By Sacrifice Chirisa
Ten years ago, the only people who spent a majority of their leisure time on the computer were paid members of the technology industry.
Today, however, surfing the Web has become a pastime as social and marketable as bar hopping or going to the movies.
As the web has become a part of mainstream life, some mental health professionals have noted that a percentage of people using the web do so in a compulsive and out-of-control manner.
As in other addictions, a person becomes compulsively dependent upon a particular kind of stimulation to the point where obtaining a steady supply of that stimulation becomes the sole and central focus of their lives.
The addict increasingly neglects his work duties, relationships and ultimately even his health in his drive to remain stimulated.
As in some cases of addiction (such as addiction to alcohol or to heroin), a phenomenon known as tolerance occurs; wherein more and more stimulation is required to produce the same pleasurable effect.
Those users who do go on to show compulsive Internet utilisation, for the most part become compulsive only with regard to particular types of information to be had online, most often gambling, pornography, chat room or shopping sites.
This is not an addiction to the Internet itself, but rather to risk-taking, sex, socialising or shopping. Symptoms or behaviours that when present indicate Internet addiction include:
l Preoccupation with the Internet: User often thinks about the Internet while he or she is offline.
l Loss of control: Addicted users feel unable or unwilling to get up from the computer and walk away and end up staying online for hours.
l Inexplicable sadness or moodiness when not online: Dependency causes mood-altering side effects when the addicted user is separated from the activity
l Dishonesty in regard to Internet use: Addicts may end up lying to employers or family members about the amount of time they spend online, and conceal the amount
l Loss of boundaries or inhibitions: While this often pertains to romantic or sexual boundaries, such as sharing sexual fantasies online or participating in cyber sex, inhibitions can also be financial or social. Online gambling sites can cause addicts to blow more money than they would in a real-life
l Creation of virtual intimate relationships with other Internet users: Web-based relationships often cause those involved to spend excessive amounts of time online, attempting to make connections and date around the Net
l Loss of a significant relationship due to Internet use: When users spend too much time on the Web, they often neglect their personal relationships.
Internet addiction needs to be treated just like any other addiction best done at addiction clinics.
Dr Sacrifice Chirisa is a passionate mental health specialist at Parirenyatwa Hospital, one of the country’s major referral centres