Advisor: Are you an Internet addict?

IMG_0511.JPG You spend a lot of time online. Maybe it comes with the job. Maybe your idea of a perfect weekend is to be perched in front of your computer reading blogs, buying shit you don't need on Amazon, Tweeting and Facebooking, or surfing YouPorn. But at what point are you considered a bona fide Internet addict? To find out, I called up a psychologist and a fancy rehab center who specialize in this type of thing. I must admit there was a part of me that went into reporting this story with a smirk. Internet addiction? Aren't we all Internet addicts to some extent? And then I talked to Coleen Moore of the Illinois Institute of Addiction Recovery, who told me that 20% of all addicts who check into the rehab center are there for Internet addiction. Some of them use drugs along with the Internet so they can stay awake and online longer, and others get urinary tract infections or wet themselves because they don't want to take bathroom breaks. Carpal tunnel and eye strain are only the tip of the iceberg. For some, Internet addiction is a very real psychological issue that calls for medical help.
The compulsion to be online all the time is slightly different than more conventional addictions like alcoholism and prescription drugs, says Dr. Kimberly Young, a clinical psychologist who runs the web site "It's not quantitative," she says. "It's not like you can measure how much they're drinking." And while it's more common in people who have other mental health conditions to begin with — staving off depression by surfing online porn, for example — the accessibility of the Internet has also spawned a new population of addicts. "A lot of patients describe situations like this: 'I never thought about porn but then I found it online, and the more I found the more I wanted it,'" says Dr. Young. "It's something very specific to cyberspace — they don't have to go to the adult bookstore in town, it's just right in their rooms." When Young started treating Internet addiction in 1994, the biggest problem people saw her for was day trading. Now, there are more addicts who show up (voluntarily, or at the heels of concerned parents) for online gaming. "World of Warcraft and Everquest seem to be the ones that individuals identify most often," says Moore, who is the admissions manager at the Illinois Institute. These addicts typically stay at the Institute for 30-90 days, paying up to $1200 a day (though many insurance plans cover at least part of it) to follow the same treatment program that alcoholics and sex addicts go through. "We have a philosophy here that an addiction is an addiction, and that those who suffer from gambling or sex or Internet or alcohol can all learn from one another," Moore says. There's no concrete definition of what qualifies you as an Internet addict. And because the Internet is such a prevalent part of everyday life now, complete abstinence isn't usually an option. Instead of trying to gauge your addiction level by how long you're online, you're supposed to be looking more at whether your Internet usage is affecting the way you perform in other parts of your life. Are you getting in trouble at work? Is your partner leaving you? Are you forgetting to shower, eat, and pee? If so, you might want to consider getting help. "An addiction is an addiction," Young says. "It doesn't matter if it's porn or the Internet." Or, for that matter, if it's porn and the Internet. You can take Dr. Young's Internet addiction test here. Advisor is a column about how to juggle technology, relationships, and common sense. Got a story to tell? Email me at lisa [at] boingboing [dot] net.


  1. Not sure why this is news or even remotely controversial. Any activity that can possibly give a person pleasure can be considered “addictive”, including exercise and productive work.

  2. I reguarly get tanked whilst surfing for pr0n, but then spend hours reading wikipedia, filling out customer service questionnaires and playing online poker.

    Not addicted, just unemployed.

  3. Wow, that addiction test is comedy gold. I choked on my coffee when I got to

    “How often do you block out disturbing thoughts about your life with soothing thoughts of the Internet?”

    The internet: now more soothing.

    1. The internet: now more soothing.

      It seems funny phrased that way, but try “distracting thoughts about something on the Internet” – whether it’s the best upgrade combination for your WoW character and guild politics, or that story you read on Boing Boing (and the associated raging comment thread that’s got your dander up).

      When I went through my severe depression, I didn’t become an Internet addict, but I was severely avoidant, so I can see how it works. It’s actually a LOT like obsessive-compulsive disorder: You think about something that disturbs you; you don’t like feeling like that, you go find something to distract you, and you do it mono-maniacally so you can’t think about the thing that’s disturbing you.

      What I was avoiding was the fact that I was totally freeking miserable and had no good explanation for being totally freeking miserable. I sunk myself into reading books, mass email discussion lists, roleplaying games, computer programming, all sorts of distractions. If I’d focused on the mass email discussion lists, I could have turned into an Internet addict.

  4. Interesting article. I’ve heard of internet addiction but avoided any and all info on it because I was afraid it would hit a bit too close to home. I’m glad to have some reassurance that I’m not addicted. Most of my classes, even though my college is local, are online.

    But there are always those who take things to the extreme. We Americans are so sensitive to the naked human body, when we get old enough to seek our fantasies online it’s no wonder we become addicted.

  5. Wow, I got a 46 on that test, even though I did the more-honest-than-honest thing and ticked every box +1 of what I was going to tick in the first place.

  6. I only scored a 31 on their internet-addiction test, but I don’t think that’s accurate. When I go out for fun, I tend to pick places based on whether or not they have free wifi. When I travel, I pick hotels with net access. I get uncomfortable and paranoid when I can’t log on for a couple days. My hobbies and social life are very tied to the internet, so when I’m offlined for a long time it feels like temporarily losing use of a limb.

  7. I scored 38.

    I know I spend too much time online (like right now), and sometimes I know I ought to be doing other things, but it’s generally not a big deal. I put off doing the housework for half an hour, but still do it. I leave 5 minutes later than planned to meet friends. I check my email far too often. I browse the web at work too much.

    I think the worst effect on my life is not trying new things. I keep meaning to get some new hobbies, but browsing the web and thinking about it is too easy.

  8. I played a mmporg for a while (about a year) and witnessed a lot of deranged and disturbed behaviors from other players who were seemingly always online and ridiculously obsessive about in game relationships (It wasn’t much fun when I had a guildie who was talking about killing himself). Eventually I had just had to stop because it was taking too much time out of my life.

  9. Well, I got a score of 28 which I find mildly surprising, since I am online most of the time.

    Actually, that seems to be one of the biggest assumptions of the test: That you are sitting on a computer for the sake of being online. Which, in my experience, is a little outdated.

    Even when I program something (or work on my photos, or make a presentation, etc) I’m “online”. This is 2009 after all – the net’s always there, thanks to wifi. And since I sync and backup files online, I’m not going to “log off” for the sake of fulfilling some geezer’s ideas on what “being online” means. Note that I’m above 40).

    And do I “check” e-mail? Both yes and no. On the one hand, I get mail pushed on my iPhone which beeps (or not). I know that something has arrived that probably warrants attentions – because all other mail gets silently sorted into folders which I check once a day or a week.

  10. After a few clicks I found the test people talked about, and it suffers from a few problems.

    How often do you try to cut down the amount of time you spend on-line and fail?“, for example. The answers are:
    Rarely, Occasionally, Frequently, Often, Always, Does Not Apply.

    “Does not apply” because you never try? “Does not apply because you never fail if and when you do try”?

    How often do you try to hide how long you’ve been on-line?
    “Does not apply” because you never talk to anyone, or “Does not apply” because you hide it from all your social contacts? “Always” because you never mention it, or “Never” because it never comes up?

    I sincerely doubt the test takes that into account, s frankly it’s somewhere between a bit of internet fun and complete poppycock.

  11. I think this, like many other things, can and should be considered an addiction. I think it’s hard for some people who use the internet every day to see the line between boredom and addiction. I feel like part of the definition of addiction is the avoidance of bad feelings/thoughts, and once you get into that, addiction can be a lot of things. It’s the extent to which it interferes with your life that really makes it a problem. I haven’t clicked on the link, but it’s an interesting subject to bring up.

  12. Interesting quiz. It seems like much of the quiz is about being ashamed of being online. I spend most of my waking hours online (work and home) but that’s just what I do and I don’t feel bad about it or try to hide or avoid it, so I scored a meager 38.

  13. there is a big difference between physical and psychological addictions. the later one can be very very strong, but if addicted person finds something to replace it, it can be gone instantly. but for the former one replacement does not work.
    for example if one is addicted to video games, but somehow got introduced to skydiving and likes it a lot, so much that he would want to do that more and more, the addiction to video games will be gone.
    but if one is addicted to nicotine and tries a stronger drug, the addict will not quit smoking, no matter how strong the second addiction is.

    addiction to internet is psycological

  14. “Maybe your idea of a perfect weekend is to be perched in front of your computer reading blogs, buying shit you don’t need on Amazon, Tweeting and Facebooking, or surfing YouPorn.” – Sounds like a dude I dated. Lol.

  15. When something better comes up, in real life, I just turn off the computer. When nothing better is coming up, the internet can be pretty damn entertaining, and the pr0n is about the same than what’s available at my local retail outlet – but without ever visiting the creepy pr0n store.

  16. Just 44? Oh well. I went in thinking anything above 30 was going to be high, seeing the other scores here, but guess not.

    @3: My favourite phrase was “fantasizing about being online.” I guess there aren’t many other ways to put it, but “fantasize” just seems so strong.

  17. 58? i feel like a fuck up for having the highest score on a boing boing comment section. especially when i’m supposed to be writing an intel paper.

    1. Thanks for existing, dude. I was starting to feel a bit freaked out by my 51, when all these wusses were scoring in the 20s, but I’m glad you have me beat.

      Thing is: I only see net.dependency as a problem if it makes me sad. As it’s given me a job and a wife and happiness and a calling and opportunities to express myself and to help people, then, well, dependency can be a good thing!

  18. and others get urinary tract infections or wet themselves because they don’t want to take bathroom breaks.

    Come on people, this has not been a problem since laptops were invented. See also

  19. Was I taking the same survey as everyone else? Sheesh, the first time I took it I got 76. Then, thinking I was just being overly cynical with my answers, took it again and got 74. Finally I took it a third time, which I felt I was answering very conservatively, and ended up with a score of 69. Though, I suppose the simple fact that I took the time to retake an Internet Addiction Survey a total of three separate times is, in and of itself, proof of said Internet Addiction. Congratulations!

  20. I find the prospect of being an internet addict interesting, wondering if it is really even possible to have an addiction to the internet, instead of the content that the internet offers. The internet just provides a gateway to material that is normally known to be addicting, such as pornography, gaming, or gambling. If you are addicted to internet porn, you are not an internet addict–you are a porn addict. Same goes for gambling and gaming. If you can’t stop playing online poker, you are a compulsive gambler, and if you can’t stop playing World of Warcraft, you are a compulsive gamer. If you can’t help yourself and constantly buy random crap off of ebay, you are a compulsive spender.

    I guess if you can’t stay away from the internet just for the sake of being online, you qualify as an addict. But given that the internet basically runs our lives, we are all addicted. Whenever the internet is down, we go through withdrawl because we need it. God forbid our ability to check our email or facebook is restricted. It is a perceived need, as we will still be able to continue breathing without it, but a very important one.

  21. I love how an internet addiction test is online. Totally defeats the purpose, I am lmfao.

    Anyways, I got a 43. I’m on too much, but not addicted I guess. I do get yelled at for being on too much a lot though, lulz.

    1. It’s like an alcoholism test in a bar. I see no problem with it. On the contrary, that’s the best place to put something like that.

  22. By the standard put down in this test, most people in the western world are also addicted to their jobs.

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