Thursday, January 20th, 2022

Is internet addiction a growing problem?

Cam Adair finally realised that his addiction to video games was out of control when it made him consider ending his life.

“I struggled with it for 10 years,” he says. “I dropped out of high school, never went to college, and pretended to have jobs to deceive my family.

“I eventually wrote a suicide note, and it was on that night that I realised I needed to get help. I’m now 3,860-day-free from my gaming addiction.”

Mr Adair, a 32-year-old Canadian, has gone on to become the founder of Game Quitters, an online support group for people struggling with gaming addiction. It now has more than 75,000 members around the globe.

While technology, and specifically the internet, has helped to keep the world running during the coronavirus lockdowns, he says it has been difficult for people like him.

“The pandemic led to me spending more time than usual watching Twitch [a live streaming service that focuses on people playing computer games], and YouTube,” says Mr Adair.

“Much of that [YouTube] content was game streamers and games too, both of which can be strong triggers to relapse and play. Thankfully I was able to stay away from a relapse, but I know many people in the Game Quitters community who did unfortunately relapse during Covid.”
Young adults can spend hours and hours playing computer games
In their paper published in journal, CNS Drugs, on Internet addiction, Martha Shaw and Donald W Black from the Department of Psychiatry, University of Iowa, classify gaming dependency as part of wider internet addiction. The paper defines this as “excessive or poorly controlled preoccupations, urges or behaviours regarding computer use and internet access that lead to impairment or distress”.

While many would argue that it is not as serious as alcoholism or drug addiction, it can still be debilitating for sufferers. And Dr Andrew Doan, a neuroscientist and expert on digital addiction, agrees that the lockdowns have exacerbated the problem.

“Stresses in life leads to cravings for behaviours and escape mechanisms,” he says. “The pandemic has increased stress in people’s lives, and a convenient way to escape is using entertainment digital media, such as gaming and social media.

“Excessive use to escape stress is a risk factor for the development of addictive behaviours.”

To help combat internet addiction, a number of tech firms have produced tools that can be used to help block or limit access to the web, or gaming websites.

Linewize is one such product aimed at children, or – more specifically – their parents.

The website and app allow parents and carers to remotely limit and monitor the time children can spend on gaming sites, or the internet overall, be it via the kids’ smart phones or laptops.

Linewize also contains the usual “parental locks” that prevent access to pornography or violent material.

For most people with kids this is a familiar sight
Teodora Pavkvic, a qualified psychologist, and digital wellness expert at San Diego-based Linewise, says that young people are particularly susceptible to spending too much time online. This is something that parents of teenagers would be quick to agree with.

“Managing time online in a digitally healthy and balanced way requires highly sophisticated cognitive skills that don’t fully develop until we reach the age of 25.”

She adds: “Online platforms are built to extract and maximise our time, attention and data, and so that – combined with the many sneaky dangers that lurk online – make it exceptionally difficult for children to engage with the online world in a measured, safe and responsible way.”

For adults, internet addiction can also blur into gambling addiction, with betting apps and websites fuelling the latter.

BetBlocker is an app that allows people to block their access to tens of thousands of gambling websites and apps for a user-determined period of time.

Once the restriction is activated, the person cannot access the gambling platforms until the restriction expires.

The BetBlocker app – which is free – can also be controlled by someone’s partner, friend, or parents.
Betblocker prevents access to tens of thousands of gambling websites
“The ease of access to remote gambling is unquestionably the biggest challenge that anyone with a gambling addiction will face today,” says BetBlocker’s founder Duncan Garvie.

“Everyone is walking around with a casino, or bookie, in their pocket, and it is very easy to play discretely.”

Users can block gambling sites for hours, days, or weeks. And people can also use the app to block other websites, such as gaming ones.

“This is intended to help users, by creating a restriction during known periods of vulnerability,” adds Mr Garvie, who is based in Edinburgh.

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