NEW YORK -- For some, the Internet it has become an addiction, adversely affecting their lives and their family's lives.
While not yet defined as a true addiction, many people are suffering the consequences of obsession with the online world, warns Dr. Diane M. Wieland, who treats patients with computer addiction in her practice in Lansdale, Pennsylvania.
For some people, the Internet may promote addictive behaviors and pseudo-intimate interpersonal relationships, reports Wieland in the journal, Perspectives in Psychiatric Care. "Such cyberspace contacts may result in cyber disorders such as virtual relationships that evolve into online marital infidelity (cybersex) or online sexually compulsive behaviors," she writes.
"Obsession with and craving time on the computer results in neglect of real-life personal relationships to the point of divorce," Wieland says.
The prevalence of Internet addiction is hard to gauge at the moment, Wieland notes. Extrapolating from prevalence rates of other addictions, she thinks that 5 percent to 10 percent of Internet users will most likely experience addiction.
Signs and symptoms of Internet addiction include:
a general disregard for health and appearance;
sleep deprivation due to spending so much time online;
and decreased physical activity and social interaction with others;
dry eyes, carpal tunnel syndrome, and repetitive motion injuries of the hands and fingers are common.
Internet addicts may also get the "cyber shakes" when off line, exhibiting agitation and typing motions of the fingers when not at the computer.
Many Internet addicts have a history of depression, alcohol, sex or drug abuse, and anxiety disorder, according to Wieland, who is an associate professor at the La Salle University School of Nursing.
"Denial is strong in Internet addicts who claim they cannot be addicted to a machine," Wieland notes. The "one more minute" response to being asked to go offline is common and is similar to an alcoholic who says they will quit drinking after "one more drink."
People who suspect they or a loved one might be an Internet addict, Wieland says, can find out by taking a screening test outlined in the book "Caught in the Net - How to Recognize the Signs of Internet Addiction and a Winning Strategy for Recovery," authored by Kimberly S. Young.
Cognitive behavioral therapies, often combined with psychotherapy and medications such as antidepressants are used to treat Internet addiction. Family and individual counseling and support groups are also helpful when online marital infidelity is involved.