Vijai P. Sharma, Ph.D
Can you imagine living even one day without the magical screen? Since we perform such essential functions of our daily lives as accounting, budgeting, or information gathering at the computer, it's hard to view the computer as an "addictive drug." And yet, the computer can be as addictive as any chemical compound.
When we hear of computer addiction, we assume it must be something about those people who engage in cybersex or visit pornography sites all day long. That's a myopic view. People are getting addicted to seemingly harmless activities such as instant messaging, interactive computer games, online auctions, day trading, web logging, ("blogs") and even computer hacking.
Maressa Hecht Orzack, a Massachusetts clinician and researcher estimates that between 5 to 10 percent of computer users in America exhibit some level of computer addiction. Some prefer to stay home so they can play Solitaire, visit e-Bay or just to be on the computer.
Day trading is not always an activity strictly for business. You may, in fact, be addicted to gambling and not even know it. Day trading began to turn into a gambling problem in the 1990's. Stock prices would predictably go higher no matter what. There was little risk and lot sof excitement just watching the money go up. Someone said that the market became the biggest casino of the world.
"They confused gambling with investment. Some gamblers turned to day trading. It was once a sure and quick way to make money. Some were plain investors but many were "closet gamblers."
I once met a smart day trader. He did at least eight to ten hours of day trading every day. He wore a pulse monitor for the entire time he was on the computer. If his pulse exceeded 70 beats a minute, which was his normal, he would take a walk or go to another room only to return when his pulse was back to normal.
This guy had self-control over his behavior. He was not addicted to day trading. He was an investor, not a gambler. He knew that when his pulse was beating fast, he was not in control, but that excitement (or anger) had taken control, which is not the ideal mental state for taking business decisions.
Marissa Orzack, likens addictive day trading to addictive gambling for the following reasons: You develop "tolerance" for it; you want to perform the activity more and more; you continue the behavior despite the consequences and when you withdraw from it, you become anxious, angry or depressed.
Computer addiction, like any other addiction, has serious negative consequences. Computer addiction can lead to unlawful behaviors and brushes with the law. Marriages are broken as a result of computer addiction. Computer addicts often sacrifice other parts of their lives, such as family and social activities and exercising.
It is an addiction because it makes people want it more and more and people continue the behavior despite the consequences. When they try to withdraw, they become irritable, angry, or depressed. They just can't stop and the behavior occupies more and more of their time.
We need to watch our children too. Some children play violent games many hours of the day. Games provide players the highs of winning and the lows of losing. However, violence has its own addictive quality regardless of the victories and losses.
Games can also reduce direct social interaction. Many games allow participants to interact with one another via their computer screens. Take the computer out of a child's bedroom because that computer belongs in the family room.
Some children have another problem underneath their computer fixation, such as an anxiety disorder, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) or Obsessive-Compulsive disorder (OCD).
Online auctions can be like a game, giving an emotional high when you win. In this context, winning lets you feel that you are getting the item at the lowest price. Whether you need it or not can be an interesting question. When you win the bidding, you feel instantly gratified. Instant gratification is a powerful form of self-rewarding and thus highly addictive.
According to Orzack, online auction has three A's backing up the auction-addiction behavior: "Affordable," "Accessible" and "Anonymous."
Many times the root cause of computer addiction like many other forms of addiction is mood disorder and/or relationship disorder. Depression, boredom, social anxiety or a dysfunctional family may lead a person to find a "cure' in something that's non-threatening.
Sometime, relationship breakdown leads to escape in computer addiction, and other times computer addiction causes relationship breakdown.
Parents and partners must keep in mind the possibility of computer addiction for their loved ones. Without monitoring and prompt action, you and your loved ones can become victims to this technical wizardry.
Copyright 2004, Mind Publications
Posted September 2004