It’s not so much that the Internet has created a new chapter in the diagnostic manuals for psychiatrists and psychologists as much as it is that the Internet has exacerbated existing conditions. An addict is still an addict, regardless of his or her addictive thing-drugs, gambling, sex, gaming, etc.
A few years back, I wrote an article about Internet addiction, with the warning signs and symptoms of Internet addiction. That article, which you can read by clicking this link here, leads to a quiz you can take to tell if you have an Internet addiction.
Internet Addiction: Disability or Lack of Self-control?
Not long ago, I met someone who said she had a social anxiety disorder and an addiction to the Internet, including social networking and online gaming, including things like Facebook games: Farmville, Farm Town, Bejeweled Blitz, and more. This person was on government disability and seeking mental health treatment for these conditions. The immediate reaction some might have is to instantly balk at the thought of someone receiving disability monies to feed an ability to stay home and play games and talk on the computer all day.
After all, who wouldn’t want to get paid to chat with friends and play games? If I could write sometimes too, I’d love that gig.
Internet Addiction Vs. Social Anxiety Disorder
Social anxiety disorder can be crippling. In its extreme form, a person is afraid to even move around in their house without all shades and curtains drawn so no one outside could possibly see in. In its mild form, social anxiety disorder makes doing ordinary things-like grocery shopping, going to the doctor, attending a birthday party, going out to dinner-difficult at best. Even talking on the phone can cause panic for some.
But for some reason, a lot of people with social anxiety disorder find that the problems aren’t as strong when online. Sure, they may still have some trepidation about sending private emails or sending private instant messages, but places like MySpace and Facebook and Xanga appeal to someone with social anxiety, because of the open and anonymous nature of the Internet. The online social gaming, especially on Facebook, usually has some level of a social aspect to it as well. Plus, they are entertaining games.
The Internet Appeals to Those with Social Anxiety
So someone with a mild to moderate and undiagnosed social anxiety disorder, who has struggled with it, either knowingly or unknowingly, for months or years, comes onto Facebook and starts playing games and interacting with other people, and they instantly are hooked. For the first time since their anxiety struck, they are able to interact with people, have fun, all with the safety of the ‘off’ button on the computer just a push away if things get too intense. This is in stark contrast to real life, when you can’t simply push the off button of the people around you.
Because of this, it’s easy to see how someone who has previously struggled with social interaction but still in their own way needed and craved human interaction and pleasure, could almost instantly become dependent upon or ‘addicted’ to these social games. It’s not, in my mind, too much different from how people ‘self-medicate’, such as someone with ADHD eating sugar and drinking caffeine, or someone depressed eating chocolate-things that have substances in them that give the body a little something of what it needs.
These games are, in this sense, a little something of what someone with social anxiety disorder might need: friendship, when building friendships is difficult and scary; companionship, after years of feeling alone; safety, because the button is just a push away, and profiles can be deleted and new ones made; entertainment and fun, things that had previously been left to the more outgoing; pleasure, because we all need something that makes us feel good.
Internet Addiction Gone too Far
We’ve all probably joked at some point about being ‘addicted’ to something online, whether it be a forum we like, a website we interact in, a game we enjoy playing that sometimes takes up too much time when we should be doing something else. But what if that little ‘addiction’ we joke about became so large that it began negatively impacting our lives, to the point we were unable to function, such as paying the bills, taking care of children, feeding ourselves, and even personal hygiene?
When, as we have likely all seen at some point, someone tells another person on the Internet to ‘get a life’ and ‘get off the computer’, what if that person really isn’t able to do that, for whatever reason? Anything, even the Internet and online games, when taken to the extreme can become an addiction or an obsession.
What Are Your Thoughts about Internet and Gaming Addiction?
So the questions for you, and please put your comments in the comments box below, way down there, are these:
1. Do you believe someone can become addicted to the Internet, social networking and online gaming to the point it becomes a legitimate disability?
2. If so, does that person deserve disability payments, the same as someone who is disabled from severe anxiety or severe depression is eligible?
3. Alcoholics have to go cold turkey, drug addicts have to be weaned off and then never use again… do you think it’s possible for an Internet addict to ever use the Internet appropriately, or will it always feed their addiction?
4. If they can’t even use the Internet appropriately, how will they ever survive in a world that’s nearly Internet dependent, with their ‘drug of choice’ (the Internet), blasted in their faces nearly every day, on television, on the radio, with advertisers asking people to visit their websites, to commercials in newspapers, magazines, and people talking about it constantly, cellular phones that are Internet ready, and more?
Share your thoughts about Internet gaming addiction, Internet addiction, and more in the comments below. We look forward to hearing what you have to say.