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Therapeutic issues with internet addicted clients

By Kimberly Young


Internet addiction is a new area of clinical practice and this article outlines sub-types and intervention techniques associated with Internet addiction recovery to assist therapists in assessment and treatment planning with this population.

Internet addiction is typically defined as an impulse-control disorder that does not involve an intoxicant. Common symptoms include: a preoccupation with Internet use, lying about behavior, psychological withdrawal when offline, jeopardizing significant relationship, job, educational or career opportunities because of the Internet, and an inability to control use. Associated features of this disorder include sleep depravation, moderate physical complaints such as back strain, eyestrain, carpal tunnel syndrome and frequent time distortion when using the Internet.

Internet Addiction is a broad term covering a wide-variety of behaviors and impulse-control problems that is further categorized in five specific sub-types based upon the application that triggers the compulsion:

1. Cybersexual Addiction

Individuals who suffer from Cybersexual addiction typically are either engaged in viewing, downloading, and trading online pornography or involved in adult fantasy role-play chat rooms.

2. Cyber-Relational Addiction

Individuals who suffer from Chat Room Addiction become over-involved in online relationships or may engage in virtual adultery. Online friends quickly become more important to the individual often at the expense of real life relationships with family and friends. In many instances, this will lead to marital discord and family instability.

3. Net-Compulsions

Net Compulsions encompass a broad category of behaviours including obsessive online gambling, shopping, or stock trading behaviors. In particular, individuals will utilize virtual casinos, e-auction houses, or e-brokerage houses only to lose excessive amounts of money and even disrupt other job-related duties or significant relationships.

4. Information Overload

The wealth of data available on the World Wide Web has created a new type of compulsive behavior regarding excessive web surfing and database searches. Individuals will spend greater amounts of time searching and collecting data from the web and organizing information. Obsessive-compulsive tendencies and reduced work productivity are typically associated with this behavior.

5. Computer Addiction

In the 80s, computer games such as Solitaire and Minesweeper were programmed into computers and researchers found that obsessive computer game playing became problematic in organizational settings as employees spent most days playing rather than working.

While most agree that the Internet is a productive tool, research findings document serious negative consequences when used in an addictive manner (e.g., Griffiths, 1997; Morhan-Martin, 1997; Scherer, 1997; Young, 1997a, 1997b, 1998a, 1998b, 1999). Compulsive use of the Internet is often associated with increased social isolation, increased clinical depression, familial discord, divorce, academic failure, job loss, or significant financial debt as a result of obsessive online gambling, shopping, or day trading.


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