One modern addiction risk that could not have been imagined twenty years ago is the compulsive use of the Internet. Though significant clinical disagreement exists about whether or not excessive or compulsive Internet use qualifies as an actual addiction, many potentially addictive behaviors offline such as gambling, sex, shopping, and gaming can be fueled and enabled by Internet access. There are several reasons for a compulsive or excessive computer user to get help.
Internet Addiction Can Destroy Relationships
Many people find the anonymity and relatively shallow interaction of social networking sites to be more comfortable and controllable than the sometimes awkward world of real interaction. People can reinvent themselves online with ease and may engage in risky behavior behind the cloak of protection they believe the Internet provides. Compulsive Internet use often causes isolation from real-life friends and family which can lead to depression and loneliness.
Internet Addiction Can Cause Loss of Employment
Compulsive Internet use has compromised many people’s jobs. Frequent use of social networking sites is now causing a significant decrease in productivity in the workplace, and employers are working to stem that with stricter policies related to on-the-job use of the Internet. A person who cannot resist their urge to get online may run the risk of unemployment.
Pornography and Sex Addiction Relate to Internet Use
The ease of access to sexual materials that the computer age has brought is problematic. Internet pornography is more commonplace than adult bookstores, magazines, strip clubs, or films. Sex addiction is powerful and destructive to real-life relationships and may lead to increased risky sexual behavior offline as well.
Internet Gambling Addiction Relates to Internet Use
Compulsive gambling is a real and well-documented behavioral addiction that can be fueled by the ease of access and lack of constraints afforded by the Internet. Gambling activities that were once available only to visitors of casinos or illegal gambling houses are now easily accessible from the comfort of a person’s own home.
Shopping Addiction Relates to Internet Use
The Internet makes it possible for a person to have a private shopping mall available 24 hours a day. As with other behavioral addictions practiced online the anonymity of the experience allows people to hide their destructive behavior from friends and loved ones for a much longer time. The advent of paying real dollars for “virtual” goods in online games is also a real problem for compulsive spenders, as they no longer have to hide mountains of the actual merchandise.
Internet Addiction Creates the Potential for Depression and Substance Abuse
Compulsive behaviors often lead to personal frustration or even depression. These may be self-medicated through alcohol or drug abuse. Suicidal thoughts or actions are also possible. These risks along with the financial, professional, and relational destruction brought on by compulsive Internet use make this a serious problem that requires professional therapeutic help to overcome.