Immersed in a Virtual World

When one thinks of addiction one immediately thinks of the substance addicts and alcoholics seen on television or in the media. However, the concept of addiction runs much deeper than a dependence on methamphetamines or vodka. An individual who is addicted to a substance requires the use of that substance to survive on a daily basis whatever the substance may be. Another common addiction is that of gambling as is seen with those tales of gamblers who lose their life savings in one night but continue to gamble on credit. One closer to home, and presenting a growing prevalence, is that of the computer or internet addict. By taking advantage of the best broadband deals it means that the internet is readily available for more people, meaning the risk of becoming addicted to the internet is increased.

What is addiction?

Addiction is defined as a behaviour whereby the individual ceases to function in an appropriate manner within the different spheres of existence. He/she will begin to show a dysfunction in their occupational, social and personal settings. This means that he/she may lose their job due to extensive substance abuse, they will also see social and personal relationships deteriorate to the point where they may be left with no social support whatsoever. Furthermore, in the direst cases, this individual may be so addicted to the substance that they will display deterioration in their physical health by not eating or even bathing.

What is internet or computer addiction?

Computer or internet addiction occurs when an individual displays the aforementioned dysfunctions in operation, but the substance to which the individual is addicted is the internet. Due to the constantly advancing technology and growing span of the internet, this is a growing epidemic affecting people of all ages from young children to pensioners. Internet addiction is unique in that the term acts as an umbrella covering a broad spectrum of different forms of sub-addictions. These sub-addictions focus on specific sections of the internet to which an individual may become obsessed and addicted.

1. Information overloading

Google, Yahoo, Bing and other search engines are the suppliers for this type of addiction. The information over loader will engage in compulsive and extensive internet surfing and database surfing. They find the internet an infinite source of information and are determined to spend hours soaking up all the data they can. The negative effects of this addiction are primarily lower work productivity which may lead to unemployment, and deterioration in social interaction with friends and family.

2. Net compulsions

Net compulsions refer to compulsive actions completed on the internet. These behaviours are usually directed towards such facilities as gambling sites, the foreign exchange or stock market, online auction sites like eBay and/or online gaming. The individual will spend hours participating in different activities on these sites which generally require capital outlay. This is often the reason that net compulsion addicts suffer from financial problems and unemployment.

3. Cybersex addiction

Those suffering from cybersex addiction are the individuals who are utilising the freely available internet pornography sites for a prolonged period of time. They are also engaging in a compulsive use of adult chat rooms and/or mature fantasy play rooms to gain psychosexual satisfaction. The primary symptom of this dysfunction is deterioration of non-virtual intimate relationships.

4. Cyber-relationship addiction

This is potentially the most prevalent form of internet addiction. The cyber-relationship addict is one who shows an addiction to online social networking sites such as Facebook or Twitter. He/she will see deterioration in their social circle and real-life relationships due to a greater valuing of online friendships.

What is the different between true computer addiction and true internet addiction?

True computer addiction is very similar to the net compulsion internet addiction. Whereas net compulsion refers to the compulsive playing of online games, gambling sites and such like web-pages. Computer addiction refers to the compulsive playing of offline PC games and obsessive computer programmers. While these individuals will show dysfunction in all areas of life, the primary areas affected will be social relationships and work productivity.

What are the symptoms of internet addiction?

Although the general description of an addict been mentioned above, there are some signs and symptoms more specific to internet addiction. Internet addicts will often present with the following symptoms:

  • Losing track of the hours spent online. As this individual is so consumed by the work he/she is completing they will not realise how much time they have spent online and may feel irritable should you interrupt their browsing period.
  • Feeling defensive about the prolonged internet usage. Although the individual is aware of the amount of time he/she is spending on the internet, they will become defensive when asked about it. They will also try to hide their internet use or lie about the time they have spent online.
  • Experiencing isolation from significant people in his/her life. Prolonged time on the internet provides less time to spend with people in the real world.
  • Showing great difficulty in completing different tasks at home and at work. The internet will consume all his/her time and may lead to tasks being pushed aside. It is often the case that individuals will work late to complete tasks but then will spend time online after everyone else has left the office.

There are also physical symptoms specific to internet addiction which must be noted when identifying this dysfunction. These are listed below.

  • Sleep disturbances, particularly insomnia. This symptom is evident due to the interference in sleep patterns.
  • Dry eyes and strained vision. This symptom is caused by prolonged exposure to a computer screen, in many cases a laptop-sized computer screen which can affect eyesight greatly.
  • Severe headaches. Headaches develop due to prolonged exposure to fluorescent screens.
  • Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. Carpal Tunnel Syndrome refers to a pain and numbness in the wrists and hands. This develops due to placing your hands in a specific position for a prolonged period of time.
  • Back and neck aches. This symptom is caused by sitting in a single position for a prolonged period of times.

As one can see, internet addiction has severe psychological and physical effects. It is important to be aware of these in order to ascertain whether or not you are heading down that slippery virtual slope. 

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