Maryland Bar Bulletin
Publications : Bar Bulletin : September 2005

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WORK/LIFE
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MSBA Lawyer Assistance Program

"The Various Faces of Internet Addiction"
By George Martsoukos

When a person absorbs a chemical into his or her bloodstream that in turn alters the brain’s chemical make up, addiction is created. In this world of ever-evolving technology, however, bits and bytes can foster addiction just as easily as heroin, cocaine or alcohol. As technology evolves faster than our efforts to understand it, we as a society must take a step back to evaluate the risks and dangers of becoming more and more reliant on electronic devices.

Chat Till You Drop

Chat rooms have been around for quite some time, and they are one of the most abused forms of communication today. Some users spend more time chatting over the Internet than they do interacting with real people during the course of a day. The appeal to the end user is the complete anonymity offered by the chat room; this allows for addicts to immerse themselves in fantasy; pretending to be any type of person they can imagine in these virtual rooms.

Internet chatting has become one of the leading precursors to marital infidelity. Many spouses regard chat rooms as harmless, that nothing will come of their significant others spending hours on end chatting it up with strangers that live in various parts of the country. However benign this may seem in the beginning, though, the aforementioned anonymity afforded by the Internet can harbor dangers behind every screen name. Unfortunately, there really is no way of knowing who may be a predator and who is just another average user.

The Message Board Troll

Message boards have become increasingly popular with the average Internet citizen. They are usually highly specific to one topic or to a small community of people. These Boards, BBS or Forums are treasure troves of information as people can update previous posts with a click of the button. Addiction to message boards is generally rare as it’s not a real-time activity. Once the original post is up, it takes time for someone else to come along and add to it or reply.

Addicted Auctioneers

Online auction and shopping sites can also be a source of addiction for many Internet addicts. These sites offer the ability to browse and search thousands of products from the comfort of one’s swivel chair. As surprising as it may sound, some people cannot stop shopping once they get started. Many of products that the addict purchases over the Internet are merely for the thrill of the bid rather than owning something that is practical or necessary.

The Online Gamer

In the past, video games have been very linear, similar to movies in that they have a beginning, middle and an end. However, the Internet has drastically changed how people play games. Online gaming is becoming a huge business and very real danger to people with addictive personalities.

Massively Multiplayer Online Gaming (or MMOs, as they’re referred to by people in the gaming industry) allow users to connect to a server where thousands of other people play alongside them in the same virtual world. These virtual worlds allow the user to create a character in a sprawling world that has a dynamic economy, ownership of items and/or property and a vast array of different locales to which real time is actually required for travel.

There have been stories in the news recently of players killing other players over a stolen item, a man who played for 50 hours straight and eventually died after his heart stopped, and people selling the rarest of in-game items for large sums of real money on (what else?) online auction sites. These games offer chat, a sense of community, and are always up and running. The worst part, however, is that MMOs have no end. One cannot “win” or “lose” as the games just keep on going as more content is added to them every month.

The Addiction:
Why is It Dangerous?

Like any other dependency, Internet addiction can cause the addict to lose touch with their real life responsibilities. People who spend so much type on the Internet rarely make time for their families, friends or love interests. Since the Internet is always open for business, some users barely ever sleep, and without sleep the body cannot function properly.

Addicts often retreat to the Internet to escape from real-world problems that they don’t have the willpower to face. They hide amongst the exchanging of binary 1s and 0s to relieve stress from a job, a tattered family life or even as an attempt to stop a chemical addiction.

Too much of any one thing is always bad for you. Technology has the power to strengthen our lives, relieving us of some of the most mundane of tasks. But we must always be aware that real life is out there, with so much more to offer than any stream of electricity.

Internet Addiction
Questionnaire

  1. Do you feel preoccupied with the Internet (for example, do you think about previous online activity or anticipate your next online session)?
  2. Do you feel the need to use the Internet with increasing amounts of time in order to achieve satisfaction?
  3. Have you repeatedly made unsuccessful efforts to control, cut back or stop Internet use?
  4. Do you feel restless, moody, depressed or irritable when attempting to cut down or stop Internet use?
  5. Do you stay online longer than originally intended?
  6. Have you jeopardized or risked the loss of significant relationship, job, educational or career opportunity because of the Internet?
  7. Have you lied to family members, a therapist or others to conceal the extent of your involvement with the Internet?
  8. Do you use the Internet as a way of escaping problems or of relieving a dysphoric mood (e.g., feelings of helplessness, guilt, anxiety, depression)?

If you answered yes to five or more of these questions, you may have a problem with Internet addiction. If you or someone you know has a problem controlling the amount of time spent online, contact the MSBA Lawyer Assistance Program at (410) 685-7878, ext 3041.

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Publications : Bar Bulletin: September 2005

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