How to keep Internet surfing from becoming an addiction
June 12, 2000 -- How long have you been sitting there, staring at this
screen? Are you spending more and more of your time clicking and typing, typing
and clicking? Is there nothing else you'd rather do? Think carefully about the
answers to these questions, say psychologists; they may tell a lot about your
A growing body of research suggests that excessive Internet use carries some
of the same risks as gambling: it can lead to social isolation, depression, and failure at work or
Some people -- particularly those who were isolated to begin with -- have
forged healthy friendships by meeting kindred souls online. But using the
Internet too much can hurt face-to-face relationships. And psychologists
say an increasing number of people are using the Internet so obsessively that
they are ruining their marriages and careers.
In one survey of 1,700 Internet users, presented August 24, 1999 at a
meeting of the American Psychological Association, 6% of those surveyed met the
criteria for addiction: they felt a building tension before the act, a rush of
relief afterwards, and distortions of mood and bingeing. Many get hooked on
"We're a nation of puritans," says Kimberly S. Young, MD, PhD, the
survey's author and executive director of the Center for On-Line Addiction in
Pennsylvania. "And this is the first time in our history we've had
something so uncensored in our homes. You can get to very objectionable
material in a few keystrokes -- even by accident -- and then it's hard to get
out of the site."
Dan Moore (not his real name), a self-defined compulsive personality-type
and workaholic from a Midwestern state, says the Internet destroyed his life.
This middle-aged professional is currently going through divorce proceedings
from his wife of nine years and has been denied visitation rights with his two
children due to his addiction to sex sites. According to Dan, his wife claims
that some of the "soft porn" sites he regularly logged on to used
minors. "She became obsessed with the thought that I was getting involved
in child pornography. She even accused me of molesting my children."
Although Dan vehemently denies both charges, he admits that determining the age
of women on the plethora of available pornography sites is virtually
impossible. "It's like having access to a million adult videos, all for
free. It's seductive. You get mesmerized."
Dan, who has recently begun treatment with an Internet addiction specialist
and is taking antidepressant medication, rid his home of both PC and modem.
"When I finally realized how it has affected my life, I felt like smashing
it, throwing it out the window. Now my compulsion is to try and understand what
I've done to myself and my family."