Computer addiction Newspaper articles
HARVARD GAZETTE ARCHIVES
By William J. Cromie
Luci could not wait to get in front of her computer. It took the divorced mother away from two demanding children and the drudgery of housework. She could play absorbing games, chat with appealing people, "travel, " gamble, even have fantasy sex.
When her ex-husband visited their children, he saw that they were being neglected. He discovered that Luci (not her real name) spent 10 or more hours a day on the Web.
The husband sued for custody of the children. The court agreed with his claim that Luci's excessive use of the computer was abnormal. She lost custody of the children.
Maressa Hecht Orzack, a Harvard University psychologist, cites this true case as an example that computer addiction is real and a growing problem. As founder and director of Computer Addiction Services at McLean Hospital, a Harvard-affiliated teaching hospital in Belmont, Mass., she receives messages every day from people who ask for help or want information about the signs of computer addiction.
"It's an emerging disorder, " Orzack says, "suffered by people who find the virtual reality on computer screens more attractive than everyday reality. Health-care specialists, school counselors, corporate executives, and families have begun to notice the aberrant behavior and mental health problems of computer addicts. They feel unhappy when they are away from the machine. Some try unsuccessfully to stop using it. Many of them spend constantly-increasing amounts of time and money on computers, often neglecting their families and work. Then they compound the problem by denying it."
"It's a new and serious addiction not too many people know about, " says Carol Steinman of Harvard University's Faculty and Staff Assistance Program. "In the past year and a half, we have seen this problem among people of all ages."
Symptoms and Surveys
Orzack herself knows how easy it can be to become addicted. A few years ago, she was trying to teach herself to use a new software program. When frustrated with trying to understand the manuals, Orzack escaped to playing solitaire on the machine.
"I've always liked the game and I started spending more and more time with it, " she recalls.
Soon, Orzack avoided her primary reason for being on the machine. She started staying up late and spending less time at work.
"I have a lot of experience with impulse control problems, like gambling and eating disorders, so I realized what I was getting into, " she admits.
Orzack started treating herself by placing limits on the amount of time she played, rather than staying at a game until rewarded by winning. "It's one of the strategies I use with patients, " she notes.
At first, people thought Orzack was crazy when she talked about people becoming addicted to computers. But several articles in scientific journals and newspapers, as well as anecdotal evidence, convinced her that other professionals were concerned about the problem. Recently, a new scientific journal devoted to this subject, called Cyber Psychology and Behavior, was started
No one knows how big the problem is. Several research groups have tried to measure it but without notable results. "Many addicts don't admit it, " notes Orzack, "or they're not aware of it. There isn't a good definition of what is normal and what is pathological use."
Here is Orzack's list of the signs and symptoms:
In addition, addicts often have problems such as skipping meals, repetitive stress injuries, backaches, dry eyes, headaches, and loss of sleep.
One 14-year-old boy e-mailed Orzack begging her for help. "I have been a computer addict since I was 11, " he wrote. He said his grades went from 3.8, when he wasn't using the computer much, to 1.3. He told her he missed meals, suffered backaches, lost track of time, went to bed late, and fell asleep in school.
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