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For some it’s not being able to go an hour without checking Facebook, for others it could be compulsive online gaming. Whatever the medium, the internet has become a breeding ground for addictive behaviour for more people than would probably care to admit it.
Some psychiatrists have even referred to this form of addiction as a “public health disorder”.
In 2010 one London-based hospital launched a 28-day programme to treat young people struggling with technology addiction after seeing a significant rise in people experiencing “chronicle agitation and frustration” at not being able to access social networks or games on the internet.
“I've been contacted by parents who see their children going into a rage when they're told to turn off their computer,” says Dr Richard Graham – a leading London psychiatrist who works with technology-addicted children.
He says some children play games for social contact, and “it gives them a sense of connection so they end up playing all the time. It's the same buzz as playing a sport like tennis but you're not going to be playing tennis at one in the morning.”
Most online experiences, whether it is networking, listening to music, or playing games, are targeted at young people. And addictive behaviours are known to peak in youth.
“You can be whatever you want to be online,” Dr Graham says, he adds that online gaming can be so addictive because “unlike standalone gaming, the online game never stops”.
Just over a year ago, an extreme case of gaming addiction shocked people around the world.
A South Korean couple were found guilty of letting their baby starve to death as they played online. The couple spent hours at a local internet café raising a “virtual” daughter, forgetting to take care of their own baby at home.
They were sent to prison for their actions, but it led the South Korean government to make more of an effort to combat the problem. At the time they said there were two million “internet addicts” in the country. In June 2011 a new internet addiction clinic, with a five-week programme, was officially opened.
While the internet has technically created a more “connected” society, people do not necessarily feel more connected to others.
Some people say the feelings of needing to be in touch with others, or being envious of how ‘exciting’ other people’s lives are, or even seeking approval from others online, sometimes makes them feel depressed and even lonely.
There are, however, some studies that suggest social networking is actually good for a person’s ‘real’ social life. A study by Pew Internet & American Life Project – released in January this year – suggests that many people who hang out on facebook have closer friendships outside of the internet. It also says many users tend to get more emotional support and companionship than others. This has challenged the common thought that social network users have less real-life friends and contacts.
Various psychiatrists and studies can’t seem to agree on an answer regarding the real effects of internet interaction on a person’s psychotic state, but agree that it’s up to the individual to find the correct balance for their lifestyle.
But if a person cannot carry out basic daily functions and gets highly agitated when separated from the internet - or any form of related technology - they need to start asking some serious questions.
By Dominique Johnson