Internet addiction is a serious problem with symptoms similar to alcoholism, says a new US study.
The study, carried out on 2513 adults by researchers at Stanford University School of Medicine, found that “more than one out of eight Americans exhibited at least one possible sign of problematic internet use”.
Elias Aboujaoude, lead author of the study and director of Stanford’s Impulse Control Disorders Clinic, says that too much focus is placed on the benefits of the internet and not enough on the problems it creates for a minority of users.
Most concerning to Aboujaoude is the fact that internet addicts are exhibiting similar behaviour to alcoholics. He specifically points to people hiding their nonessential internet use and using the internet to escape a negative mood.
“In a sense, they’re using the internet to ‘self-medicate,”’ says Aboujaoude.
“And obviously something is wrong when people go out of their way to hide their internet activity,” he adds.
The study found that 13.7 per cent of respondents found it hard to stay away from the internet for several days at a time, 8.7 per cent attempted to conceal non-essential internet use from family, friends and employers and 5.9 per cent felt their relationships suffered as a result of excessive internet use.
8.2 per cent used the Internet as a way to escape problems or relieve negative moods.
Despite his findings, Aboujaoude isn’t going so far as to say that internet addiction is a clinical disorder.
“We’re not saying this is a diagnosis - we still need to learn a lot more,” he said. “But this study was a necessary first step toward possibly identifying something clinically significant.”
NetAlert is the Australian government body responsible for advising on internet safety. It offers a free telephone helpline (1800 880 176) for those looking for more information on internet safety, including internet addiction.
NetAlert identifies instant messaging, chat and online gaming as being “particularly addictive”.
Online gaming has drawn the ire of many campaigners against internet addiction recently, following the death of a 13-year-old Chinese boy in May whose parents say jumped to his death from a tall building after playing one of the popular “Warcraft” online games for 36 hours straight.
World of Warcraft (WoW), part of the Warcraft series of games, is often identified by its players as a primary source of internet addiction.
One ex-WoW player, who put down his sword after being addicted to the game for over two months, says he met loads of real-life friends and even a girlfriend through the game, but one day realised it was taking over his life.
“Blizzard has created an alternate universe where we don’t have to be ourselves when we don’t want to be… I’ve seen it destroy more families and friendships and take a huge toll on individuals than any drug on the market today, and that means a lot coming from an ex-club DJ,” the player wrote in an anonymous blog post.
“When I started playing, I was working towards getting into the best shape of my life (and making good progress, too). Now a year later, I’m about 30 pounds heavier that I was back then, and it is not muscle. I had a lot of hobbies including DJing (which I was pretty accomplished at) and music as well as writing and martial arts. I haven’t touched a record or my guitar for over a year and I think if I tried any Kung Fu my gut would throw my back out,” he said.
The player blames the game’s design, specifically its never-ending nature, as the cause of the addiction.
“Blizzard created a game that you simply can not win. Not only that, the only way to ‘get better’ is to play more and more.
“During my stint, I was playing about 30 hours a week ... and logging on during my work day in order to keep up,” he said.
The Australian Centre for the Moving Image earlier this year launched a new guide to allay parental fears about giving children access to computer games.
The Sydney Morning Herald