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Computer Addiction

Signs, Symptoms & Treatment for Compulsive Computer Use

For some people, the desire to use a computer becomes so dire that computer usage either online or offline interferes with daily routines, relationships, activities and an one’s well-being. Many long term consequences can result from an individual’s behavior when using a computer whether as a compulsive gambler, an obsessive shopper, obsessive surfer or an overzealous programmer.

If you spend more time online or playing offline games on the computer than you intend to, or if this time interferes with your obligations then you could be suffering from an addiction to the computer. Although computer addiction is a relatively new problem, there have already been many instances of research and methods of treatment outlined to help those who are addicted to computer to change their behaviors, understand the causes of their addiction and regain control of their lives.

What is Computer Addiction?

addiction to the computer

You can get help with your computer addiction.

Are you wondering what computer addiction is or how to recognize it? This addiction is characterized by an excessive desire and subsequent use of the internet or the computer that results in negative consequences socially, financially, physically, emotionally or otherwise for the user. A preoccupation with computers can lead to problems with relationships, problems with productivity or problems with self-care and hygiene.

It’s important to recognize that not all people who spend hours each day on the computer are considered addicted. There are many uses for computers and the internet and in many cases, an individual may spend 6 or more hours in a day on the computer but still not be considered an addict. Each individual situation is different and therefore, there is no set number of hours that is (or is not) considered a potential for computer addiction.

Recognizing the Signs of Computer Addiction

There are many signs that you may recognize if you or someone you love is actually addicted to the computer. Although there is no real physical dependence that can evolve from the excessive usage of computers, there are a number of emotional or psychological issues that can be present. Paying attention to the possible signs of computer addiction will help you to recognize these signs early on and get help if necessary.

Look out for these signs of computer addiction:
  • preoccupation with the computer either online or offline
  • feeling a burning desire to go online or to use the computer to play a game, to socialize or to develop programming codes
  • spending time on the computer despite family functions taking place, special events or other activities that you were once happy to be a part of
  • performing actions on the computer that are outside the realm of what your original plans were such as shopping online when you should be working or playing a game when you should be doing homework
  • telling lies to your family about the activities that you perform while on the computer, such as saying that you are working on homework when you are actually playing a game
  • having anxious feelings when you want to use the computer, know you will be able to use the computer or know that your use of the computer will be limited
  • mood swings or irritability when you are not allowed to spend as much time on the computer as you would like to or if your computer time is interrupted
  • telling yourself that you will get off the computer at a certain time and then spending more time than you committed
  • any use of the computer as an escape from your feelings

Effects of Computer Addiction

You may not think that using the computer excessively can have a negative impact on your life but for those who become addicted to the computer, compulsive use can actually lead to a number of lasting consequences in work, home and social life. If you or someone you know is addicted to the computer, you may be experiencing the following effects of compulsive computer use:

  • inability to interact social except when on the computer such as online in chat groups or social networking sites
  • inability to experience pleasure when performing tasks that are not done on a computer. You may not feel relief or gratification unless you are taking part in a task that involves using a computer
  • overspending on hardware, software or other computer items
  • loss of relationships due to spending too much time on the computer and not enough time with a friend or loved one
  • loss of a job due to a lack of productivity because time was spent on the computer performing other tasks that provided you with satisfaction
  • giving up career goals in an effort to spend more time on the computer
  • lack of productivity on school assignment because you are distracted by your desire to use the computer
  • feelings of failure because you have tried to control your computer usage and despite your efforts have failed at your attempts
  • poor self-esteem because you feel socially inept
  • poor self-hygiene because you are too “busy” with your involvement with the computer to take time out to shower, eat, brush your teeth and hair or otherwise take care of yourself

Many of the above effects of computer addiction can be easily reversed with time and treatment. For instance, while you may lose a relationship when you are addicted to the computer, getting the treatment you need to overcome the addiction can lead to the building of new, lasting relationships or the re-building of a past relationship that suffered as a result of your addiction.

What Causes Computer Addiction?

Are you trying to figure out what could have caused you to become addicted to the computer? Computer addiction has a number of causes and could be the result of a mental illness, an addictive personality or something else. In many cases, computer addiction is the cause of an underlying issue with anxiety or a similar mental illness.

The most common causes for computer addiction are:
  • anxiety caused by stress at work, relationships, financial problems or other sources
  • depression that leads to computer use to escape reality
  • inactivity and using the computer instead of working out or otherwise being active
  • physical illness that prevents an individual from leaving the home
  • boredom and feeling like there is nothing else to do

Types of Computer Addiction

There are many different types of computer addiction and each typically characterized by the type or method of excessive computer usage. For instance, some people don’t even have a desire to spend time online while on the computer, they simply spend time reprogramming or tinkering with computers—this can still be an addiction but it’s quite different than an internet addiction or a cybersex addiction.

The most common types of computer addiction are:
  • Programming addictions – these addictions result from an individual’s desire to reprogram items or databases or to create new software excessively
  • General Computer addictions – this the the result of an individual’s desire to play games such as solitaire or other games on the computer and does not generally include internet usage
  • Internet Addiction – internet addiction is the result of an individual’s desire to spend time online performing any one of a number of tasks in excessive. Internet addiction has sub-categories that include:
  • Internet compulsions – these may include compulsive shopping online, compulsive gaming online, compulsive gambling online or compulsive stock trading online
  • Cybersex – this is a compulsive use of the internet to participate in internet sex through chat rooms, adult websites, fantasy role playing online or watching pornography
  • Social Networking addictions – this is the addiction that results when an individual spends more time socializing online than they do socializing with people in real life. These addicts will often find online relationships to be more meaningful than offline relationships.

How much computer use is too much?

There are no set limitations that determine excessive use of a computer. For instance, one person might spend 8 hours a day on the computer and not be a computer addict while another might spend only two hours a day on the computer and they could be suffering from an addiction. This is because computer addiction is not outlined by the number of hours or days at a time that are spent on the computer but rather by the ways that the use of the computer affects other aspects of our daily lives.

Follow these tips to recognize healthy use of the computer versus unhealthy use of a computer:
  • Healthy use of the computer will not directly interfere with other members of your family or their well-being. For instance, if your computer use does not hurt or bother others than it may be ok.
  • Healthy use of the computer will not interfere with your obligations at work, home or school. For instance, if you are using a computer in a healthy manner than you are only spending time on the computer performing work or school related tasks or you are spending time on the computer after you have already completed your other obligations.
  • Healthy use of the computer will not reduce your interest in other activities. For instance, if you are using the computer in a healthy manner than you are not slacking on your own health, well-being or personal care as a result of your computer use.
  • Healthy use of the computer will not lead to negative consequences. If you are using the computer in a way that will lead to relationship problems, financial problems or other problems in your life than you should rethink your computer usage as it may not be healthy.

Ongoing Symptoms of Computer Addiction

Sometimes, it may be easy to spot the symptoms of computer addiction early on while other times it could take weeks, months or even years before you realize that the addiction is a problem. The symptoms of computer addiction are mostly emotional or behavioral in manner and include changes in behaviors that lead to a lack of self control, a lack of self-esteem and a lack of socialization.

You may recognize the following symptoms in an individual who is addicted to computers:
  • Isolation. Do you spend more time online than you do with others or do you make time for computers rather than taking that time to spend with friends, family or to socialize?
  • Defensive. Are you defensive to others when they question your activities on the computer? Do you feel like you have to justify your computer use or the time that you spend on the computer?
  • Distracted. Are you easily distracted by the computer? Do you find that you can’t focus on your responsibilities at work or at home because you are preoccupied with the computer or a desire to use the computer?
  • Late. Are you late for family events, late for work, late comping home or otherwise late because you spent too much time on the computer?

Each of these symptoms may be present when an individual becomes addicted to the computer. Computer addiction can cause many adverse reactions from friends and family members especially when they begin to feel as though your computer use is more important to you than your interaction or responsibility to them.

Why do people become addicted to computers?

Are you wondering why anyone would become addicted to a computer? It seems that there are various reasons for people to turn to the computer and to become addicted but the most logical explanation is that people use the computer to escape reality or to cover up their emotions. Many find it easier to socialize from behind closed doors in an online fantasy world. Others think that if they shop or gamble excessively online that nobody else will notice. Regardless of the reason why an individual may be using the computer excessively, there are consequences that result and in some cases the need for treatment to overcome this addiction is absolutely necessary.

Many people use the computer to self medicate for some other problem such as because they are anxious in certain situations such as in social situations or because they are depressed. Others will turn to the computer to hunt for information and then realize that they just can’t get enough information. Still others may use the computer as a means of distracting them from the real world or from emotional situations that they have experienced.

How to Stop Computer Addiction

If you or someone you love is addicted to computers than you’re probably wondering how it can be stopped. Computers are a regular asset in our lives used during work and school, regularly used at home and even used on the go. We encounter computers in all facets of our lives including many daily routines that we perform such as paying bills, working or researching an important topic for school. Because computers are such an important part of our everyday lives, it can be very difficult to stop using the computer if you are addicted. The easy access that we all have to computers can make overcoming a computer addiction that much more difficult.

Fortunately, there is help available for those who suffer from this primarily behavioral condition. Computer addiction can be overcome through a series of behavioral therapy, cognitive therapy and social support. There are also some things that you can do for yourself or for someone you care about to help reduce the risk of a computer addiction or to overcome the addiction.

Self-Help for Computer Addiction

If you think you are addicted to the computer or that you have an internet addiction, there are some actions that you can take on your own to monitor your addiction, reduce you computer usage and get things under control.

The following tips will help you to overcome a computer addiction on your own:
  • Limit your computer use. You can set a timer, you can have your friends or family members time you or you can come up with another method of timing your computer usage. Make limits for the amount of time that you will spend.
  • Commit to only using the computer for work or school. If you have a problem with shopping or gambling or other activities on the computer, make a commitment that you will not use the computer unless you have to perform a task for work or school.
  • Place limitations on the location that you will use the computer at. For those who have problems with cybersex, are addicted to gambling or perform other poor tasks on the computer, placing a limitation on the location such as only using the computer in the kitchen or in the dining room may help to put your usage in front of others and reduce risky behaviors.
  • Look for social support. If you are addicted to the computer, find others who will understand your addiction and talk to them. Talk with your friends and family members about your condition and your desire to change—they too can help you monitor your usage and to stay on track with your goals.
  • Keep a computer diary. By keeping track of the amount of time that you spend on the computer, the activities that you perform and the emotions that lead up to the computer use you can narrow down times or activities that are performed based on emotions and be better prepared to take control of your addiction and prevent relapse.
  • Get outside help. While there are advocates for online computer addiction help, this method of treatment seems like it could be rather controversial. This is because, if you are already addicted to the computer, chances are you do not need to go to the computer for help. The best bet is to seek help outside of the home through social support groups, counseling or therapy.

Treatment for Computer Addiction

If you are addicted to the computer, there are options for treatment. Many methods of counseling and therapy can be provided to help you overcome mental illness, traumatic experiences or other circumstances that may be causing you to escape to the computer.

Some of the most common methods of treatment for computer addiction include:
  • Counseling and therapy – this may entail behavioral therapy such as CBT which will retrain the mind to perform different actions when it has certain thoughts. Counseling or therapy can also focus on treating underlying mental health conditions that caused the addiction such as anxiety, depression, social trauma or other conditions
  • Group Support – many different options for group or community support are available to assist those who are addicted to computers. Just getting out and interacting with others can be very rewarding to the computer addict.
  • Changing Interests –one method of getting past a computer addiction is to focus on new interests. For instance, you might take part in a new gym membership, spend time at the movies with friends or go out for a walk.
    • If you do feel that you must go onto the computer, consider talking yourself out of the computer use unless it is absolutely necessary. If you do go on the computer, make a plan for what you will do when on the computer, how long it will take and what time you will be off of the computer. Placing these limitations on your computer usage when paired with therapy or counseling can lead to recovery from this difficult to cope with addiction.
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