Report finds students at risk for Internet addiction

Michael Krieger

As students begin their freshman year at the University, Housing and Residential Life gives residents some deals, including free laundry, clean bathrooms and free Internet access.

These services really aren’t free; they are factored into the cost of housing. But students can wash as many loads of laundry as needed and surf the Net for hours. And that’s just what students are doing.

According to an article by Dr. Kimberly Young, executive director of the Center for Online Addiction, college life is the Internet user’s dream and college students’ downfall – if they get sucked into the mesmerizing world of the Internet.

Due to large blocks of unstructured time, a new freedom from parental control, no monitoring or censoring of use and encouragement from the institution to take advantage of Internet resources, students are spending more time on the Internet, Young said.

“Just about every faculty, staff and student is a user. We probably have 30,000 network connections on campus and another couple thousand dial-in connections,” said Steve Cawley, associate vice president and chief information officer for the Office of Information and Technology.

“At any time, you could have well over 20,000 users using the network,” Cawley said.

Researchers first recognized Internet addiction several years ago, though the idea of being addicted to computers has been around longer through another medium.

Computer games have been around since the 1970s, when computer addiction was first noticed, said Laura Gurak, director of the University’s Internet Studies Center.

“We do know that lots of people, adults and students alike, are spending more time on the computer,” Gurak said.

Symptoms of Internet abuse include losing track of time online, separation anxiety from the computer, withdrawal from personal relationships and social activities, lack of sleep and a dwindling grade point average.

Cawley said he believes the Internet is here to make University teaching more effective.

“All the positive values the University wants to promote, the Internet, for the most part, has done that,” Cawley said.

“Some folks don’t even agree that there is such thing as Internet addiction,” Gurak said.

Tracy Carr, a nursing student residing at Centennial Hall, only uses the Internet a couple times per week for about a half an hour to check her e-mail.

“I don’t really go on for any other reason, unless I’m looking for something specific,” Carr said.

Jenny Wong, an advertising major, said she doesn’t think students have a problem with Internet addiction. “I just use it to check my e-mail,” she said.

She estimates she uses the Internet for half an hour every other day.

But Young’s report warns that most college and university counselors are not aware of the high risk of students becoming addicted to late-night surfing.

Tom Beaumont, an assistant professor and clinical social worker at Boynton Health Service, said there must be a clear diagnosis between addiction to a certain stimuli and a behavior used as a defense against a phobia.

“Addiction is a situation where there is a real-life, immediate reward of some kind or another,” Beaumont said.

When the reward is frequent enough and stimulating enough, a person will continue the behavior in everyday life, Beaumont said. Gambling, pornography and peculiar fetishes might be some of the content drawing students to the computer. “Internet makes these things more accessible and private,” he said.

The Center for Online Addiction recommends educating institutional administrators and faculty members on Internet abuse and beginning a campaign to raise awareness and prevention on university campuses.

For more information on Internet addiction and abuse, students, faculty and staff can visit www.netaddiction.com.

 

Anne Preller covers student life and welcomes comments at [email protected]