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Are you addicted to the Internet?


Susan Ives spends a lot of time on the Internet but much of it is researching articles for the reading pleasure of nice people like you. That's OK, isn't it?

A couple of months ago I found myself sitting on a couch at KMOL-TV, chatting with Tanji Patton and a bunch of other people about Internet addiction. The camera was running. Viewers were calling in. If you saw me sweating, it wasn’t nerves over being on TV. It was the jitters from being separated from my e-mail for two whole hours. Now you know my darkest secret — I’m addicted to the Internet.

Or maybe not.

Experts disagree over whether there really is such as thing as being addicted to the Internet, tentatively known as IAD (Internet Addictive Disorder). Those who believe in Internet addiction claim that the diagnostic tools use to identify other addictions and compulsions — such as gambling addiction — apply just as well to the Internet. Disbelievers scoff that the IAD crowd may just be trying to get Internet Addiction into the official diagnostic manuals so that they can charge insurance companies for treatment. After all, we don’t talk about television addiction, or talking on the telephone addiction, or novel-reading addiction, do we? They also suggest that what may look like Internet addiction may really be masking other problems, such as depression. And, if people spend a lot of time on the Internet gambling or shopping, maybe they are really compulsive shoppers or gamblers rather than compulsive Internet users. 
How Much is Too Much?
Check all of the indicators that apply to you.

You neglect important family activities, social events, work responsibilities, academic projects or health concerns to spend hours on the Internet
A significant person, such as a boss, close friend or partner, has complained you’re spending too
much time on the Internet
You’re constantly anticipating your next on-line session
You have tried, but can’t cut back on your Internet time
You plan to spend a brief period on-line, only to discover later that several hours have passed
You check your e-mail compulsively
You develop cravings and withdrawal symptoms when you’re away from the computer
You’re skipping  meals, classes, sleep or appointments to get on the Internet
You’d rather talk to people on-line than face-to-face
You go out less and less
You try to hide the amount of time you spend on the Internet

Checking five or more of these indicators may indicate that the Internet is disrupting your life

Several studies have tried to count the number of alleged Internet addicts.

A 1999 ABC News study claimed that 11 million people, or about 6 percent of Internet users, are addicted to the Web. The online study asked 10 questions, such as whether users logged onto the Internet to escape real-world problems, whether they failed in attempts to spend less time online and whether they thought about the Internet while off line. Five out of ten “yes” answers indicated addiction.

A study released by Stanford and Duquesne Universities last year suggested that as many as 200,000 US Internet users are addicted to online pornography. These compulsives were defined as those who spent 11 or more hours a week visiting sex sites or chatrooms. This questionnaire was administered on the MSNBC Web site.

Both of these studies have been panned for relying on online surveys. Critics say that this type of survey is more apt to be noticed and taken by heavy Internet users, skewing the results.

Some colleges are reporting that their drop out rate has doubled over the past few years, and blame it on the Internet. In 1998, the average undergraduate spent 10 hours a week online, with 18 percent spending 20 or more hours logged in. Most of these hours were spent on games, chat, newsgroups and e-mail, and not on academic research. 

Others have tried to quantify “normal” Internet usage. To put this in perspective, a 1999 survey by Veronis, Suhler & Associates, Americans watch an average of 1,610 hours per year of TV and listen to 992 hours of radio, compared with 1999 Internet usage estimates of 74 hours per year in 1998. Neilson/Net Ratings reported in November that average in-home Internet use has just topped 10 hours a month. There’s a long way to go before Internet usage catches up with TV viewing.

One study of college students identified “pathology” in students using the Internet 8 hours per week; limited symptoms in students logged on 3.2 hours per week and no symptoms in students who only used the Internet 2.4 hours per week. By these standards, the majority of Internet users are in dire need of mental health care. 

So how much is too much? There seems to be a general consensus that the defining indicator is that using the Internet is significantly interfering with your “real” life. If you’re missing work, skipping sleep, ignoring your family, or begging out of social events to cosy up to a warm keyboard, you may have a problem. But the problem may not be the Internet: your online time may just be a symptom of another disorder, such as depression. If you suspect this is the case, seek professional treatment. 

So maybe I’m not addicted after all. Since I don’t watch TV, I’ve got an extra 1,610 hours to spend online, which sounds just about right. 

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