Last week, in a private
rehabilitation clinic outside Edinburgh, Leo Edwards, a sixteen-year-old
schoolboy, was going through severe withdrawal symptoms. His body often shook
violently and uncontrollably, and at mealtimes he regularly threw cups and
plates around the dining room. The boy's addiction had nothing to do with
alcohol, drugs, gambling or food. His problem was 'Net obsession'— an
over-dependency on the Internet.
An international group of
psychologists has recently suggested that anyone who surfs the Internet for
long periods is clinically ill and needs medical treatment. According to their
report, Internet addicts should be treated in the same way as alcoholics, drug
addicts, compulsive gamblers and people with eating disorders.
Leo Edwards is not an isolated
case. Russell Hopkins, aged fifteen, from Gateshead in north-east England, is a
typical online addict.
Every day after school, and
after dinner until three or four in the morning, he will be found in his room
surfing the Net or playing computer games. By the end of the day he will have
spent more than six hours online. Understandably, his parents are extremely
worried. Not only has his school work suffered, but Russell's addiction has
also destroyed his social life and his spare-time interests. For instance, he
has just dropped out of his school's basketball team in order to spend more
time at his computer. Instead of spending next weekend having a good time out
with friends, he'll be spending it indoors surfing the Internet.
Russell has recently joined an
Internet online support group. It may seem ironic that many of the support
groups for Internet addicts are online but at least Russell has sought help.
Not everyone does. Dr Ann Hoffman, who runs an online support group, says,
"People don't realise that being online for more than four hours a day
amounts to addiction and that they have a serious problem. I predict that the
number of people who join online support groups will have risen dramatically
within three years."