HOW TO RECOGNIZE SIGNS OF COMPULSIVE
(or ADDICTIVE) COMPUTER USAGE
In more than twenty-five years working as a psychotherapist and addictions counselor I have preferred not to give too much weight to labels of any kind and/or diagnoses, for that matter.

What’s most important to me is how whatever people do or feel affects their life: their relationships at home, their work, their thinking and behavior.  I feel the same way about what many are now referring to as COMPUTER ADDICTION.

In general, most clinicians agree that some people do become addicted to activities performed on a computer – activities such as playing video games, instant messaging, or watching Internet pornography. Some have labeled these activities IAD (Internet Addiction Disorder).

The problem with identifying and truly understanding this not-yet-agreed-upon addiction is that computers themselves ARE useful and there are many legitimate reasons why many of us spend hours using them.

According to Ed Grabianowski and others who have written extensively about this, “any single definition of computer addiction is necessarily broad and vague.”  However, most agree that when computer usage becomes problematic, if not addictive, it is when the user’s behaviors interfere with other life activities.  As with an alcoholic or other drug addict who is not able to stop using his or her drug or drugs of choice, when a person using a computer is unable to stop excessive use despite negative consequences, we then consider addiction to be a real possibility.

The major negative side effect in such cases is usually SOCIAL.  A “user” withdraws from social situations and obligations and spends more and more time on the computer.  In the end, it takes an emotional toll.  Grabianowski contends that constant computer gaming, for instance, “can cause someone to place more emotional value on events within the game than things happening in their real lives”… just as excessive viewing of Internet pornography can warp a person’s ideas about sexuality.”

Likewise, excessive use also affects one’s overall health – diminishing the hours of needed sleep consequently results in immune system disorders.

So, whether or not we call excessive use an addiction or not, I do think it’s important to identify one’s usage, get help and lessen the amount of time spent using the so-called object of choice, if it happens to be a computer.

Here are some tips offered by Grabianowski, all of which I think are helpful and necessary:

● Make specific time limits.  Set an alarm to go off in one hour and end computer time when it rings.
● Set aside “computer free” parts of the day.  If your computer use starts after dinner and extends into the night, get all your computer work done in the morning and don’t touch it after dinner.
● Install software to restrict your access to Web sites that you visit compulsively.  Find a friend you can trust to keep the passwords for the software so that you can’t circumvent it.
● Make a list of things you could be accomplishing instead of wasting time on the computer and post it prominently near your monitor.
● Enlist family members to help encourage you to limit your use.  It might be difficult to stop on your own.
● Put the computer in high traffic area in the house.  With others looking over your shoulder all the time, you’ll be less likely to overuse the computer.  This is especially effective for parents who fear excessive use in their children.HOW PERVASIVE IS THE PROBLEM?
Exact statistics on the rate of computer addiction are not available.  The problem is not classified as a specific disorder, so there are no diagnostic criteria for determining addiction.  Psychology professor Dr. Kimberly S.Young conducted an unscientific survey of Internet users to see how many of them self-identified as Internet addicts.

Dr. Young, who is one of the strongest supporters of the “computer addiction is a real addiction” school of thought, found thateighty percent of the people who responded to her survey considered themselves Internet addicts.  It is impossible to extrapolate that number into any meaningful statistic, though Young considers it a sign of a “potential epidemic.” [Source: YOUNG- http://www.howstuffworks.com]
If you or anyone you love has a problem limiting your time on the computer and such use is interfering with your life, do consider seeking help.  Join any one of the self-help groups formed to address this issue (though, most assuredly, not one on the Internet!) and/or consult your family physician or an addictions counselor.

I hope this is helpful to those of you who may be questioning your own use of the computer or that of a loved one … and that reading this will clarify its problems and consequences.

Best of luck! And please do visit my new website, http://www.applemanshapiro.com.