New research from Nottingham Trent University seems to confirm suspicions that surfing the Internet is as addictive as alcohol.
Senior psychology lecturer Dr Mark Griffiths, who is to present a paper on Internet addiction to the US Psychological Association conference in Chicago on 18 August, said Net addicts showed the same symptoms as alcoholics. "These include withdrawal symptoms, severe mood swings, irritability and unsociability," Griffiths said.
Daily patterns similar to those of alcoholics were also noted in the study. "Alcoholics need a drink in the morning to 'kick start' them into action and go on an escapist binge in the evening. Internet addicts may log on in the morning for a buzz and get a high when they see their email or start to surf the Net. Then they will spend the evening surfing to escape," Griffiths said.
But he added that only a minority of users could now suffer from Internet addiction - he estimates less than half a per cent - but predicted that addiction could become a major social problem as Internet use widens. He was particularly concerned about the effects on teenagers, who would find such a dependency harder to shake.
The research is based on case studies and interviews with 'Net addicts' throughout the country. One self-confessed addict, Monica Willoughby of Nottingham, said that she found that she could easily surf for more than 12 hours a day and if she did not get a 'fix' she could suffer acute depression.
"It had reached a point that I did not care how much it cost me, I had to surf," she admitted. "My phone and ISP bills were horrendous and in some cases I did not have enough to eat because I had to pay them or lose my access to the Net."
The addiction was cured by wiping ISP software from the computer and Willoughby going cold turkey.
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