Over 44 million families are online, and over half of their members—about 25 million people—may qualify as compulsive surfers. So is "Internet Addiction" a new psychological phenomenon?
In a study published in the Journal of Affective Disorders, researchers from the University of Florida (UF) and the University of Cincinnati examined the habits of 20 people who had spent more than 30 nonworking hours a week online for the past three years. The participants described skipping sleep, ignoring family responsibilities, and showing up late for work to fulfill their desire to visit chat rooms and surf the Web. The consequences were severe: Many suffered from marital problems, failed in school or lost a job, and accumulated debt.
The evidence points to a psychological disorder, so researchers probed further and found that the participants' habits met the criteria for impulse control disorders, mental illnesses characterized by an uncontrollable desire to perform a behavior that, once executed, is often followed by a huge sense of relief. And most of the participants had a history of additional psychiatric problems like eating disorders and manic depression.