Online or Internet Addiction

The internet as a general medium offers an “alternate” anonymous reality. The internet offers instant gratification, which along with accessibility, affordability, and anonymity, make it a “drug” of easy choice.

Internet addiction is now considered a common addiction with American research noting than 1 in 8 adult American internet users have addictive issues with internet use.

Internet addiction has a few tell-tale signs that highlight a growing obsession with internet use:

  • Withdrawal from “real world” activities into increasing time spent on the internet, where neglect of self, the body, and sleep become increasingly common.
  • A loss of time where the person suddenly find hours lost and being unaware of the time of night or day.
  • Withdrawal symptoms when not “online”, including feelings on anger, tension, anxiety, and accompanied restlessness or depression when unable to access the internet.
  • Feeling preoccupied about your last online session or thoughts of your next one.
  • The need over time to spend more time each subsequent session to feel satisfied with your “experience”.
  • Have tried to stop, cutback or control your internet use but have failed.
  • Your partner, family or friends are telling you that you are spending too much time on the internet.
  • Your relationship, health or job is at risk because of your internet use.
  • Do you use the internet to escape from life, its problems or from partners.
  • Withdrawal from family, friends and partners.
  • Intolerance, including the need to buy upgrades, faster access, better equipment, or aids to facilitate more experience on the internet.
  • Loss of social skills and interest in world affairs or community outside internet “issues”.
  • Arguments, justifications, minimising and lying about time spent on internet, or denial they have an internet problem or addiction.
  • Drop in work or school performance and reduced ability to focus or concentrate.
  • Increased fatigue and loss of appetite.
  1. Researchers are now categorising internet addiction into 5 types:
  2. Information Overload – excessive time spent surfing the web, downloading articles, media, information, and then organising this information into files, databases and home PC configyrations.
  3. Cybersex /Online Affairs – adult chatrooms, contact sites, fantasy role playing of a sexual nature, emailing other potential sexual partners.
  4. Social Interactions – Social sites of a non-sexual intent including FaceBook, Twitter, MSN, UTube, MySpace etc.
  5. Net Compulsions – Online Casinos, Online Gambling, Internet shopping, Ebay and auction sites.
  6. Internet Pornography Addiction – viewing, downloading, trading or sending own bodily photos to sexual sites, pornography sites, swinger sites etc.
  7. Many people find there is a temptation to interact with people online, where they can create an alter ego that appears to overcome felt deficiencies of the self. This can grow to take risks an safely express desires and risk expressing the needs and wants of being desired without the risk of face to face rejection.

The risk of this diversion is enhanced when a person is already looking to escape from frustrations, dissatisfactions and social disconnection in the “real world”. This allure can lead a person to firstly spending time on the internet in a general “surfing” mode, until one finds an “addictively” appealing site or type of site that hooks a person in.

Sex sites are rated the most common “addictive” site types by researcher Dr Al Cooper, who refers to online pornography and sex contact sites the “crack cocaine” of sexual compulsivity. By this he means that one experience can “hook” a person into an addictive compulsion to return over and over again to such sites.

The internet is a gateway to various temptations and addictive experiences. The affected person is at risk of not just having a triangulated relationship through time spent on the computer and the internet indulging in accessing music or videos or FaceBook, but this medium is then a gateway or portal to a host of addictive experiences such as pornography, gambling, online affairs and online retail spending addictions.

The increasing amount of time and secrecy involved in the activities becomes a form of abandonment and betrayal of the partner. Like any addiction there will be sliding behaviour over time where the affected person is unable to keep boundaries or control their actions.

Attempts to cease accessing the internet once “hooked” will create resistance, anxiety, and the withdrawal becomes intense, normally leading to a relapse and giving into the impulses to get back online. Like any addiction, the behaviour will get worse over time.

The impact on the developing brain of children and teenagers is now being researched and the initial conclusions are indicating that neural changes in the still developing brains of the young may be leading to entrenched social isolation, impacted social skills, family and peer relationships, whilst enhancing multi-tasking skills.

Children who witness parents being caught up in these behaviours will start to normalise this behaviour and often mimic it themself, or the abandonment that results will create low self esteem, or they will compensate with attention grabbing acting out behaviours, or negative behaviours.

Children require one-on-one physical time, attention and direction from their parents in order to develop a healthy sense of self. Many relationships and marriages are put into crisis by one or both partners embarking on an affair.

The deterioration in the art of conversation is also being experienced by affected persons close to the internet addict, and children are starting to normalise the idea that conversation is not part of family life.

Gambling & Internet Gambling Addictions

Commonly we see and hear addictions to do with alcohol and recreational and prescription drugs, but there are some “process” based addictions which are just as harmful, and even more insidious than the physical addictions. Australian society has always had an ongoing historical acceptance of gambling, with the historical romance of “two-up” betting, and the tie-in in Australia between sporting events and horse racing, with gambling.

Gambling can be a social activity, like a night out at the Casino, participating in the office sweepstake or going to the Melbourne Cup, but for some there grows an attraction, a dependency and an addiction to one or all forms of gambling. Gambling is a money related event and so the key indicators with gambling addiction often come down to the amount of money being spent on gambling, the time being spent on gambling, and the time spent thinking about gambling between experiences of gambling.

Australian Treasury statistics from 2010 show that Australians spent over $12.2 billion dollars across all forms of legalized gambling formats in 2009. The Australian average per person loss for these same combined forms of gambling exceeded $700 per person in the same period.

It is estimated that over 700,000 Australians gamble on overseas unregulated sites and spent $790 million per year in this way according to the Australian productivity Commission. Gamblers do not present with physical addiction issues like being drunk, out of control, or “high”, and they may be in good functional jobs and relationships.

If they maintain a sense of denial which is common to addicts of all persuasions then they can slowly start to regularly spend more money than they intended or earn, in a downward spiral to gambling away everything the person owns, often affecting family and partners around them.

A person affected by gambling addiction may exhibit some, if not all, of the following symptoms:

  • Regularly gambling more money than originally intended, or losing control over the amounts gambled.
  • Losing control over the amount of time spent gambling.
  • Incurring debts to gamble.
  • Hoping and playing for the “big win” to solve the debts created by gambling.
  • Inability to stop gambling altogether.
  • Depression, sadness or moodiness as a result of not being able to gamble.
  • Boasting about winning to relive the excitement whilst denying or playing down losses which may, in fact, exceed the winnings.
  • Gambling in preference to other social events.
  • Neglecting friends, family and work to gamble.
  • Lying about gambling to hide losses.

The other main concern with internet gambling is that the usual check and balances that exist in physical sites that offer gambling services, do not apply with online gambling. For example there is a time gap involved between the time once has an addictive impulse to gamble, and the drive to the Casino or TAB.

This does not apply with online gambling which is just a few moments of clicking away.  Physical gambling sites also operate to various codes of conduct that mean that trained staff can intervene and halt a person who is intoxicated, or who appears out of control in their gambling activities. This does not occur at home where an online user can bet for many hours, and be heavily intoxicated and unsupervised.

The Federal Government rollout of wireless and broadband services to 97% of the Australian population in the next few years will accelerate the online gambling problem. Remote workers on mine sites, remote communities, and aboriginal communities already awash with alcohol, drug and gambling addictions, will be able to easily access more forms of gambling to relieve boredom or fulfil an already existing addiction.

This trend will only further normalise all forms of gambling to younger generations who will start to see it as a normal part of life. Given there is no planned rollout of support services for gambling as remote access for online gambling increases, it is anticipated that gambling and online gambling will continue to grow to be a major factor in the breakdown of individuals, families and communities going forward.

Copyright 2015 Richard Boyd

Psychotherapy & Counselling

Private Therapy