It's official: Some get tangled in the 'Net

August 16, 1996|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

There is accumulating psychological evidence that people rTC can become dependent on Internet use in ways very similar to drug, alcohol and gambling addictions, according to a study presented at the annual American Psychological Association meeting in Toronto.

The study, the first to examine pathological uses of the Internet, portrays Internet addiction as a legitimate clinical disorder that carries serious consequences.

Addicts "reported significant problems in their lives because they had simply lost control over their ability to limit the time they used the Internet," said the study's author, Kimberly S. Young, a clinical psychologist at the University of Pittsburgh, Bradford.

These individuals showed signs of physical withdrawal, such as anxiety and shakiness, when they tried to stop using the Internet, she said. Consequences of overuse ranged from not being able to pay their online service provider (one monthly bill was $1,400) to a formerly happily married mother who was given an ultimatum by her husband -- "me or the computer" -- and chose her computer.

For her study, Young used on-line ads and fliers on college campuses, along with telephone or personal interviews, to recruit 396 individuals she later classified as dependent users and 100 nondependent users.

The findings suggest that Internet dependence can happen to men and women. Ages ranged from 14 to 71, but most were middle-aged. Forty-two percent said they were currently not employed because they were homemakers, retired or disabled.

"Many of these people were new to the Internet and were discovering this new world," Young said. "It then became enticing."

So enticing, in fact, that while nondependent users said they spent one or two hours a day on-line, dependent users spent about eight times longer.

"For the people who are addicted, the Internet is not an information database. It is an emotional attachment," Young said. "They create a fantasy life on-line."

Pub Date: 8/16/96

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