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FOR OVER 15 YEARS Dr. Orzack, a licensed clinical psychologist, has treated addictive behaviors at McLean Hospital, where she is founder and coordinator of the Computer Addiction Service and a member of the Harvard Medical School faculty. She is also a faculty member of the Cognitive Therapy Program, and in private practice in Newton Centre, Massachusetts. In addition she has studied recreational drug use and thinks that inappropriate computer use is similar. Her sense is that we are just seeing the tip of the iceberg. Our society is becoming more and more computer dependent not only for information, but for fun and entertainment. This trend is a potential problem affecting all ages, starting with computer games for kids to chats for the unwary or vulnerable adult.
A mother has difficulty getting her child to do chores when computer games occupy all after school time.
A husband finds his wife increasingly neglects family duties, is irritable at family gatherings, and the phone bill has risen astronomically to an on-line service number.
Someone connects to the Internet at 9:00 PM and suddenly discovers it is dawn and he has not left the computer.
A child's grades fall and the teacher notes that he/she is falling asleep in class.
A college freshman gets a mid-term warning because he is not keeping up with course work. Instead, he is spending every evening on the Internet communicating with all his family and former high school classmates, and rarely joins in social activities on campus.
An employee starts to fall behind at work and a rising number of sick days raises questions about usefulness to his/her employer.
A corporate department head stays late each night to meet deadlines. In-house monitoring of computer use reveals he frequently accesses inappropriate sites, including gambling and pornography.
An office supervisor suddently resigns from her job. A lot of work is unfinished and the company asks her family to encurage her to return. They find her at home, hunched over a computer and out cold completely oblivious to her surroundings.
THESE ARE ALL EXAMPLES of a condition called Computer Addiction, Internet Addictive Disorder or Cyberaddiction. It is a problem very similar to Pathological Gambling or Compulsive Shopping. Like other addictions, it affects other people -- family, friends, and co-workers. Spouses complain that their loved ones neglect them. Couples separate when one of the partners finds someone else on the Internet and leaves home. Like gamblers they compulsively keep investing time and money. They fantasize that the next connection they make will solve all their problems.
THE SYMPTOMS OF COMPUTER ADDICTION are quite specific:
Having a sense of well-being or euphoria while at the computer
Inability to stop the activity
Craving more and more time at the computer
Neglect of family and friends
Feeling empty, depressed, irritable when not at the computer
Lying to employers and family about activities
Problems with school or job
Carpal tunnel syndrome
Eating irregularities, such as skipping meals
Failure to attend to personal hygiene
Sleep disturbances, change in sleep pattern
COMPUTER ADDICTION HAS BEEN IDENTIFIED by many professionals and the media. Family therapists hear about it frequently. Clinical Psychiatric News reports increasing complaints related to computer use. At many colleges and universities, counselors and Deans of Students report increases in inappropriate and exessive computer use associated with rule infractions, student failures and academic drop-outs. Lawyers find that compulsive computer use can be a major factor in divorce.
LIKE ANY ADDICTION this one can be treated. Dr. Orzack believes that one of the most effective methods to deal with all these types of problems is Cognitive Behavior Therapy, which teaches the patient to identify the problem, to solve the problem and to learn coping skills to prevent relapse. Often the treatment is helped by medication. In addition she recommends support groups for the other affected persons. She does not treat online, stating, "I'm licensed in Massachusetts, not in cyberspace".
BIBLIOGRAPHY of writings on computer addiction
ARTICLES ABOUT DR. ORZACK (Partial List)
Q&A with Dr. Orzack