- EDMONTON, Canada - Ryan suspected his wife was addicted to the Internet
when she began staying on their computer until 3 a.m. every night.
- "At first, I thought it was because
it was a new toy," said Ryan, who didn't want his real name used.
- "But by the time she was spending
up to 16 hours a day chatting on the Internet, I knew she had a problem."
- When his 34-year-old wife admitted she
was having phone sex with an 18-year-old man she had met online, Ryan,
43, moved out of the family home.
- Welcome to the secret world of Internet
addiction, a new disorder that's slowly gaining recognition.
- A U.S. survey of 18,000 Net surfers last
year one of only a handful to look at the issue, found that 6% of users
were addicted. Of those that admitted a dependency, 31% said they'd had
a real-life sexual affair with a person they'd met online.
- "It's not how many hours you spend
on the Net, but whether your use of it is having an effect on your life,
your family, job or education," said American psychologist Dr. David
Greenfield, who helped conduct the survey with ABC News.
- Some experts say it is a problem that
must be taken as seriously as alcoholism or drug addiction.
- "It really does parallel other addictions
because it causes family problems, troubles at work and at school,"
said Dr. Kimberly Young, director of the Center for Online Addiction at
the University of Pittsburgh.
- Greenfield's study found that sex was
a factor for many Net surfers, addicted or not.
- Over 40% of Net addicts and 12% of non-addicted
users claimed they had masturbated while online.
- Flirting was even more popular, with
over half the Net addicts and 20% of non-addicts admitting to it.
- For some people, the computer world starts
to rival their real world.
- Spouses and children are neglected, job
deadlines missed and social events skipped as the user becomes obsessed
with spending time escaping reality.
- Although romance and sex draw many people,
others are addicted to games, stock market trading and even auction houses,Young
- She became interested in the problem
in 1994 when a girlfriend complained her husband spent hours having sexual
conversations with women on the Net.
- Dr. David Greenfield ... Study of Net
addicts "I posted a survey on the Net and the next day I got 40 responses
from people saying their life had been turned upside down (by the Net)."
- Net addiction is marked by a pattern
of behaviour rather than hours logged, Young said.
- Checking e-mail compulsively, preferring
to talk to people online rather than face-to-face and lying about the extent
of usage, are all warning signs.
- Chat rooms -- Web sites where computer
users can communicate on-screen with people all over the world -- are one
of the biggest draws.
- "The appeal is the unconditional
approval that people will give you there," said pastoral counsellor
Mike Paddison of the Edmonton Family Centre.
- He believes Net addiction is often symptomatic
of relationship problems.
- "They are unhappy at home and the
Net is their social life ... it is a lifeline," said Paddison, who
has counselled about a dozen such cases in the past two years.
- Ryan believes it was marital difficulties
that drove his wife to seek comfort in chat rooms.
- He said their six-year marriage struggled
last year after he was hospitalized with complications from diabetes.
- "I don't think she was entirely
truthful about herself. She's quite a large woman," said Ryan of a
fantasy persona that his wife adopted online.
- Said Young: "On the Internet you
can conceal your real name, occupation, physical appearance and age. You
can take that freedom and quickly pour out your strongest feelings and
deepest desires. This leads to the illusion of intimacy."
- "Anything that can increase your
pleasure and decrease your pain can be addictive," Greenfield said.
- Many Net addicts suffer the same problems
other addicts suffer such as low self-esteem, loneliness, depression and
- Home-based computer users are most at
risk and a typical addict is a middle-aged woman with a limited education,
Young said. However, she has seen cases of all ages and social groups.
Anything that can increase your pleasure and decrease your pain can become
- Want to know more? Visit <http://www.virtual-addiction.com/Virtual