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Office Hours With Dr. Jim
by James Houran, Ph.D

In this column, "Dr. Jim" honestly and candidly answers your questions about dating, love and sexuality. He doesn’t tell you what you want to hear – he tells you what you need to hear. Dr. Jim is committed to offering you guidance based on responsible clinical practice and hard data from the latest scientific studies. Send Dr. Jim your questions today for consideration in an upcoming issue.


This Week:
Can the Time I Spend Online Dating Cause an Internet Addiction?

Should I be concerned that time spent on online dating sites will lead to Internet addiction?

 

It sounds like a major bummer, but this could be a real concern. Let me ask you this, over the past 12-month period have you:

» Felt preoccupied with the Internet, such as intensely thought about the Internet when you were offline?

» Felt a need to use the Internet with increasing amounts of time in order to achieve satisfaction?

» Had an inability to control your Internet use?

» Felt restless or irritable when attempting to cut down or stop Internet use?

» Used the Internet as a way of escaping from problems or of relieving a poor mood, such as feelings of helplessness, guilt, anxiety or depression?

» Lied to family members or friends to conceal the extent of involvement with the Internet?

» Jeopardized or risked the loss of a significant relationship, job, educational or career opportunity because of the Internet?

» Kept returning even after spending an excessive amount of money on online fees?

» Gone through “withdrawal” when offline, such as felt increased depression ot anxiety?

» Stayed online longer than originally intended?

If you answered a strong “yes” to three or more of these questions, then you might well have an Internet addiction according to researcher Dr. Kimberly Young (see her book, “Caught in the Net: How to Recognize the Signs of Internet Addiction and a Winning Strategy for Recovery,” 1998, Wiley). Other names for this behavior are Internet dependency and Internet compulsivity. I personally prefer the term “Internet compulsivity,” since it can encompass the same basic behavior at different levels of severity.

Dr. Young Internet defines Internet Addiction as any online-related, compulsive behavior that interferes with normal living and causes severe stress on family, friends, loved ones, and one's work environment. In other words, Internet “addicts” make the Internet a priority above their family, friends, and work. This may sound absurd, but think of it this way – the Internet, can provide a "high" like food or drugs in other addictions or compulsions. In this situation, addicts become dependent on the cyberspace high to feel normal. What can happen is that these addicts begin to substitute unhealthy relationships for healthy ones. They opt for temporary pleasure rather than the deeper qualities of "normal" intimate relationships. My research team composed of Drs. Lynn McCutcheon, John Maltby, Diane Ashe and Rense Lange have found much the same pattern for people addicted or preoccupied with celebrities (you can read more about celebrity worship at: www.iknowsys.org).

Dr. Young further tells us that Internet compulsivity follows the same progression as other addictions. Individuals may struggle to control their behaviors, but subsequently experience despondency over their constant failure to do so. As a result, inevitable decreases in their self-esteem fuel their need to seek escapism via cyberspace. It would seem to be a chronic cycle of powerlessness.

It seems reasonable to suspect that people who over rely on online dating might be at risk for developing Internet compulsivity. In fact, the motivations that seem people have for engaging in online dating parallel the underlying reasons for Internet addiction. For example, men tend to seek out dominance and sexual fantasy online, while women seek out close friendships, romantic partners, and prefer anonymous communication in which to hide their appearance. Men are more likely to become addicted to online games, cyberporn, and online gambling, while women are more likely to become addicted to chatting, instant messaging, eBay, and online shopping.

I’m not passing along all of this news to scare you. What I want is to make you more aware – that is, more mindful of your attitudes, behaviors, and motivations for online dating. The online dating industry helps bring happiness and fulfillment to countless people every year. Used responsibly, online dating is a tremendous opportunity and tool to find companionship. But compulsivity and even addiction seems to be a legitimate concern if you don’t keep your own mental well-being in check along with the time you spend online.

I encourage you all to read more about the phenomenon of Internet Addiction here. Just being aware of this phenomenon and what feeds it will help you maintain a healthy well-being.




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