المفكر والمحاضر العالمي منصور المغربي نائب رئيس النقابة العامة لمدربي التنمية البشرية
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الاعراض والتقييم والعلاج




Internet Addiction:
Symptoms, Evaluation, And Treatment

Dr. Kimberly S. Young
This article is reproduced from Innovations in Clinical Practice (Volume 17) by L. VandeCreek & T. L. Jackson (Eds.), Sarasota, FL: Professional Resource Press. Copyright 1999 by Professional Resource Exchange, Inc. and reprinted with permission. Further electronic/printed circulation or duplication is strictly prohibited without explicit written authorization from Professional Resource Exchange, Inc.

SUMMARY

The Internet itself is a neutral device originally designed to facilitate research among academic and military agencies. How some people have come to use this medium, however, has created a stir among the mental health community by great discussion of Internet addiction. Addictive use of the Internet is a new phenomenon which many practitioners are unaware of and subsequently unprepared to treat. Some therapists are unfamiliar with the Internet, making its seduction difficult to understand. Other times, its impact on the individual’s life is minimized. The purpose of this chapter is to enable clinicians to better detect and treat Internet addiction. The chapter will first focus on the complications of diagnosis of Internet addiction. Second, the negative consequences of such Internet abuse are explored. Third, how to properly assess and identify triggers causing the onset of pathological Internet use are discussed. Fourth, a number of recovery strategies are presented. Lastly, since Internet addiction is an emergent disorder, implications for future practice are presented.

Complications In Diagnosing Internet Addiction

Negative Consequences Of Addictive Use Of The Internet

* Familial Problems
* Academic Problems
* Occupational Problems

Assessment Of Pathological Internet Use

* Applications
* Emotions
* Cognitions
* Life Events

Treatment Strategies For Pathological Internet Use

* Practice The Opposite
* External Stoppers
* Setting Goals
* Abstinence
* Reminder Cards
* Personal Inventory
* Support Groups
* Family Therapy

Future Implications Of Pathological Internet Use

References

COMPLICATIONS IN DIAGNOSING INTERNET ADDICTION

Notions of technological addictions (Griffiths, 1996) and computer addiction (Shotton, 1991) have previously been studied in England. However, when the concept of Internet addiction was first introduced in a pioneer study by Young (1996), it sparked a controversial debate by both clinicians and academicians. Part of this controversy revolved around the contention that only physical substances ingested into the body could be termed "addictive." While many believed the term addiction should be applied only to cases involving the ingestion of a drug (e.g., Rachlin, 1990; Walker, 1989), defining addiction has moved beyond this to include a number of behaviors which do not involve an intoxicant such as compulsive gambling (Griffiths, 1990), video game playing (Keepers, 1990), overeating (Lesuire & Bloome, 1993), exercise (Morgan, 1979), love relationships (Peele & Brody, 1975), and television-viewing (Winn, 1983). Therefore, linking the term "addiction" solely to drugs creates an artificial distinction that strips the usage of the term for a similar condition when drugs are not involved (Alexander & Scheweighofer, 1988).

The other controversial element related to the use of the Internet addiction is that unlike chemical dependency, the Internet offers several direct benefits as a technological advancement in our society and not a device to be criticized as "addictive" (Levy, 1996). The Internet allows a user a range of practical applications such as the ability to conduct research, to perform business transactions, to access international libraries, or to make vacation plans. Furthermore, several books have been written which outline the psychological as well as functional benefits of Internet use in our daily lives (Rheingold, 1993; Turkle, 1995). In comparison, substance dependence is not an integral aspect of our professional practice nor does it offer a direct benefit for its routine usage.

In general, the Internet is a highly promoted technological tool making detection and diagnosis of addiction difficult. Therefore, it is essential that the skilled clinician understand the characteristics which differentiate normal from pathological Internet use.

Proper diagnosis is often complicated by the fact that there is currently no accepted set of criteria for addiction much less Internet addiction listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders - Fourth Edition (DSM-IV; American Psychiatric Association, 1995). Of all the diagnoses referenced in the DSM-IV, Pathological Gambling was viewed as most akin to the pathological nature of Internet use. By using Pathological Gambling as a model, Internet addiction can be defined as an impulse-control disorder which does not involve an intoxicant. Therefore, Young (1996) developed a brief eight-item questionnaire which modified criteria for pathological gambling to provide a screening instrument for addictive Internet use:

1. Do you feel preoccupied with the Internet (think about previous on-line activity or anticipate next on-line session)?
2. Do you feel the need to use the Internet with increasing amounts of time in order to achieve satisfaction?
3. Have you repeatedly made unsuccessful efforts to control, cut back, or stop Internet use?
4. Do you feel restless, moody, depressed, or irritable when attempting to cut down or stop Internet use?
5. Do you stay on-line longer than originally intended?
6. Have you jeopardized or risked the loss of significant relationship, job, educational or career opportunity because of the Internet?
7. Have you lied to family members, therapist, or others to conceal the extent of involvement with the Internet?
8. Do you uses the Internet as a way of escaping from problems or of relieving a dysphoric mood (e.g., feelings of helplessness, guilt, anxiety, depression)?

Patients were considered "addicted" when answering "yes" to five (or more) of the questions and when their behavior could not be better accounted for by a Manic Episode. Young (1996) stated that the cut off score of "five" was consistent with the number of criteria used for Pathological Gambling and was seen as an adequate number of criteria to differentiate normal from pathological addictive Internet use. I should note that while this scale provides a workable measure of Internet addiction, further study is needed to determine its construct validity and clinical utility. I should also note that a patient’s denial of addictive use is likely to be reinforced due to the encouraged practice of utilizing the Internet for academic or employment related tasks. Therefore, even if a patient meets all eight criteria, these symptoms can easily be masked as "I need this as part of my job," "Its just a machine," or "Everyone is using it" due to the Internet’s prominent role in our society.

[Return to Index]

NEGATIVE CONSEQUENCES OF ADDICTIVE USE OF THE INTERNET

The hallmark consequence of substance dependence is the medical implication involved, such as cirrhosis of the liver due to alcoholism, or increased risk of stroke due to cocaine use. However, the physical risk factors involved with an addiction to the Internet are comparatively minimal yet notable. While time is not a direct function in defining Internet addiction, generally addicted users are likely to use the Internet anywhere from forty to eighty hours per week, with single sessions that could last up to twenty hours. To accommodate such excessive use, sleep patterns are typically disrupted due to late night log-ins. The patient typically stays up past normal bedtime hours and may report staying on-line until two, three, or four in the morning with the reality of having to wake for work or school at six a.m. In extreme cases, caffeine pills are used to facilitate longer Internet sessions. Such sleep depravation causes excessive fatigue often making academic or occupational functioning impaired and may decrease one’s immune system, leaving the patient vulnerable to disease. Additionally, the sedentary act of prolonged computer use may result in a lack of proper exercise and lead to an increased risk for carpal tunnel syndrome, back strain, or eyestrain. While the physical side-effects of utilizing the Internet are mild compared to chemical dependency, addictive use of the Internet will result in similar familial, academic, and occupational impairment.

Familial Problems

The scope of relationship problems caused by Internet addiction has been undermined by its current popularity and advanced utility. Young (1996) found that serious relationship problems were reported by fifty-three percent of Internet addicts surveyed. Marriages, dating relationships, parent-child relationships, and close friendships have been noted to be seriously disrupted by "net binges." Patients will gradually spend less time with people in their lives in exchange for solitary time in front of a computer.

Marriages appear to be the most affected as Internet use interferes with responsibilities and obligations at home, and it is typically the spouse who takes on these neglected chores and often feels like a "Cyberwidow." Addicted on-line users tend to use the Internet as an excuse to avoid needed but reluctantly performed daily chores such as doing the laundry, cutting the lawn, or going grocery shopping. Those mundane tasks are ignored as well as important activities such as caring for children. For example, one mother forgot such things as to pick up her children after school, to make them dinner, and to put them to bed because she became so absorbed in her Internet use.

Loved ones first rationalize the obsessed Internet user’s behavior as "a phase" in hopes that the attraction will soon dissipate. However, when addictive behavior continues, arguments about the increased volume of time and energy spent on-line soon ensue, but such complaints are often deflected as part of the denial exhibited by the patients. Addictive use is also evidenced by angry and resentful outbursts at others who question or try to take away their time from using the Internet, often times in defense of their Internet use to a husband or wife. For example, "I don’t have a problem," or "I am having fun, leave me alone," might be an addict’s response when questioned about their usage.

Matrimonial lawyers have reported seeing a rise in divorce cases due to the formation of such Cyberaffairs (Quittner, 1997). Individuals may form on-line relationships which over time will eclipse time spent with real life people. The addicted spouse will isolate socially himself or herself and refuse to engage in once enjoyed events by the couple such as going out to dinner, attending community or sports outings, or travel, and preferring the company of on-line companions. The ability to carry out romantic and sexual relationships on-line further deteriorates the stability of real life couples. The patient will continue to emotionally and socially withdraw from the marriage, exerting more effort to maintain recently discovered on-line "lovers."

Internet use then interferes with real life interpersonal relationships as those who live with or who are close to the Internet addict respond in confusion, frustration, and jealousy around the computer. For example, Conrad sent this e-mail to me which explains, "My girlfriend spends from 3 to 10 hours a day on the net. Often engaged in cybersex and flirting with other men. Her activities drive me nuts! She lies about it so I have gone out on the net to ‘get the goods’ to confront her with it. I am finding myself spending almost as much time now. I just broke it off with her in an effort to put some sanity back into my own life. It is a sad story. By the way, we are not kids, but middle-aged adults." Similar to alcoholics who will try to hide their addiction, Internet addicts engage in the same lying about how long their Internet sessions really last or they hide bills related to fees for Internet service. These same characteristics create distrust and over time will hurt the quality of once stable relationships.

Academic Problems

The Internet has been touted as a premiere educational tool driving schools to integrate Internet services among their classroom environments. However, one survey revealed that eighty-six percent of responding teachers, librarians, and computer coordinators believe that Internet usage by children does not improve performance (Barber, 1997). Respondents argued that information on the Internet is too disorganized and unrelated to school curriculum and textbooks to help students achieve better results on standardized tests. To further question its educational value, Young (1996) found that fifty-eight percent of students reported a decline in study habits, a significant drop in grades, missed classes, or being placed on probation due to excessive Internet use.

Although the merits of the Internet make it an ideal research tool, students surf irrelevant web sites, engage in chat room gossip, converse with Internet penpals, and play interactive games at the cost of productive activity. Alfred University’s Provost W. Richard Ott investigated why normally successful students with 1200 to 1300 SATs had recently been dismissed. To his surprise, his investigation found that forty-three percent of these students failed school due to extensive patterns of late night log-ons to the university computer system (Brady, 1996). Beyond tracking Internet misuse among students, college counselors began seeing client’s whose primary problem was an inability to control their Internet use. A survey initiated by counselors at the University of Texas at Austin found that of the 531 valid responses, 14% met criteria for Internet addiction (Scherer, in press). This resulted in forming a campus-wide seminar called "It’s 4am, and I Can’t, Uh-Won’t Log Off" to increase awareness about the risk factors of Internet misuse among students. Dr. Jonathan Kandell at the University of Maryland at College Park’s Counseling Center went so far as to initiate an Internet addiction support group when he noticed academic impairment and poor integration in extracurricular activities due to excessive Internet use on campus (Murphey, 1996).
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