of the newest afflictions known to man - Internet addiction.

As schools prepare to connect their pupils with the information superhighway, fears are mounting that for a small minority its educational advantages may be outweighed by its dangers.

Dr Mark Griffiths, a psychologist at the University of Plymouth who has already published research on children's addictions to fruit machines and computer games, is planning to study the issue in more depth.

He has already used the Internet itself to amass evidence on the subject. He says that of 100 people who responded to a query about the overuse of on-line services, 22 reported a cocaine-like "rush" and 12 said that computer chat lines helped them to relax.

Through the net, he has collected comments from Internet users on their compulsive use of the superhighway. One, identified as Dave, said: "I have tried to cut down. I get so angry when people tell me I spend too much time on the Internet. I sometimes log on the net in the morning to steady my nerves. How about a support group for Internet addiction?"Another, Gary, wrote that after the Internet was installed in the campus computer lab where he worked, some students spent the entire weekend using it. "After eight hours when we started to close I would have to pull them away from the computers, some would even cry."

and become angry," he said.

A woman called Belinda said she had cancelled the service after being addicted to it for almost a year and having to spend a further year in therapy suffering from depression.

Dr Griffiths said he wanted to find out which parts of the net such users were likely to become hooked on. "We want to know who is using the Internet and why they are using it. We are interested in whether anyone is addicted and if they are, what part they are addicted to."

The use of the Internet is growing rapidly, with universities already connected up to it and with schools in some areas becoming linked up through campus facilities. The Department for Education and Employment has announced its intention to encourage schools to link up to the Internet.

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