[Paleopsych] NYT: Hooked on the Web: Help Is on the Way
checker at panix.com
Thu Dec 1 23:46:37 UTC 2005
Hooked on the Web: Help Is on the Way
[Checklist appended. I really don't meet that many criteria for addiction,
but I have been spending way too much time on the Net and find it
difficult to stop. Since Sunday, that is, before this article (Thursday),
I have been sending only articles that I have read and have added comments
on. Several people have told me that my comments are better than the
articles themselves. I've also worked up some memes. This is why you've
gotten very little from me lately.
[I have three more memes planned for the near future:
1. What it would take for me to give up my three most cherished
hypotheses (non-design, importance of gene-culture co-evolution in man
right up to the present, inability to nail down our most important
concepts). The last is proving very difficult for me to write up. Please
send me your own answer to my question. I suggested it to the World
Question Center at http://edge.org.
2. Why I am not a Christian (follow-up to Bertrand Russell's essay). This
will be easy, since only need to organize it.
3. A piece on conspiracies (including the by-far most talked about one of
the last century but which is never called one). Major problem is that I'd
like to say that conspiracy thinking is our default Stone Age sociology,
since back then the chain of consequences was short enough that what
resulted came about by the actions of just a few people. However, I've
also read that looking for an active agent is a Western particularity. And
again, that conspiracies today are viewed as ones without conspirators. I
need to reconcile these viewpoints. And I'll talk about how one might
judge the plausibility of various conspiracy candidates.
[For those of you on my lists, I *can* still send articles that I don't
read or read and don't comment on. Almost anything that I might send and
comment on does go onto my disk space in on the UNIX mainframe in
Manhattan that houses Panix.com. But I'd rather have you all start working
for *me* and help me with my two main projects, namely, "deep culture
change" and "persistence of difference."]
By SARAH KERSHAW
THE waiting room for Hilarie Cash's practice has the look and feel of
many a therapist's office, with soothing classical music, paintings of
gentle swans and colorful flowers and on the bookshelves stacks of
brochures on how to get help.
But along with her patients, Dr. Cash, who runs Internet/Computer
Addiction Services here in the city that is home to Microsoft, is a
pioneer in a growing niche in mental health care and addiction
The patients, including Mike, 34, are what Dr. Cash and other mental
health professionals call onlineaholics. They even have a diagnosis:
Internet addiction disorder.
These specialists estimate that 6 percent to 10 percent of the
approximately 189 million Internet users in this country have a
dependency that can be as destructive as alcoholism and drug
addiction, and they are rushing to treat it. Yet some in the field
remain skeptical that heavy use of the Internet qualifies as a
legitimate addiction, and one academic expert called it a fad illness.
Skeptics argue that even obsessive Internet use does not exact the
same toll on health or family life as conventionally recognized
addictions. But, mental health professionals who support the diagnosis
of Internet addiction say, a majority of obsessive users are online to
further addictions to gambling or pornography or have become much more
dependent on those vices because of their prevalence on the Internet.
But other users have a broader dependency and spend hours online each
day, surfing the Web, trading stocks, instant messaging or blogging,
and a fast-rising number are becoming addicted to Internet video
Dr. Cash and other professionals say that people who abuse the
Internet are typically struggling with other problems, like depression
and anxiety. But, they say, the Internet's omnipresent offer of escape
from reality, affordability, accessibility and opportunity for
anonymity can also lure otherwise healthy people into an addiction.
Dr. Cash's patient Mike, who was granted anonymity to protect his
privacy, was at high risk for an Internet addiction, having battled
alcohol and drug abuse and depression. On a list of 15 symptoms of
Internet addiction used for diagnosis by Internet/Computer Addiction
Services, Mike, who is unemployed and living with his mother, checked
off 13, including intense cravings for the computer, lying about how
much time he spends online, withdrawing from hobbies and social
interactions, back pain and weight gain.
A growing number of therapists and inpatient rehabilitation centers
are often treating Web addicts with the same approaches, including
12-step programs, used to treat chemical addictions.
Because the condition is not recognized in psychiatry as a disorder,
insurance companies do not reimburse for treatment. So patients either
pay out of pocket, or therapists and treatment centers bill for other
afflictions, including the nonspecific impulse control disorder.
There is at least one inpatient program, at Proctor Hospital in
Peoria, Ill., which admits patients to recover from obsessive computer
use. Experts there said they see similar signs of withdrawal in those
patients as in alcoholics or drug addicts, including profuse sweating,
severe anxiety and paranoid symptoms.
And the prevalence of other technologies - like BlackBerry wireless
e-mail devices, sometimes called CrackBerries because they are
considered so addictive; the Treo cellphone-organizer ; and text
messaging - has created a more generalized technology addiction, said
Rick Zehr, the vice president of addiction and behavioral services at
The hospital's treatment program places all its clients together for
group therapy and other recovery work, whether the addiction is to
cocaine or the computer, Mr. Zehr said.
"I can't imagine it's going to go away," he said of technology and
Internet addiction. "I can only imagine it's going to continue to
become more and more prevalent."
There are family therapy programs for Internet addicts, and
interventionists who specialize in confronting computer addicts.
Among the programs offered by the Center for Online Addiction in
Bradford, Pa., founded in 1994 by Dr. Kimberly S. Young, a leading
researcher in Internet addiction, are cyberwidow support groups for
the spouses of those having online affairs, treatment for addiction to
eBay and intense behavioral counseling - in person, by telephone and
online - to help clients get Web sober.
Another leading expert in the field is Dr. Maressa Hecht Orzack, the
director of the Computer Addiction Study Center at McLean Hospital in
Belmont, Mass., and an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School.
She opened a clinic for Internet addicts at the hospital in 1996,
when, she said, "everybody thought I was crazy."
Dr. Orzack said she got the idea after she discovered she had become
addicted to computer solitaire, procrastinating and losing sleep and
time with her family.
When she started the clinic, she saw two patients a week at most. Now
she sees dozens and receives five or six calls daily from those
seeking treatment elsewhere in the country. More and more of those
calls, she said, are coming from people concerned about family members
addicted to Internet video games like EverQuest, Doom 3 and World of
Still, there is little hard science available on Internet addiction.
"I think using the Internet in certain ways can be quite absorbing,
but I don't know that it's any different from an addiction to playing
the violin and bowling," said Sara Kiesler, professor of computer
science and human-computer interaction at Carnegie Mellon University.
"There is absolutely no evidence that spending time online, exchanging
e-mail with family and friends, is the least bit harmful. We know that
people who are depressed or anxious are likely to go online for escape
and that doing so helps them."
It was Professor Kiesler who called Internet addiction a fad illness.
In her view, she said, television addiction is worse. She added that
she was completing a study of heavy Internet users, which showed the
majority had sharply reduced their time on the computer over the
course of a year, indicating that even problematic use was
She said calling it an addiction "demeans really serious illnesses,
which are things like addiction to gambling, where you steal your
family's money to pay for your gambling debts, drug addictions,
cigarette addictions." She added, "These are physiological
But Dr. Cash, who began treating Internet addicts 10 years ago, said
that Internet addiction was a potentially serious illness. She said
she had treated suicidal patients who had lost jobs and whose
marriages had been destroyed because of their addictions.
She said she was seeing more patients like Mike, who acknowledges
struggling with an addiction to online pornography but who also said
he was obsessed with logging on to the Internet for other reasons. He
said that he became obsessed with using the Internet during the 2000
presidential election and that now he feels anxious if he does not
check several Web sites, mostly news and sports sites, daily.
"I'm still wrestling with the idea that it's a problem because I like
it so much," Mike said.
Three hours straight on the Internet, he said, is a minor dose. The
Internet seemed to satisfy "whatever urge crosses my head."
Several counselors and other experts said time spent on the computer
was not important in diagnosing an addiction to the Internet. The
question, they say, is whether Internet use is causing serious
problems, including the loss of a job, marital difficulties,
depression, isolation and anxiety, and still the user cannot stop.
"The line is drawn with Internet addiction," said Mr. Zehr of Proctor
Hospital, "when I'm no longer controlling my Internet use. It's
controlling me." Dr. Cash and other therapists say they are seeing a
growing number of teenagers and young adults as patients, who grew up
spending hours on the computer, playing games and sending instant
messages. These patients appear to have significant developmental
problems, including attention deficit disorder and a lack of social
A report released during the summer by the Pew Internet and American
Life Project found that teenagers did spend an increasing amount of
time online: 51 percent of teenage Internet users are online daily, up
from 42 percent in 2000. But the report did not find a withering of
social skills. Most teenagers "maintain robust networks of friends,"
Some therapists and Internet addiction treatment centers offer online
counseling, including at least one 12-step program for video game
addicts, which is controversial. Critics say that although it may be a
way to catch the attention of someone who needs face-to-face
treatment, it is akin to treating an alcoholic in a brewery, mostly
because Internet addicts need to break the cycle of living in
A crucial difference between treating alcoholics and drug addicts,
however, is that total abstinence is usually recommended for recovery
from substance abuse, whereas moderate and manageable use is the goal
for behavioral addictions.
Sierra Tucson in Arizona, a psychiatric hospital and behavioral health
center, which treats substance and behavioral addictions, has begun
admitting a rising number of Internet addicts, said Gina Ewing, its
intake manager. Ms. Ewing said that when such a client left treatment,
the center's counselors helped plan ways to reduce time on the
computer or asked those who did not need to use the Web for work to
step away from the computer entirely.
Ms. Ewing said the Tucson center encouraged its Internet-addicted
clients when they left treatment to attend open meetings of Alcoholics
Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous, which are not restricted to
alcoholics and drug addicts, and simply to listen. Or perhaps, if they
find others struggling with the same problem, and if those at the
meeting are amenable, they might be able to participate.
"It's breaking new ground," Ms. Ewing said. "But an addiction is an
Danger Signs for Too Much of a Good Thing
FIFTEEN signs of an addiction to using the Internet and computers,
according to Internet/Computer Addiction Services in Redmond, Wash.,
1. Inability to predict the amount of time spent on computer.
2. Failed attempts to control personal use for an extended period of
3. Having a sense of euphoria while on the computer.
4. Craving more computer time.
5. Neglecting family and friends.
6. Feeling restless, irritable and discontent when not on the
7. Lying to employers and family about computer activity.
8. Problems with school or job performance as a result of time spent
on the computer.
9. Feelings of guilt, shame, anxiety or depression as a result of time
spent on the computer.
10. Changes in sleep patterns.
11. Health problems like carpal tunnel syndrome, eye strain, weight
changes, backaches and chronic sleep deprivation.
12. Denying, rationalizing and minimizing adverse consequences
stemming from computer use.
13. Withdrawal from real-life hobbies and social interactions.
14. Obsessing about sexual acting out through the use of the Internet.
15. Creation of enhanced personae to find cyberlove or cybersex.
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