Computer Addiction: Side Effects and Possible Solutions
Since 1979 when the first microcomputer started coming to the United States and Great Britain there has been a very extensive growth in the areas of computers and drugs. The simultaneity of these two occurrences and the scales of people's involvement with computers gave way to emergence of the term ‘computer addiction' in the early 1980s. The word ‘addiction' stands to emphasize the seriousness of the problem and implies the possibility of drastic consequences that computer mania might have.
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In the current paper we will explore the problem of computer addiction with the emphasis made on its bad effects and possible solutions that might be offered to reduce them to minimum or, if possible, to get rid of computer addiction at all. Our claim is that computer addiction exists, humanity needs to be extremely cautious of its bad effects and it has to work out appropriate treatment to help computer dependent people to solve their problems.
The reality of modern life is such that personal computers and Internet access have been proliferating across the world. Everyday activities at home, work, and school are increasingly dependent upon computers. Computers are used to organize data, word process documents, send e-mails, and search for new information via the Internet. Between 9 and 15 million people use the Internet daily, and it is estimated that every 3 months the rate of use increases by 25% (Cooper 181). Through Internet computer becomes a useful tool for communication. No one would deny the importance of computer in modern life and the importance of Internet, in particular, but their properties that promote addictive behaviors and in case of Internet - pseudo-intimate interpersonal relationships should not be neglected. Cyberspace that computers and Internet create may result in cyber disorders such as virtual relationships that evolve into online marital infidelity or online sexually compulsive behaviors. An increasing mental health concern, cyber disorders such as Internet addiction disorder (IAD), also known as pathologic Internet use (PIU) have been identified to diagnose serious issues related to Internet use (Young & Rogers 25). The side effects of Internet addiction will be discussed below, whereas at the beginning the general considerations as for the term ‘computer addiction' are offered.
In the doctoral research concerned with computer dependency Margaret Shotton suggests that the term ‘computer addiction' should not be used merely concerning the relatively small proportion of computer users who become intensive computer devotees, but, instead, it should stand to denote ‘the state of being given to a habit or pursuit' (Shotton 7).
The researcher defines a computer dependent person as a hobbyist, ‘a person devoted to a hobby (sometimes used with a connotation of crankiness)', where hobby denotes ‘a favorite occupation pursued merely for amusement or an individual pursuit to which a person is devoted out of proportion to its real importance' (Shotton 7).
One of the values of Shotton's research is that the author conducts investigation that proves existence of computer dependency through obtaining the facts of this existence from a number of sources, namely, existing literature on the problem, the authors of the literature and other psychologists, computer studies teachers, and professional care agencies. Personal contact was made with people who worked with computers and average computer users. They all showed belief in the occurrence of the syndrome of computer dependency. Though the respondents did not consider the syndrome to be a widespread problem believing that it affected only a few individuals among the vast number of computer users but the research still confirmed the existence of the syndrome of computer dependency (Shotton 20).
Dr. Maressa Hecht Orzack, the founder and coordinator of the Computer Addiction Service, singles out psychological and physical symptoms of computer addiction.
Psychological symptoms are:
- 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, and irritable when not at the computer;
- Lying to employers and family about activities;
- Problems with family and friends (Orzack 2003).
Physical symptoms are:
- Carpal tunnel syndrome;
- Dry eyes;
- Migraine headaches;
- Eating irregularities like skipping meals;
- Failure to attend to personal hygiene;
- Sleep disturbances, change in sleep pattern (Orzack 2003).
Coming back to Shotton's experiment with studying the side effects of computer addiction we should say that all these symptoms were observed with the interviewees. Though most of the dependents did not want to admit their addiction some did admit that they experienced negative effects from their activities. Some interviewees spoke of the negative effects that their computer addiction had on their employment. One person admitted that in the past he had spent time playing with the computer while he was at work. But the addiction disappeared when he bought his own home microcomputer upon which he had unrestricted access to program as he wished. Another interviewee admitted that it was difficult for him to concentrate at work, instead of handling the problems that appeared he found himself puzzling over computer problems which he could explore only while at home. This turned out to be especially problematic when he was cycling home from work as not once he had nearly ridden into parked vehicles. The third interviewee spoke of the problems that occurred because of a poor match between his skills and those demanded by his bosses. He was responsible for management activity and could not perform it well because he spent a lot of his working time directly with the computer instead of working with people.
What is important is that a lot of interviewees appeared to be reluctant to change their job positions just to remain in the posts that presupposed the frequent use of computers. If, on the contrary, promotion implied more time at computing interviewees spent more hours at work that caused in their intercourse with friends and families.
Students of different age admitted that their academic performance suffered because of their devotion to computing. ‘My school work suffers', ‘It was an impediment to my degree, I should have been reading books', ‘It detracts from my schoolwork', ‘I did very poorly at university in the first two years - it was detrimental to my coursework and I nearly got thrown out for hacking into the university's Prime system' were the most common answers of those who realized that they were achieving lower standards academically (Shotton 212). But along with these statements the students showed their certainty about the fact that they were more likely to find jobs related to computing than to the spheres they were prepared for at their educational establishments, due to constant work at computer they felt confident in this sphere.
As it was mentioned above social lives of computer addicts are also affected. Computers take much of the dependents' free time and, as a result, less time is spent communicating with others. Moreover, different misunderstanding appears on the basis of absence of the common interest to computing in case friends and members of the family do not share the interest in computers. Many respondents from Shotton's research admitted that they found computing an escape from social interaction: they found it stressful in the past and computer enabled them to get rid of the undesired communication. Working on computer was a common excuse in case the dependants did not want to attend various social activities. Computer mania affected most of all those addicts who were married as they spent less time with their spouses and children. Domestic disharmony, problems in sexual relationships - these were the commonest negative effects of computer addiction on a family scale (Shotton 213).
Other side effects include those that computers have on the personalities of the dependents. People addicted to computers tend to be more intolerant and impatient with others. Computer becomes a sort of refuge from the real life for them and they become more reserved and restrained. Sometimes a computer dependent person loses interest in the world around and does not even care of one's personal happiness, this person sees computer as the only ‘creature' in the world that can understand him or her.
The negative physical effects that computer addiction can cause include restlessness, sleeplessness, tension, headache and backache. If computer dependents suffer from some disease the disease worsens while constant working on computer.
As far as the problem of computer addiction is concerned Internet addiction deserves especial consideration. Different terms are used to denote this kind of computer addiction: pathological Internet use or problematic Internet use. An Internet addicted person loses the ability to control one's use of the Internet. This lack of control causes marked distress and/or functional impairment (Shapira et al. 270). The addiction may go along with depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder or alcohol and drug addiction. The most obvious symptoms of Internet addiction include social isolation, family discord, divorce, academic failure, job loss, and debt (Young et al. 475). Other symptoms are: neglecting responsibilities, feelings of depression, tension, anger when Internet is not accessible, a need for better computer programs, etc.
There are five Internet-related issues that Internet addiction is composed of: cybersexual addiction, cyber relationship addiction, net compulsions, information overload, and addiction to interactive computer games (Young et al. 476).
Side effects of Internet addiction of any type are the same as the ones of computer addiction in general. It influences negatively relationship within families, the members of which believe that they mean nothing to their relative as he or she spends hours sitting in front of the computer. Internet addiction might bring serious financial problems as the habit does not only require some financial provision but it leads to neglecting responsibilities by the dependent that, in turn, may lead to loose of job due to poor performance.
Treatment options to computer addiction include:
- Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy. It is based on Beck's (1976) theory that thoughts determine feelings. The theory encourages the dependent to recognize thoughts and feelings causing him/her to inappropriately use the computer to meet personal needs (Orzack, 1999 15). This is achieved through the following stages: precontemplation, contemplation, preparation, maintenance, and termination. In the first stage the dependent does not recognize the problem that he or she has and, therefore, does not want to change anything. Thus, the therapist's task at this stage is to help the patient understand that the problem exists and help him/her realize the necessity of solving it. In the second stage the individual recognizes the need for change but still does not have a substantial desire to change something. In the preparation stage, the individual is ready to establish a plan to address the problem. The dependent person realizes that he or she needs to establish control over computer use by setting time limits. The person seeks for other activities that can be done when the urge to use the computer exists. The maintenance stage begins when the dependent learns to control one's computer use. The goal of this phase is to prevent relapse. The final stage, termination, occurs when the individual has no more desire to overuse the computer.
During the treatment the therapist's task is to support the dependent in every stage encouraging his or her entering another stage (Wieland 153).
- Psychopharmacology. It is aimed at treatment of depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and other anxiety disorders that computer addiction goes along with.
- Addictions Treatment and Self-Help Groups. The treatment is organized by special addiction services like the Center for Online Addiction, the Institute for Addiction Recovery at Proctor Hospital in Peoria, the Computer Addiction Services at McLean Hospital in Belmont, The National Council on Sexual Addiction and Compulsivity, etc.
Solutions to computer addition may include keeping oneself busy by involvement into work irrelevant to the work of computer. Hobbies become of much importance when there is a desire to get rid or computer dependency. Psychotherapy, marital counseling, addition counseling, parent counseling, social skills training are among the solutions available. Though they are applicable depending on this or that particular case, the use of them in complex is also rather beneficial for the dependent if appropriately organized and controlled.
Thus, the paper defined computer and Internet addiction, showed their side effects and offered the most effective ways of solving the problem. Though the solutions proposed are rather helpful, it is a computer user's responsibility not to become a computer addict. Personal control over the use of control is required not to become a compute/Internet addict.
Cooper, A. 1999, ‘Sexuality and the Internet: Surfing into the new millennium', CyberPsychology and Behavior, no. 1, pp. 181-187.
Lamberg, L. 1999, ‘Computers enter mainstream psychiatry', Journal of the American Medical Association, no. 278, pp. 799-801.
Orzack, M. 1999, ‘How to recognize and treat computer addictions', Directions, vol. 9, no. 2, pp. 13-20.
Orzack, M. H. 2003, ‘Computer addiction services', Available at: http://www.computeraddiction.com
Shapira, N. et al. 2000, ‘Psychiatric features of individuals with problematic Internet use', Journal of Affective Disorders, no. 57, pp. 267-272.
Shotton, M. A. 1989, Computer Addiction? A Study of Computer Dependency, London, Taylor & Francis.
Wieland, D. M. 2005, ‘Computer addiction: Implications for nursing psychotherapy practice', Perspectives in Psychiatric Care, vol. 41, no. 4, p. 153.
Young, K. 1998, Caught in the Net, New York, Wiley.
Young, K. et al. 1999, ‘Cyber disorders: The mental health concern for the new millennium', CyberPsychology and Behavior, vol. 2, no. 5, pp. 475-479.
Young, K., & Rogers, R. 1998, ‘The relationship between depression and Internet addiction', CyberPsychology and Behavior, vol.1, no. 1, pp. 25-28.
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