June 12, 2000 -- So you surf the Internet for an hour a day. OK, maybe for three hours -- or five. At what point does this fascination become so compulsive that psychologists would call it an addiction?
Psychologist Kimberly S. Young, MD, PhD, founded the Center for On-Line Addiction (http://www.netaddiction.com) to help people with just this problem. She's identified eight key symptoms. Take a look at her list. If five or more apply, Young suggests you consider talking to a mental health professional about your Internet use.
- Preoccupation -- You think constantly about previous online activity or keep looking forward to the next online session. Some people crave time on the Internet the way a smoker craves a cigarette.
- Increased use -- You need to spend increasing amounts of time online to achieve satisfaction. A parent who's spending 50 hours a week in a chat room might neglect basic responsibilities such as doing laundry or making dinner for the kids.
- Inability to stop -- You can't cut back on your Internet use, even after several attempts. Some people can't stop visiting chat rooms while at the office, even though they know their bosses are monitoring the sites they visit.
- Withdrawal symptoms -- You feel restless, moody, depressed, or irritable when you attempt to stop or cut down Internet use. Some people feel so grumpy in jobs where they can't go online that they make excuses to go home and use the computer.
- Lost sense of time -- Everyone lets time slip by occasionally while on the Internet. Consider it a problem if it happens to you consistently when you're online and you're also experiencing some of the other symptoms on this list.
- Risky behaviors -- You jeopardize a significant relationship, job, or educational or career opportunity because of Internet use. One man decided to leave his wife of 22 years for someone he had corresponded with on the Internet for a couple of months.
- Lies -- You lie to family members, a therapist, or others to conceal the extent of your involvement with the Internet. Someone who's seeing a therapist for depression might not tell the therapist about her Internet use.
- Escape to the Internet -- You use the Internet as a way to avoid thinking about problems, or to allay depression or feelings of helplessness. One CEO constantly downloaded pornography for stress relief at work.
Lisa Winer is an assistant editor at WebMD.