"In light of the story about Serena Williams on admitting her compulsive online shopping habit, it is important that we recognize the addictive power of the Internet," according to Dr. Kimberly Young, a clinical psychologist and director of the Center for On-Line Addiction.
"High profile individuals such as Serena are drawn to the anonymity that cyberspace affords. From community leaders to celebrities, these are individuals whose anonymity has been taken away due to their local or national status. They constantly feel exposed and powerless to gain their privacy back," explains Dr. Young, author of Caught in the Net, the first recovery book for Internet addiction. "The Internet becomes the one place in the world where they can go without being recognized, placing those in the public spotlight at greater risk to develop an unhealthy habit towards the Internet. Having privacy again is intoxicating, even if it is only virtual. In Serena’s case, she wore wigs to disguise her identity while shopping, when that failed, she turned to the Internet which became out of control."
Research studies by social scientists have long studied the impact of anonymity on human behavior. Findings show that most individuals are less inhibited and more risk taking if they lacked accountability for their actions. According to a recent survey conducted at the Center for On-Line Addiction, 83% of their clients reported anonymity as the single most important reason for why they initially got hooked on the Internet. "Anonymity is so empowering that we have seen people from all walks of life engage in acts that they otherwise would not have such as view pornography, make up online personas in chat rooms, gamble, play violent games, and even bid on eBay," adds Young
According to the latest figures, more than 120 million Americans are online and a recent survey found that therapists across the country are seeing a steady rise in the number of cases related to cyber-triggered problems. Young warns,
"Instant access is available to the masses as more consumers surf the Internet, so we are only seeing the tip of the iceberg in terms of a nation wide mental health trend that will need more and more clinical attention in the future. And for celebrities and public figures, addiction problems will easily worsen because they are more afraid to seek help because of the impact it will have on their careers and images."The Center for On-Line Addiction