Caught in the Net

Steve
Steve Bartlett
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Prof wants public counselling to include Internet addiction

"Alex" describes the Internet as a virtual abyss. He says his wife's web addiction destroyed his marriage and family life as he knew it, so it's easy to understand why he views the Net as a black hole.

"It's a sad, sad end," he said of a relationship that had lasted decades.

Alex's real name is being withheld to protect his kids. He figures they've been through enough.

Now separated, he says his ex became Net addicted a couple of years ago after she started having "inappropriate conversations" with multiple men over the MSN messaging program. He discovered the exchanges after she left her account open and some guys spoke provocatively to him.

Experts say many people are suffering from an addiction to the Internet. Photo illustration by Jupiter Images

"Alex" describes the Internet as a virtual abyss. He says his wife's web addiction destroyed his marriage and family life as he knew it, so it's easy to understand why he views the Net as a black hole.

"It's a sad, sad end," he said of a relationship that had lasted decades.

Alex's real name is being withheld to protect his kids. He figures they've been through enough.

Now separated, he says his ex became Net addicted a couple of years ago after she started having "inappropriate conversations" with multiple men over the MSN messaging program. He discovered the exchanges after she left her account open and some guys spoke provocatively to him.

Alex was furious. He says he later confronted his wife, who was shocked he knew, and they talked it through.

"I thought it was put to rest and we were going to move on, because there was so much at stake," Alex says.

Needing assurance his wife was keeping the promise, he monitored her Internet activity with the help of a computer-savvy friend.

He learned his wife was continuing her online escapades, which had included visits to a dating site.

Without her knowledge, he contacted his wife's Internet friends and asked them to back off. He got a nasty reception. One threatened to go to the police and say Alex was abusing his children. Another said Alex would regret it if his wife found out.

Alex says his spouse was spending four or five hours a day online, and some of her virtual relationships escalated into physical affairs. He says her demeanour towards him, their family and their friends changed.

The situation eventually forced him to take stress leave. They sought counselling to see if he was the problem, he says, but it turned out the Internet was.

"It was just something that was just kind of grabbing her attention, saying, 'Come back. Come back.' "

Alex says they were unable to find the needed support and his family disintegrated.

He's now trying to pick up the pieces. His family was on the cusp of financial freedom, he says, but he has had to buy a new home and take out a mortgage that won't be paid until he's in his 70s.

"I could not believe this was happening to me," he says of the ordeal.

Alex says he is telling his story to prevent others from suffering a similar fate. He suggests seeking out measures that monitor online activity and nipping potential problems in the bud.

But according to Dennis Kimberly, a professor at Memorial's School of Social Work, others are feeling the fallout of Internet addiction. Being hooked on the web, he suggests, probably runs neck and neck with gambling as the dependency of this millennium. He says the problem has mushroomed since 1999, when he helped prepare a paper on the topic.

"It's not going up linearly, it's going up geometrically," Kimberley says. "I would say you are going to have more and more relationships and more and more families impacted by this."

Besides teaching at MUN, Kimberly does about 10 hours of clinical work per week. He has seen extreme cases of Internet addiction at his practice.

"There's some that will wear adult Depends so they don't lose their time on the Net," Kimberley says.

It's not unusual, he says, for someone hooked on the web to be online three hours or more at a time or for 60-plus hours a week. He explains the Net-addicted are trying to escape negative feelings or create positive ones for life satisfaction. Things that were pleasing before - like coaching hockey or time with family - become less fulfilling, he says.

Kimberley compares Internet addiction to alcohol and drug dependency; being off-line elicits a withdrawal similar to what an alcoholic feels.

"They would become agitated, irritable, and wishing to get back to the Internet. It becomes worse if there is a key stimulus, like someone typing on a keyboard. ... It would be like the alcoholic walking by the liquor store."

Kimberley says he has looked at people's on-line activities in terms of sexual expression and chat lines, and "it's not pretty." He says it appears to be quite intimate, but is actually quite superficial.

"It's a different type of personal boundary. It's personal, but it's not," he says, calling it an illusion.

Not only does Kimberley think Net addiction has increased, he believes the problem is getting worse. He figures it will continue intensifying as technology such as text messaging or Apple's new iPad grows and makes relating on the Internet more powerful. He points to a phenomenon he's observed at the university.

"You have students in professional courses, sitting in the back texting people while the course is going on. They can't stay away from the Internet for an hour-and-a-half class. ... You're kind of wondering what they are learning."

While some private counselling is available, Kimberley says the last time he checked, the public system doesn't offer anything to help those with Internet addiction. He'd like that to change.

"I think we really have to take a look at the public policies around mental health and addiction services, and include training for these folks as well as include Internet addiction."

sbartlett@thetelegram.com

Organizations: School of Social Work, Apple

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Recent comments

  • franklyn
    July 02, 2010 - 13:35

    wow. I hear you loud and clear.Be advised though tha t in the province of quebec they have de- tox centres for such immature people.

  • Pearl
    July 02, 2010 - 13:27

    I agree with the professor; there is a problem with people texting - in school, while driving, etc.
    One of my sons notes that in his driving school class, a lot of the kids are busy texting while the instructor is teaching. I have always wondered why school boards, and universities, have not yet made a policy on use of cellphones during classes. Personally, I think students should have to park their cellphones on the teachers' desk when they enter the classroom.
    And, excessive Internet usage is an addiction. When people prefer to spend time on Facebook, rather than quality time with their kids - or use the computer as a wasteful diversion from what really needs to be done - we have a social problem. And, sadly, I believe we are already there.

  • Cassandra
    July 02, 2010 - 13:26

    more horrible journalism, no real surprise here. to alex: sorry, but the internet isn't the problem, it's your wife - don't blame it on anyone else. I'm honestly amazed the anti-technology crew hasn't stormed the comments here yet. That social work professor is a joke too.

  • O MY
    July 02, 2010 - 13:23

    Are you kidding me?
    Maybe texting during your class demonstrates a need to change both your teaching style and content. Perhaps they are bored! What exactly are you teaching these students? That they do not need to take ownership of their actions and that everything in life can be blamed on someone or something else. The internet made me do it!!! I guess this is how you earn your paycheck, by rationalizing things so that your clients feel good about themselves and thereby keep returning.
    The internet perhaps was not to blame for this relationship break-up. The woman likely was unhappy in her marriage.
    You are suggesting more funding for internet addictions. Let also support funding for those who watch to much television, game, read to much, study to hard, play to often, or work to frequently. I bet if you had your way the government would grease your palm with every addiction out there. Then you would likely be really rich.
    Give me and the tax payers a break!!

  • bob
    July 02, 2010 - 13:21

    Yes get rid of Facebook, I have tried to delete my account 3 or 4 times but it keeps pulling me back. My wife plays those stupid farm and cafe games all the time it is driving me nuts.

  • Theresa
    July 02, 2010 - 13:20

    I agree the time spent on the net is definatly a problem for some, be it gamgling or chat line, but the biggest of them in my opinion would have to be facebook. I believe its an invasion of privicy, big time! I'm supprised there is not more people in court over things that are on there.

  • a
    July 02, 2010 - 13:19

    its not just sex on the internet though, there are so many things that keep people there ... gaming alone is a huge addiction.
    What people need to start realizing is that its not the thing that is the problem, addiction is addiction be it with alchol, drugs, gambling, internet - whatever. It doesnt matter what you are addicted to, the fact remains there is a problem - so stop trying to label things and take it for what it is.
    I laughed when i read:
    They sought counselling to see if he was the problem, he says, but it turned out the Internet was ;
    the internet is not the problem, thats like saying i just shot someone, but its totally the guns fault
    Obviously there was a reason this woman sought companionship on the internet, not saying it was anyones fault - we have to stop trying to lay blame on these inanimate objects - addiction is addiction - bottom line

  • Keener
    July 02, 2010 - 13:19

    Doug: One cannot be addicted to sex. If someone says they have a sex addiction, then they wouldn't hesitate to undergo such actions with the largest, dirtest, and ugliest people. An urge to do something from time to time, is not an addiction. Sexual Addiction is a term that has been introduced within the last number of years as a result of social influence. People are addicted to nicotine, drugs, alcohol and gambling since they have been available, therefore sex is a highly desried want at the best ... or worst (in terms of addiction) of times.

  • Doug
    July 02, 2010 - 13:16

    IMHO, sexual addiction is more to the point....the internet facilitates the exercise, it is the media...

  • Lost in
    July 02, 2010 - 13:15

    I agree there is an Internet addiction today with Facebook leading the way. I joined FB a few years ago and have recently deleted my account. It is the biggest waste of time I have ever experienced. It's all really silly stupid postings and I'm glad not to be part of it anymore. I realized that real time spent with family and friends is so much more rewarding than virtual time trying to sift through all the jargon and so-called friends you don't really know. I feel free again!!

  • Joey Oldford
    July 02, 2010 - 13:13

    I just wanted to point out the irony of reading an article about internet addiction on the internet.

  • franklyn
    July 01, 2010 - 20:25

    wow. I hear you loud and clear.Be advised though tha t in the province of quebec they have de- tox centres for such immature people.

  • Pearl
    July 01, 2010 - 20:15

    I agree with the professor; there is a problem with people texting - in school, while driving, etc.
    One of my sons notes that in his driving school class, a lot of the kids are busy texting while the instructor is teaching. I have always wondered why school boards, and universities, have not yet made a policy on use of cellphones during classes. Personally, I think students should have to park their cellphones on the teachers' desk when they enter the classroom.
    And, excessive Internet usage is an addiction. When people prefer to spend time on Facebook, rather than quality time with their kids - or use the computer as a wasteful diversion from what really needs to be done - we have a social problem. And, sadly, I believe we are already there.

  • Cassandra
    July 01, 2010 - 20:12

    more horrible journalism, no real surprise here. to alex: sorry, but the internet isn't the problem, it's your wife - don't blame it on anyone else. I'm honestly amazed the anti-technology crew hasn't stormed the comments here yet. That social work professor is a joke too.

  • O MY
    July 01, 2010 - 20:08

    Are you kidding me?
    Maybe texting during your class demonstrates a need to change both your teaching style and content. Perhaps they are bored! What exactly are you teaching these students? That they do not need to take ownership of their actions and that everything in life can be blamed on someone or something else. The internet made me do it!!! I guess this is how you earn your paycheck, by rationalizing things so that your clients feel good about themselves and thereby keep returning.
    The internet perhaps was not to blame for this relationship break-up. The woman likely was unhappy in her marriage.
    You are suggesting more funding for internet addictions. Let also support funding for those who watch to much television, game, read to much, study to hard, play to often, or work to frequently. I bet if you had your way the government would grease your palm with every addiction out there. Then you would likely be really rich.
    Give me and the tax payers a break!!

  • bob
    July 01, 2010 - 20:05

    Yes get rid of Facebook, I have tried to delete my account 3 or 4 times but it keeps pulling me back. My wife plays those stupid farm and cafe games all the time it is driving me nuts.

  • Theresa
    July 01, 2010 - 20:03

    I agree the time spent on the net is definatly a problem for some, be it gamgling or chat line, but the biggest of them in my opinion would have to be facebook. I believe its an invasion of privicy, big time! I'm supprised there is not more people in court over things that are on there.

  • a
    July 01, 2010 - 20:01

    its not just sex on the internet though, there are so many things that keep people there ... gaming alone is a huge addiction.
    What people need to start realizing is that its not the thing that is the problem, addiction is addiction be it with alchol, drugs, gambling, internet - whatever. It doesnt matter what you are addicted to, the fact remains there is a problem - so stop trying to label things and take it for what it is.
    I laughed when i read:
    They sought counselling to see if he was the problem, he says, but it turned out the Internet was ;
    the internet is not the problem, thats like saying i just shot someone, but its totally the guns fault
    Obviously there was a reason this woman sought companionship on the internet, not saying it was anyones fault - we have to stop trying to lay blame on these inanimate objects - addiction is addiction - bottom line

  • Keener
    July 01, 2010 - 20:01

    Doug: One cannot be addicted to sex. If someone says they have a sex addiction, then they wouldn't hesitate to undergo such actions with the largest, dirtest, and ugliest people. An urge to do something from time to time, is not an addiction. Sexual Addiction is a term that has been introduced within the last number of years as a result of social influence. People are addicted to nicotine, drugs, alcohol and gambling since they have been available, therefore sex is a highly desried want at the best ... or worst (in terms of addiction) of times.

  • Doug
    July 01, 2010 - 19:56

    IMHO, sexual addiction is more to the point....the internet facilitates the exercise, it is the media...

  • Lost in
    July 01, 2010 - 19:55

    I agree there is an Internet addiction today with Facebook leading the way. I joined FB a few years ago and have recently deleted my account. It is the biggest waste of time I have ever experienced. It's all really silly stupid postings and I'm glad not to be part of it anymore. I realized that real time spent with family and friends is so much more rewarding than virtual time trying to sift through all the jargon and so-called friends you don't really know. I feel free again!!

  • Joey Oldford
    July 01, 2010 - 19:50

    I just wanted to point out the irony of reading an article about internet addiction on the internet.