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    Internet Addiction: Ruining Lives?

    Spouses, Friends See It First, Suffer Most

    Looking for Trouble

    If you've said it too many times, "Come to bed, it's 2 a.m.," you may be living with an Internet junkie. Here are symptoms of a serious problem:

    • They have a preoccupation in which the Internet becomes "irresistible."
    • Using the Internet for longer periods than planned. "They say they'll be off in an hour, but three hours later they're still at it," says Shapira.
    • Preoccupation causes significant problems in relationships, work, or other important areas of functioning.
    • They try to cut back but can't.
    • They have excessive thoughts about it.
    • They get a sense of tension or arousal before doing it, and get pleasure afterward -- much as kleptomaniacs feel after lifting something.
    • Their other responsibilities, such as paying the bills, get neglected.

    All this rings true for drug and alcohol addiction, too, says Kristin Kassaw, MD, associate director of the Baylor Psychiatric Clinic in Houston. "It would take something like a 12-step program to change the behavior," she tells WebMD.

    Getting Help

    In fact, therapy does work to curb the problem, Shapira says. Cognitive behavioral therapy -- which involves learning how to deal with feelings that lead to excessive Internet use -- helps people control their urges and manage their time better, he says.

    Medications can help, too. "If depression or obsessive-compulsive disorder is involved, when the mood gets stabilized, it will have an affect on impulse control," he says.

    Loved ones are always the first to identify this problem -- those glued to the screen rarely recognize it in themselves, Shapira tells WebMD. "Interpersonal relationships are the first to suffer."

    If you're concerned about a family member or friend, talk to them about it and express concern about Internet addiction. Then help them find a psychologist, he advises.

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