For an ever-growing population, the Internet can be a powerful-and oftentimes dangerous-addiction. But despite warnings of a rising trend of Internet addiction, especially among the college-aged and younger, Northern’s computer-savvy campus has yet to show a noticeable increase in cases.
“I just don’t see it a lot,” said Thomas Stanger, director of Counseling and Consultation Services at NMU. “I know it gets talked about some, but I just don’t get many people that come in to deal with Internet addiction.”
The topic of Internet addiction may be gaining prominence once again, after an editorial in the March issue of the American Journal of Psychiatry called for Internet addiction to be formally recognized in the health community. The editorial, written by Dr. Jerald Block, points to Internet addiction as a quickly emerging disorder and one that should be included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.
Block writes that those suffering from Internet addiction deal with the same symptoms: excessive use, withdrawal symptoms, tolerance (or the need for a longer or better Internet experience) and clear negative repercussions from Internet use.
He also indicates that the problem may be world-wide, noting that in 2006, the South Korean government estimated that 210,000 children between the ages of six and 19 needed treatment for Internet addiction.
South Korea has now trained more than 1,000 Internet addiction counselors and is beginning to enforce laws limiting computer game use.
And although a case of Internet addiction is rare on NMU’s campus, Stanger said that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s not a problem.
“I think, in general, it means the people that are [addicted] aren’t coming to counseling for it,” he said. “The people that come into the counseling center are really a small subset of the university population. It’s more likely that people that are dealing with that are probably talking to each other or talking to no one.”
In her article, “Surfing Not Studying: Dealing with Internet Addiction on Campus,” Dr. Kimberly Young writes that students often don’t realize or aren’t willing to admit they have a problem.
“Most students laugh off any suggestion that they’re becoming psychologically dependent on the feelings they get from playing games and chat rooms,” she writes.
Young, who is the executive director of the Center for Online Addiction, also gave a list of factors that contribute to Internet addiction on college campuses, including large blocks of unstructured time and unlimited Internet access.
NMU Health Promotion Specialist Lenny Shible deals with substance abuse on campus and often deals with the concept of addiction. But he also notes a lack of Internet addiction cases at NMU.
“We have people that stop by the office periodically-not often-that ask questions about various types of problems with substances,” he said. “And I have never had anyone come in the door, in the nine years I’ve been here, that has asked about Internet addiction.”
Shible said that a major problem with treating or avoiding addiction is in limiting the addictive substance. That becomes near impossible at NMU, where every student has their own laptop.
“Someone with a food problem is going to have more of a challenge because you can’t walk away from food,” he said. “I would assume on a campus like ours, if someone had an Internet addiction, it would be hard to walk anywhere on this campus without having access.”
Shible added that students should be able to take a moment to assess their own behavior with regards to the Internet. If it seems extreme, they may have a problem.
There is a set of addiction questions that can be asked of people with a possible substance abuse problem that Shible said may also be applicable for those dealing with potential Internet addiction. Aside from asking if they would be able to stop the activity, a person can ask themselves another important question.
“Is their time on the Internet doing them more good than harm or more harm than good?” Shible asked. “That requires someone to be pretty honest in their assessment.”
There is a fine line between casual Internet use and addiction, Shible added.
“People that try to hide something are people who cross the line,” he added. “People who are lying about something are people who’ve crossed the line. People who’ve tried to stop spending so much time on their laptop and can’t on their own-and most people can-have crossed the line.”