Internet addiction: over reaction or genuine concern?

Ryan Boyd
Internet addiction: over reaction or genuine concern?

Internet addiction is a bit of a buzzword at the moment, popping up in the news recently when a 31 year old American man was identified as the first known sufferer of Internet Addiction Disorder involving Google Glass.

He wore the glasses for up to 18 hours a day, only removing them for sleep and showering. When asked to remove them as part of treatment for alcohol addiction, he became irritable and claimed it was harder to be without the glasses than alcohol.

While this is a new area of concern, there have been numerous reported cases of internet addiction disorder over the past few years, primarily relating to online gaming.

But what exactly is Internet Addiction Disorder and what do we know about it?

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Still early days

According to Associate Professor Simon Adamson from the National Addiction Centre at Otago University, there’s still a question on whether or not internet addiction exists.

“People can be addicted to alcohol; we know about alcohol, it’s been around for thousands of years. But internet gaming is such a new thing. In fact, there isn’t a listed diagnosis for internet gaming disorder, but it is listed as a potential disorder for future study. It is something that is gaining increasing recognition, with most research undertaken in Asia.”

He says that along with it being a relatively new phenomenon, it could also be the victim of jumping on the addiction bandwagon.

“It’s the unfortunate reality that society tends to label all things as addictions, and we’re probably a little too over inclusive in that,” he says.

“There’s a lot of conflict that happens within households and families about the amount of time which some people spend gaming.

“While people can probably develop an unhealthy lifestyle around that, there’s a lot of people who enjoy it as a positive activity. One of the things we see is family conflict from a generational difference, where you have someone who’s heavily engaged in something that the other people in the family don’t understand.

“Because they don’t have a personal involvement in it, they don’t see the value of it, they just see someone plugged in to something and see it as a deeply anti-social behaviour, where people who are gaming often have deeply social aspects.”

That being said, there are cases where internet gaming has certainly crossed over from that point of time consuming hobby to outright addiction. One of the most horrifying examples was of a couple in South Korea who neglected their infant daughter while spending a night gaming at an internet café. The child died and the couple were convicted.

But how do you tell the difference?


The signs of internet gaming addiction

“The things you’d be looking for are an impact on responsibility, so jobs and study are things that can be impacted,” Simon says. “If you’re calling in sick to work so you can game, that’s a big flag. If you’re not getting any of your study done because of gaming, if you’re only sleeping 3-4 hours a night because you’re gaming, that would be a sign.”

“Dishonesty would be another thing, lying to people around you about the extent of your gaming. It could be pretending to go to bed and then getting up and gaming through the night.”


Withdrawal symptoms

Simon says that there are some ways that withdrawal from a gaming addiction could mirror that of substance addiction.

“When someone uses substances heavily and they stop, they experience withdrawal symptoms. There’s a strong physiological aspect to that, but there’s also behavioural, like gambling we can see some kind of withdrawal type experience where someone just becomes very irritable, anxious, sad, so there’s a real impact on mood and temper when someone doesn’t have access to gaming.”


Getting help

If you have genuine concerns about someone in relation to internet addiction Simon has a couple of suggestions on how to get expert help.

“If the person of concern is under 18, then the Child & Adolescent Mental Health Service is potentially going to be helpful. If they are over the age of 18, it may be hard to find a specialist service to help. A good place to start would be your GP.”

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