The advent of the Internet has been a life saver to so many people. Not only can we educate ourselves on almost any subject we wish, we can make friends, enjoy romances and link to the outside world in a way that may have been impossible beforehand.
We can now work from home, instant message to someone on the other side of the world and go shopping and pay our bills without stepping outside!
But for some, the internet becomes their whole existence - and instead of complimenting their lives - it becomes their lives.
Internet addicts may overspend money on a daily basis, finding themselves in debt. They may gamble or live in a virtual world from the moment they get up, to when they go to bed.
They may spend countless hours of the day perusing websites, posting about their lives and adopting an internet persona (or multiple personas!) that is reflective of their moods.
They may be 'themselves' - complete with photos and links, or they may post anonymously - especially when talking about sensitive subjects or to attack others. Some will post as themselves, to then return 'anonymously' to agree with themselves and carry on the conversation. Others will only post anonymously when talking about subjects like abortion, or war, or political issues that can cause an uproar in the internet community. They can post provocative questions (their personal feelings on religion, or having children or the wars in Iraq/Afghanistan) without feeling threatened by using their own name or image. And without friends or family - this may be the only way they can express themselves and communiate their ideas and ideals to the world.
Others are day long bloggers - putting their names out there, warts and all - and even making money from it through advertising sales. This isn't to say they have an addiction - but if their real life situation finds them alone most of the time, they are at risk of isolating themselves on the internet to such a degree that it's their sole social outlet.
Depending on the websites they use, they may be one way (passive, friendly) on a certain website or another way (hostile, aggressive) on a website of a different subject matter.
Either way, these personas allow a person to vent and expel stress in a way they could not beforehand.
Internet Addiction Disorder is not (yet) in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders but is now recognized as a legitimate disorder by American Psychological Association.
There is no known reason why someone becomes addicted to the internet but like any other addiction, it can wreck havoc on a person's life. They may ignore work, family or previous hobbies and spend a dozen hours a day or more, going from website to website (or even focusing on just a few) pouring out their thoughts in chat rooms or discussion forums, or simply reading material or using it for practical purposes like shopping (and overuse of that also leads to problems).
There is no firm demographic - a person can become addicted at any age, be any race or of any social/economic background.
How does a person know if they simply love the internet and all it offers, as opposed to it being an unhealthy addiction? Like any other addiction:
They may lie about their usage
They may fall behind on homework/work assignments
They may stop socializing with "real-life" friends
They may have no "real-life" friends
Romantic relationships may suffer
They may be fired from their jobs or fail exams due to their excessive usage
Their pets, children or other loved ones may be ignored
The addict becomes more and more isolated and chooses the addiction over anyone or anything else.
When not on the internet, they are thinking about the internet. What to buy, what games to play or who wrote what in which discussion forum.
They perceive injustices from internet acquaintances and find themselves obsessing over it in real life.
They become angry if usage is cut back (by parents or other loved ones).
Treatment for this addiction is new, as is the addiction itself. Similar in some ways to an addiction to food, it is not possible to cut out internet usage for most people. Their livelihoods may depend in it. Talk therapy and support groups can help. People may need to find other ways to communicate with people; other ways to handle stress and other social outlets. Therapy can offer these tools.
The internet is truly a wonderful source for education, for socialization and for fun. It has enhanced our lives immensely. But when it affects one's life adversely, it may be time to take action.
Have you (or someone you know) battled an internet addiction? How did you (or they) cope?
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