Is the Internet Addictive?
Psychologist Kimberly Young Calls 'Net Mania an Illness
He may not be wild-eyed or foaming at the mouth, but an Internet addict probably lurks in your midst. So said Dr. Kimberly Young, a professor of psychology at the University of Pittsburgh in Bradford, Pa., in an interview with Computerworld.
After a three-year study of 396 'net addicts — whose average time online per week is 38 hours — Young concluded that there is an illness among us. Young's findings, and subsequent recommendation that the phenomenon be added to medical books, are controversial. But, she said, "I didn't start this to make trouble."
CW: Why does Internet addiction happen?
Young: Fantasy games and chat rooms are exciting. Beats real life. A lot of addictions are based on pleasure-seeking behavior. It's not the alcohol people like, but what it does to them. The Internet has become an escape mechanism for some people. For people who don't get addicted, it's just a tool. They don't see the fuss.
CW: Your study was conducted over three years. Could you see the addiction growing in people?
Young: I did see that. They called me when they were at end of their rope. They wanted validation because no one believes it's real.
CW: You presented your findings to the American Psychological Association in August 1996. How were you received?
Young: I'd say "mixed." I have a lot of supporters out there. I get a lot of people from the computer science field [who] concur. They recognized it as a problem years ago, but no one took it seriously until it hit the commercial market. Other people say I'm blowing it out of proportion. I don't necessarily compare Internet addiction to drug abuse. It's more like pathological gambling — a behavior addiction [where] things can get out of hand.
CW: Isn't it a long, arduous process to revise mental health standards?
Young: There was a man named [Robert] Custer who in the early 1980s developed the idea of compulsive gambling, and no one believed him. It took 14 years from his original statements [until the illness's] inclusion in the medical lexicon. It will take a decade or two for research to be conducted [about Internet addiction].
The criticism is based on opinion. [Skeptics] have done no research that disconfirms it exists; they just don't agree with it. I'm not saying it's a rapid epidemic. But there's a tool out there that's causing problems. There are enough cases where you have to say, "Wait a minute." This is not like a phone or a television. It allows people to create new relationships and abandon marriages.
CW: Given that most people on the Internet access it from work — or at least that's where they get their first taste — what responsibilities does the employer have here?
Young: To figure out good policies on Internet use. Employees are going to use it for personal things. They just are. The problem is, it's so easily misused, and the company fires you right away if you [abuse 'net privileges]. That is not a good answer. Companies need to know they're presenting a temptation. Employee assistance programs need to get involved with this addiction. Telling an alcoholic to stop drinking doesn't work. They need intervention. I encourage companies to consider that, when you give employees online access, there will be some who have problems with it. You need to devise an intervention instead of just firing them.
CW: Will treatment for Internet addiction become a standard health benefit 10 years from now? Young: There will be some validation of the illness. I'm just not sure what form that will take.
Staff, H. (2008, December 18). Is the Internet Addictive?, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2023, February 5 from https://www.healthyplace.com/addictions/center-for-internet-addiction-recovery/is-the-internet-addictive