Internet Addiction: A Very Real Problem
> 10/18/2006 11:00:00 AM

In a phenomenon reaching far beyond the ranks of online gamers, gamblers and chat room devotees, a new surveyconducted by the Stanford University School of Medicine estimates thatas many as one in eight Americans display signs of internet addiction.

Morethan 160 million Americans use the internet regularly, but a growingnumber find their online habits interfering with their work, home andsocial lives. The concept of internet addiction is hardly new,but researchers claim the Stanford study to be the first of its kind.By adapting a standard list of addictive symptoms to apply to internetuse and measuring responses to their phone survey by a randomnationwide sample of more than 2,500 adults, researchers found that alarge number of respondents not only spend considerable periods of timeonline but also acknowledge a need to curtail their usage. 12.3 percentreported previous attempts to reduce their nonessential onlineactivities, and more than 8 percent view the internet as a form ofescape from daily stresses. In a classic symptom of addiction, adisturbing number of participants also told of hiding their internetactivity from colleagues and loved ones.

According to thesurvey, the average internet abuser is a single male in his thirties, ademographic that traditionally has more free time to surf online. Whilesome might then assume that purportedly negative online influences suchas pornography and gambling sites make up the bulk of this problem (andporn statistics are hardly encouraging), head researcher Elias Aboujaoude believes differently:

Not surprisingly, online pornography and, to some degree, online gambling, have received the most attention but users are as likely to use other sites, including chat rooms,shopping venues and special-interest Web sites, he said. Oursurvey did not track what specific Internet venues were the mostfrequented by respondents, but other studies, and our clinicalexperience, indicate that pornography is just one area of excessiveInternet use.

A significant portion of the larger problem arises from employees surfing the web while at work.Unrestricted internet access is often too tempting for bored workers toresist, and although most employers approve of occasional emailexchanges or brief visits to favorite websites as a form of reprieve, amajority now report disciplining or dismissing employees due toexcessive time spent online. Their concerns are very legitimate, as amajority of personnel believe that their internet use detracts fromoverall productivity.

The concept of addiction to the internetis very believable to the millions who use it regularly. The web servesas a cheap and reliable source of stimulation, available to anyone witheven the most cursory computer knowledge, regardless of age ortemperament. For those concerned about their attachment to theinternet, behavioral quizzesand support groups are available. Over-reliance on the internet veryclosely fits the classic model of compulsive behavior, and it shows nosigns of slowing down. With so many people logging in every day,additional studies are needed to further measure the scope of thisphenomenon and determine the most effective methods of response.

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