Amsterdam. That obsessive use of the internet by young people hits school results and often has a negative impact on social lives is well known, but now a new Dutch study has found evidence of depression. The Rotterdam-based Institute for Research into Lifestyles and Addiction (IVO) surveyed 512 young people aged between 13 and 15 and found that what it termed ‘compulsive internet use’ was indicative of an increase in feelings of depression and a decline in school results within six months.
The IVO found that internet ‘addicts’ spent on average 26 hours a week in front of the computer terminal. Parents had the largest role in preventing internet addiction, the study found, suggesting the parents should talk to their offspring about it if they saw a problem looming. ‘How often this happens is not as important as making clear to the young people that their feelings are understood and offering them support,’ the IVO said.
It suggested that setting clear – but flexible – rules regarding internet use helped to prevent addiction. ‘If young people in this age group are allowed very little computer time, this appears to have a counterproductive effect and boosts compulsive internet behaviour,’ the IVO said.
IAD? (Internet Addiction Disorder)
Internet Addiction Disorder hasn’t made it into the manuals as an official disorder yet, but according to some officials, it’s becoming a serious problem, especially on college campuses. Students are in a situation different from the rest of the population, said Ken Culton, coordinator of SIUC’s Student Health Center. Students are encouraged to use computers and the Internet constantly for research, classes and writing papers. However, there may be a fine line between use and abuse, he said.
“You’re engaged already in a necessary activity,” he said. “It’s hard to know when it’s becoming a problem.”
At a workshop on Internet addictions and gambling this week, Culton said Internet use is different from an addiction to the Internet – but it may be hard to tell the difference until Internet access is removed. “For most people, taking the Internet away would annoy them but probably wouldn’t make them angry,” he said. “But for people addicted, it’s almost like a withdrawal from cocaine.”
Culton said an addiction to the Internet manifests itself in several ways – putting the Internet before relationships, putting off homework and withdrawing from society. He said it’s about the exclusion of other things, not about the amount of time spent. Professionals say statistics on the number of students addicted to the Internet are either not available or are hard to base on solid research because it’s not classified as a mental disorder.
But Culton said he’s seen many cases of Internet addiction often intertwined with other addictions among SIUC’s student population. Mark Dixon, a professor at the Rehabilitation Institute at SIUC, agreed. He has seen Internet addiction combined with other abuses, including gambling, which can cause a whole other set of problems like debt, depression and anxiety.
For 5 percent of college students across the nation, gambling has a negative effect on their lives, according to a study cited by the Illinois Higher Education Center for Alcohol, Other Drug and Violence Prevention. Dixon said gambling can be classified as an addiction, like drugs or alcohol, but with drugs and alcohol a person consumes something. Gambling is different. “It’s just kind of a consumption of risk taking,” he said.
Risk taking may be even easier on the Internet for those with quick access to a credit card. “You can gamble anywhere or anytime and never leave your dorm,” Dixon said. The National Gambling Impact Study Commission, a group that made recommendations to Congress, reported in 1999 that access to the Internet is easy, inexpensive and often done in private at home. Shielded from the public scrutiny, pathological gamblers can traverse dozens of Web sites and gamble 24 hours a day, the commission reported. The report quoted Harvard professor Dr. Howard J. Shaffer who said the Internet was a new delivery form for addictive narcotics like gambling.
Whenever Sherri Wurtzel hears about spending too much time on the Internet, she said she thinks about a couple back home in Pecatonica, Ill., who she said divorced because of the wife’s Internet addiction. Wurtzel, a freshman studying forestry, said she thinks she can find better things to do with her time than watching television or surfing the Internet, like hiking. “(Internet addiction) is kind of a new thing,” Culton said. “It’s not as obvious as friends picking you up drunk off the floor. It’s more subtle.