New Technologies Create New Hurdles in Fight Against Addiction
> 12/13/2005 10:16:25 AM

After years of providing psychotherapy to adults who struggle with addiction, this therapist has begun to experience the emersion of “new addictions.”  These new addictions, which are directly connected to our advancing technological environment, have rooted over the past few years and patients experiencing the negative consequences are increasingly presenting for treatment in psychotherapy practices throughout this country. Addiction and abuse of ; internet gambling, online-pornography, interactive gaming, chat rooms, online sites for anonymous sexual-connections, shopping and more, are being reported and treated with staggering increase.  

For years, the field of addictions treatment has been focused on treating the following addictions and dependencies; drugs, alcohol, food, gambling, shopping, smoking, sex and pornography. A number of the more classic addictions, like sex, pornography, and shopping have become more widespread and exacerbated by the anonymity, and ease of availability provided by a rapidly evolving Internet--all  is readily available from the comfort of the home or office, and at the click of a mouse, or tap of a button.
Like the longstanding addictions listed prior, the new addictions which are presenting for treatment, threaten great risks to the health and functioning of sufferers, their spouses, relatives, employers and even the community. 

Over the past few years and with greatly increasing occurrence, individuals and couples are seeking treatment for technology aided addictions. Spouses are complaining that their partners are spending several hours a day online, gaming, gambling, shopping and searching for pornography. IT-addictions are negatively affecting work productivity, causing sexual interaction problems, communication decreases and trust issues within relationships. Spouses are more frequently putting their partner’s computers under surveillance, checking search histories and even placing parental controls on computers. Some patients indicate that they spend up to 12 hours a day, gaming, shopping, collecting pornography or searching the internet for sexual companions. Individuals are loosing their jobs, relationships, friendships and self-respect.

 This writer has treated patients who have lost jobs, relationships, marriages, and friendships as a direct result of their IT-addictions. In severe cases it may lead to poverty, homelessness, sexually transmitted diseases (sometimes fatal) and isolation.

Like the more traditional addictions, IT-addictions cause the addict much shame, guilt and interfere with social and professional functioning. IT addictions, like the more traditional addictions, are greatly underreported. One difficulty which complicates the recognition and treatment of IT-addiction is that many people rely on internet use in their daily lives for their employment and or communication needs.  Unlike drug or alcohol addiction, for which total abstinence is recommended, and more similar to food addiction, the IT-addict may have to learn to integrate the internet, and or technology into their lives to a healthy degree. This can be a difficult and treacherous task.

Unlike the more classic addictions, there is little information, treatment or support offered specifically for IT-addictions.  While programs such as Gamblers Anonymous and Sexual Compulsives Anonymous (SCA offers a few specific internet pornography addiction meetings) can offer support and treatment to the IT-type addict, the IT-addict who does not fall into this category falls through the cracks of 12-step support.

With exponentially increasing IT-Addictions, doctors and psychotherapists are encountering new avenues for the disease of addiction to manifest. There is clearly a void in available services and treatment.  Mental health professionals must recognize IT-addiction as an illness which can, and does inflict people in an equally devastating manner as do the more traditional (pre-technological) addictions.

Hopefully, with the expanding experience and education of mental health professionals and already increasing media coverage, IT-addiction will begin to get the recognition and treatment it requires and deserves. Perhaps, IT-addictions will be included, categorized and classified in the next American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic Criteria Reference Manual.

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