Some people develop bad habits with their computer use that may cause significant problems in their lives. The types of behavior and negative consequences are similar to those of known addictive disorders, so the term computer or Internet addiction has come into use.

While anyone who uses a computer could be vulnerable, those people who are lonely, shy, easily bored or suffering from another addiction or impulse control disorder are especially vulnerable to computer addiction.

Computer addiction can result from people using it repeatedly as their main stress reliever instead of having a variety of ways to cope with negative events and feelings. Other misuses may include procrastination from undesirable responsibilities, distraction from being upset and attempts to meet needs for companionship and belonging.

While discussions are ongoing about whether excessive use of the computer/Internet is an addiction, the potential problematic behaviors and effects on users seem to be clear.

Signs of Problematic Computer Use

A person who is addicted to the computer is likely to have several of the experiences and feelings listed below:

  • Mixed feelings of well-being and guilt while at the computer.
  • Unsuccessful efforts to quit or limit computer use.
  • Losing track of time while on the computer.
  • Neglecting friends, family and/or responsibilities in order to be online.
  • Lying about time spent on the computer/activities while online.
  • Feeling anxious, depressed or irritable when computer time is shortened or interrupted.
  • Using the computer repeatedly as an outlet when sad, upset or for sexual gratification.
  • Problems in school/work as a result of time spent and the type of activities accessed on the computer.
  • When not on the computer, frequent thoughts and anticipation of using it again.

Being addicted to the computer also may cause physical discomfort, including:

  • Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (pain, numbness and burning in the hands that can radiate up the wrists, elbows and shoulders).
  • Dry eyes or strained vision.
  • Back and neck aches.
  • Severe headaches.
  • Sleep disturbances.

Risks for College Students

  • Difficulty getting homework done because computer games occupy a great deal of your time.
  • You connect to the Internet and suddenly discover it is several hours later and you have not left the computer.
  • Your friends are worried about you going on a date alone with a person known only from a chat room.
  • You spend most of your time online talking to friends from home instead of making new friends at college.
  • Almost all your friends are from online activities and contacts.
  • Your romantic partner is distraught because you have replaced your sexual relationship with Internet pornography and/or online sex.

Treatment must begin with recognizing there is a problem. Overcoming denial should be followed by other treatment steps, including:

  • Creating a behavior modification plan, such as setting a timer for usage, planning a daily schedule, keeping a log of moods when online, matching time spent online with time spent socializing face-to-face, and taking part in non-computer related activities.
  • Focusing on other areas for skill enhancement, such as problem solving, assertiveness, social skills, overcoming shyness and anger control.
  • Assessing for other disorders like depression or anxiety that may need medical treatment.
  • Assist in locating or forming a support group for other students who are trying to regain control over their computer use.

How to Help a Computer-Obsessed Friend

  • Be a good role model. Manage the computer use in your own life.
  • Introduce them to other people who handle their computer use sensibly.
  • Get them involved in non-computer related fun.
  • Talk to your friend about your concerns.
  • Support their desire for change if they think they have a problem.
  • Encourage them to seek professional counseling.