When the Internet had become popular initially, few would have thought that this medium of effective communication and acquisition of knowledge could lead to addiction. But, while those who are already on the way to turning into addicts may not agree, Internet addiction has become a major problem in urban areas where journeying through cyberspace has become a part of day-to-day living.
In a study conducted by the Indian Journal of Psychiatry, the prevalence of Internet addiction in Indian colleges was calculated. The study divided the results of the users into three groups:
- 74.5% moderate users,
- 24.8% possible addicts, and
- 0.7% addicts.
Those towards the addict part of the spectrum had high anxiety, depression, and anxiety depression score. Nights spent surfing the net had affected dietary and sleeping patterns, resulting in poor health.
Sanjay Bhagat, co-ordinator at Muktangan Mitra, a Pune-based NGO which works towards the rehabilitation of addicts, confirms that the number of Internet addicts is on the rise due to online gaming, gambling, and social networking. Bhagat mentions a case of a teenager from Kolhapur in Maharashtra: “Being the only son of well-to-do software professionals, he was given his own credit card for expenses. He hardly used the Internet in the presence of his parents. At nights, he would sneak out of the house with his credit card to join friends, and indulge in online gambling. This went on for some time until they were caught by the police while on surveillance duty.”
Bhagat believes that cases mostly consist of adolescents and young students working part time. IT professionals, however, cannot be counted, as extensive usage of the Net is part of their job. Moreover, IT companies have firewalls which block access to social networking and a few other selected sites. Only a small percentage of cases are detected on time and receive actual treatment, partly because Internet addiction is conceptually new. Awareness, therefore, is nowhere near as widespread as it ought to be. “It’s also a disease of denial,” Bhagat adds when asked how symptoms can be recognized. “Most addicts tend to access Internet in the nights and deny it as against normal users who confirm their usage details.”
Today, services offered by all kinds of sites are simply mind-boggling; in fact, there is nothing we cannot do and enjoy should we seek to explore it patiently. The flip side of the situation is that many people are so used to accessing the Internet for things right from shopping, gaming, and social networking to gambling that addiction for any self-indulgent user turns into a grave possibility. The most vulnerable age group is that of youth between 16 and 22 years. Among them is a huge number of those who surf the Net constantly, chatting with friends, uploading photographs, and changing status messages. They enter Farmville, go fishing, flap their wings with world’s most famous birds all through the night, and capture rare pokemons at office, at dinner, at movies and locations unimaginable.
The biggest problem with Internet addiction is that unlike alcoholism, the impact of which is transparent – mainly due to ragged social behavior – psychological dependence on the former is hardly distinguishable. There are no drastic superficial changes, and it requires an expert’s eye and an individual’s admission to cure the problem of being unable to do without the Internet during every waking moment of one’s life. Due to a number of emerging mobile apps which facilitate chatting, sharing, and free video calling, a significantly large slice of population is hooked on to the virtual world.
This could be blamed on the lifestyles wherein parents who work find very little quality time for their children. Absence of company in the real world leads to refuge in the virtual world. Moreover, using cell phones has become synonymous with maturity, status, recreation, and personality enhancement. “Society is to be blamed for setting such trends which the youth are bound to follow and get habituated to. Again, one cannot distinguish between addictive usage in the rural and urban areas. After all, mobiles are used by everyone now and people from small towns migrate to cities for education and employment. In the end, they are taking it all back to where they come from,” says Bhagat.
Peer pressure is one major reason for Internet addiction. What my friends do, I too must: this philosophy rubs off on youngsters who can become addicted in the long run. “I had to get an account on Whatsapp. All my friends used to discuss stories, plan meetups, and have fun on the group chats. It made me feel outdated,” claims media freelancer Papiya Ghoshal. Ashish Shelke, a businessman, argues: “If you aren’t on Facebook, then you’re classified as weird and secretive. Facebook and Whatsapp help in maintaining contacts. You can’t really term that as addiction.” Alas, verbal defence mechanisms cannot conceal the fact that the problem does exist.
Once Internet addiction is identified, one has to seek proper professional treatment. In order to assess one’s degree of dependency, one can analyse and monitor one’s net usage. The good news is that a number of free internet addiciton tests are available online. These are in the form of questionnaires which, if truthfully answered, give results in the form of scores. These scores help in getting an insight into one’s usage habits so as to decipher between the categories of moderation, possible addiction, and addiction itself. Sites such as www.globaladdiction.org or www.healthyplace.com, and provide with such tests for any individual wanting to know where he or she actually stands.
Psychologist and counselor Geeta Chandwadkar emphasizes that prohibition is not the solution. “The only solution to net addiction is counseling. The stages of treatment consist of abstinence, surrender, and acceptance of the problem, which shall finally lead to relief.” On abstinence, the patients tend to become subdued in most cases. Some, on the other hand, tend to get restless or irritable.” In very few extreme cases of depression or hypertension is medication suggested and administered to patients. Otherwise, no drugs are necessary. Sessions for the parents are also included as part of the process.
The high of Internet addiction can have a serious impact on the human mind. Those who suspect they have a problem must seek counseling before the situation spirals out of control. Finding a solution isn’t impossible, as long as the individual makes an honest admission instead of hiding behind evasion.
Note: This is an article that I’d written and previously published in the Sahara Time Weekly national magazine. However, since the website no more exist, I’ve edited and presented the work for my readers.