If you spend long nights in front of the computer surfing the net uncontrollably and reach a state where it disrupts your private and professional life – you may be addicted to the Internet. Professor Joseph Zohar, Director for the Department of Psychiatry and Anxiety Clinic at Sheba Medical Center in Tel Hashomer, Israel, claims that, “People of age 20 and up reach our clinic suffering from an Internet addiction to sex, gambling or information mining”.
According to Prof. Zohar, “We currently treat dozens of people and we see how the phenomenon continues to grow”. He explains that just as “people come in for addictive behavior like obsessive hand washing or hoarding, they come in for being addicted to the Internet. The people at hand have an addictive inclination, which slowly rises with their use of the Internet until they reach a state where they have lost all control. Zohar adds that “the prominent symptoms are that the addict feels a tremendous amount of pressure and restlessness when unable to use the Internet”.
These people feel that the Internet and the computer are no longer tools used for specific objectives, but rather have taken over their lives. “These people gradually sink in this swamp and get on the Internet instead of doing other things they would like to do, and even worse, things they have to do, that are part of their everyday lives,” explains Zohar. According to Zohar, hospitalization for such cases is rare and has yet to occur in Israel. Usually patients reach the clinic after they or their families begin to feel that it is a problem.
“The treatment is behavioral, like the initial treatment of other addictions. First, we try to withhold connection to the Internet and have the patient less exposed to the temptation. Much support is also required from the family. Just as a shopping addict will not be able to recover if continually provided with money, Internet addicts need withholding treatments. This treatment has proved very effective, and helps change the problematic behavior. In severe cases, medication is administered, similar to the treatment of other addictions,” says Zohar.
Several weeks ago, Bill Gates, the Founder of Microsoft, announced that he has begun to limit his 9 year-old daughter’s computer time to 45 minutes a day, because he feared that she may have begun developing an addiction.
Various cases of severe addictions to computer games have also been publicized in Japan and China. An adolescent that played the online game, World of Warcraft, commit suicide because he could not cope with the real world outside of the game. Thus, Prof. Zohar asserts that it is important for families to be alert and aware of the addiction and the help offered in rehabilitation. “Once the connection to the Internet hinders the attainment of one’s goals, that person should recognize the problem and get help”, he summarizes.