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Chris Sharpe is also an associate of Twin Rivers Rehab in South Africa

Twin Rivers in South Africa


Internet Addiction: by Chris Sharpe

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Internet Addiction by Chris SharpeA brief look at Internet Addiction

When I began working in addiction, nearly twenty years ago, I recall that my office had no computers of any description and instead of emails we would send hand written memos to each other while waiting patiently for the reply. Now of course I have access to a PC, a laptop and my smart phone, all of which have the ingenious ability to make communication instantaneous. Like most people today, I would probably find it difficult if not impossible to survive without this modern technology. In summary it therefore appears that in a very short time the internet has made itself indispensable – and addictive.

Sadly I feel the internet, because of its speed and efficiency, also slots in nicely with the addict’s destructive need for instant gratification and their lack of insufficient self-control. I recall the story of the young addict who when told he needed to go to Twin Rivers Rehab for his internet addiction asked, ‘Do they have Wi-Fi?’

We can laugh at the above wisecrack, but how many of us realise that as with any chemical or behavioural addiction, internet addiction has a very negative and destructive influence, not only on the user but on the user’s family also. Whether it’s a preoccupation with playing internet games, social networking, shopping, internet pornography or on-line gambling, using the internet can be seen as a solitary occupation. As a result of this addiction, real-life relationships suffer because the compulsive internet addict spends more and more time in front of a screen and increasingly less time with real people and real relationships. This might indicate that the internet/user relationship, like any other addiction, revolves around the avoidance of uncomfortable emotions, resulting in an impoverished lifestyle. Following this comes denial or the addict’s attempts to rationalise, justify or simply lie about how much time is spent on-line. This causes distrust and other negative consequences.

For the addictive user, in a euphoric sense, the internet can provide temporary feelings of power, control or intimacy. It may even validate the user by artificially increasing self-worth. Equally, in turn it can depress through guilt, shame, feelings of failure as well as creating emotions such as anger and frustration, all of which become too difficult to manage. As with any other addictions there are symptoms to watch out for, such as: Increasing use and obsession; prioritising internet use over other activities including sleep, food and general hygiene. Subjective awareness may also be a symptom to watch out for or put more simply, knowing that continued internet use is causing problems yet being unable to stop and avoid the consequences. The internet can also be used to avoid responsibility, escape problems and numb emotions. Lastly, withdrawal will occur along with unsuccessful attempts to lower use or to stop completely.

However help is at hand. More and more therapists and addiction treatment centres are becoming aware of the problems of internet addiction and are recognising the need for treatment strategies to be incorporated into an internet addiction recovery programme. Strategies such as management techniques involving the client considering some of the destructive habits and behaviours that are used in current internet use and then constructing a new schedule in order to disrupt the normal routine and to break the internet habit.

As a final word, addicts with a history of alcohol or drug abuse have been known to turn to internet addiction considering it to be a safe substitute; it is not. Such obsessive behaviour can only be considered as a relapse. If this is so the addict should be encouraged to extend and incorporate internet addiction into their current abstinence programme.

One thing is for certain, like alcohol and drugs the internet is not going to go away

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