Official: Internet users can suffer clinical addiction

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IF YOU have risked a significant relationship to carry on web surfing, or stayed online longer than you intended, you could be suffering from what is now a formally recognised illness: Internet Addiction Disorder (IAD). The syndrome includes a wide variety of behaviours, including cyber- sexual addiction, cyber-relationship addiction, and net compulsions, such as online gambling or shopping, according to a paper published today in the Student British Medical Journal.

Kimberly Young, founder of the Center for On-Line Addiction at the University of Pittsburgh, believes the anonymity of electronic transactions actually encourages deviant, deceptive and even criminal online acts, such as the development of aggressive personae and the downloading of illegal images. The Internet provides a "virtual context that cultivates a subjective escape from emotional difficulties, such as stress, depression or anxiety, or ... personal hardships, such as job burnout, academic troubles, sudden unemployment or marital discord", she writes.

Symptoms include sleep deprivation and moderate physical complaints such as back and eye strain. Treatments focus on time management, self-monitoring and improving social relationships.

Dr Young has developed a questionnaire, using gambling as a model, to help clinicians to differentiate between "normal" and "pathological" users. Web-aholics are likely to report feeling restless, moody, depressed or irritable when attempting to cut down or stop Internet use. They are generally preoccupied with the Internet, spending the time they are not surfing either mulling over their previous online session or anticipating the next. And like other addicts, they will try to conceal the extent of their problem.

Dr Young's counselling sessions for IAD are, ironically, accessible online.


If you answer "yes" to five or more of these questions you are an Internet addict.

Do you feel moody, depressed, or irritable when trying to cut down or stop Internet use? Have you risked losing a significant relationship, job, or education opportunity because of it? Have you lied to family or others to conceal Internet use? Are you preoccupied with it?

Do you need to use it for increasing amounts of time to achieve satisfaction? Have you repeatedly failed to cut down or stop? Do you stay online longer than intended? Do you use it to escape from problems or depression?