Internet Addiction
By: Pulkit Sharma

DrGaurav (name changed) spends most of his time in the day on internet. He hates to shut down his computers and starts feeling lonely and empty when he is away from the computer. If not logged on, he keeps on fantasizing about his lovely internet world. There has been a sharp decline in his grades, he hardly bothers to study. He keeps to himself and prefers being alone in his room. Among his best companions and buddies are the people he meets in internet chat rooms, people whom he has not even met once. There is often a huge argument between him and his parents over internet usage and he threatens dire consequences if made to separate from the internet. If he gets up in the middle of the night he makes it sure to log on and surf the net for a while before going off to sleep.

Recently, I have been seeing cases that are either brought in by parents or come on their own for psychological treatment to get rid of an addiction to the internet. Although internet usage adds both spice and utility to our life for some individuals it is fast becoming a drug. These people are fascinated by virtual worlds and often disregardthe real world. They suffer from Internet Addiction Syndrome.

Internet addicts neglect family, friends and important real relationships. They try to spend maximum time online and abandon other important areas of their life such as studies, hobbies, sports, work and relationships. When away from the computer they experience an intense longing, sadness, emptiness and irritability and wish to come back as soon as possible. They may suffer from a gamut of physical and psychological problems including: carpal tunnel syndrome, headaches, backaches, sleep disturbances, itchiness in eyes, depression, anxiety and irritability. A very important feature that complicates the matter is denial. People addicted tointernetare unable to see it as a problem. They come up with a number of arguments to justify their behavior such as 'everyone does it, it is harmless', 'you are boring and conventional and therefore cannot appreciate the joys of cyberspace', 'it just helps me relax and unwind', etc. Many individuals addicted to internet feel helpless as whenever they try to restrict their internet usage, they experience a loss of control as a typical drug addict experiences while trying to abstain from the drug. They experience a sense of emptiness which compels them to go back to the virtual world.

Why someone gets addicted to internet while others do not is a complex issue. Although people tend to view internet addiction as a straightforward undesirable habit or behavior it may not be so simple. People who develop addictions experience intense emotional distress that they are unable to tolerate. Commonly experienced emotional states include loneliness, boredom, rage, frustration and sadness.A compulsive internet usage allows the addict to 'forget' these painful emotions for the time being.Some of the internet addicts are trapped in an endless cycle: they feel intense frustration, emptiness and boredom at the core of their self and wish to escape from this sense by seeking the excitement that the internet provides. However once they get back to the real world they feel deep despair as they realize that the excitement and happiness was illusory and the demands of real world confront them. This heightens the sense of frustration and emptiness and they get back to the internet for relief. Often, an important factor leading to internet addiction is when someone does not feel comfortable with certain aspects their self. While these parts of self are never expressed in the real world, internet with its anonymity provides a safer environment for expression of prohibited needs and desires. For instance, it is a surprise to see weak and timid individuals indulging in internet aggression where they ruthlessly abuse and try to overpower other people through words.

The Real vs. Virtual
The degree of discrepancy between a person's face-to-face real life and the life in the cyberspace also determines whether internet usage is problematic or not. If the real world and virtual world bring up almost two different kinds of existence for a person and there are hardly any links between the two lives then the internet usage is pathological. However, if a person is able to integrate internet world in their day-to-day life things may not be so problematic. Integrating the two worlds means that the person feels free to share what they do on the internet with their close ones; they feel comfortable in revealing their real identity on the internet; they make an attempt to meet the internet friends in person and have their real life friends on the chatting lists.

Dealing with Internet Addiction
If you or someone close to you has internet addiction then it is important to realize that it is not simply a bad habit. Trying to restrict the internet usage or blaming the individual is often counterproductive. These attempts invariably make the person enraged. The addiction is serving a purpose for the individual. It may be helping them in dealing with painful emotions or allowing them to gratify the needs and desires that they feel scared to express in the real world. A successful psychological treatment for internet addiction therefore starts with efforts to understand the function of the addiction in the life of the person and gradually build up alternate coping strategies to deal with underlying issues.

Pulkit Sharma is Clinical Psychologist & Psychoanalytical Therapist at Imago- Centre for Self, Delhi. Email:- info@thepsychologistindia.com