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Many students may be trapped in the Internet's web

Research shows a widespread addiction to the Internet, college students at risk
By Ramon Walle
Contributing Writer

Michelle Clark, a UNF public relations junior, sat with a group of friends on a couch in Starbucks. As she played an Internet game, she blurted out, “It’s addictive!”

Clark is part of the highest risk age group — college students — for Internet addiction, according to research done over the past decade by Kimberly Young, founder of the Center for Internet Addiction Recovery and author of “Caught in the Net.”

If you include the time Clark uses the Internet via telephone, she surfs the Web all day, and this Internet usage sometimes interferes with her schoolwork and disconnects her from the real world, she said.

Internet addiction has the same core characteristics as other addictions, said Richmond Wynn, a UNF staff counselor and professor of the Substance Abuse and Violence Prevention class.

“There are some things that are specific to Internet addiction versus substance abuse addiction, versus sex addiction, versus gambling addiction, but the process of addiction is the same no matter what,” he said.

All addicts share the inability to control themselves. This leads them to neglect responsibilities in order to fulfill their compulsive desires, which exist as a means to experience normalcy, he said.

College students are especially vulnerable to Internet addiction because their schedules are flexible, they have access to the Web, are free from parental supervision, are encouraged to use the Internet academically and are pressured to use the Internet socially, according to the International Journal of Reality Therapy, which summarized Young’s research.

But many U.S. college students minimize the seriousness of this addiction, Wynn said. South Korea and China are recognizing Internet addiction as a problem, but the U.S. is not, according to the American Journal of Psychiatry.

Kevin Sacayanan, a UNF biology junior, spends five to seven hours a day on the Internet, and 75 percent of that time is spent on social networks such as Facebook, he said.

Sometimes he unintentionally neglects his schoolwork, as a five-minute Facebook break turns into a lingering chat, he said.

But the time people spend on the Internet shouldn’t label them as Internet addicts, Wynn said.

“Think about it as a relationship,” he said. “Where does it fit? Is it a healthy relationship or a bad relationship?”

Drug and alcohol addicts are often taught to abstain from addictive substances as part of their treatment for addiction.

In today’s technological world, that may not be the solution, Wynn said.

“You have to look at the notion … that the Internet is required as part of our lives, where as, substances are not,” he said.

The Internet should be treated as food, in moderation, Wynn said. Addicts need to change their relationship to the Internet instead of abstain from it, Wynn said.

The upcoming fifth edition of the “Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders” may include Internet addiction as a disorder, and this might help to shed light on an overlooked problem, Wynn said. The book, which classifies mental disorders, is expected to be released in May 2012. Psychologists use it to evaluate and treat patients, according to the American Psychiatric Association’s official Web site.

But in the meantime, students should, ironically, use the Internet to find more information on the addiction and support groups in Jacksonville.

Internet Addiction Test

1. Do you feel preoccupied with the Internet? (You think about previous online activity or anticipate your next online session)
2. Do you feel the need to use the Internet with increasing amounts of time in order to achieve satisfaction?
3. Have you repeatedly made unsuccessful efforts to control, cut back or stop Internet use?
4. Do you feel restless, moody, depressed or irritable when attempting to cut down or stop Internet use?
5. Do you stay online longer than originally intended?
6. Have you jeopardized or risked the loss of significant relationship, job, educational or career opportunity because of the Internet?
7. Have you lied to family members, therapist or others to conceal the extent of involvement with the Internet?
8. Do you use the Internet as a way of escaping from problems or of relieving an unpleasant mood (ie: feelings of helplessness, guilt, anxiety or depression)?

If you answered yes to five of the eight questions, Internet Addiction Recovery classifies you as an Internet addict.

Source: Internet Addiction Recovery

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