Family Issues of Internet Addiction

Internet Addiction Photo courtesy of Verywell familyOpens in new window

FamilyOpens in new window plays an important role in an individual’s ability to deal with stress as the family provides the main spiritual and material support system for college students especially in Eastern cultures such as China’s (Yan et al. 2014). Possibly one of the most damaging effects of Internet addiction is that as unwarranted time is spent on-line the consequences are that neglect frequently occurs within the family circle.

Time spent on-line takes the place of social activities, family social life and interests and ultimately disrupting family relationships. The occurrence of Internet addiction in adolescents in Asia was reported to be 13.8% in Taiwan, South Korea reported to be 10.7%, Hong Kong a reported 6.7% with China reporting 2.4% (Lai et al. 2013).

Online affairs are highlighted as one of the most common consequences associated with the Internet and Internet addiction (Young, 2004).

The problem experienced because of online affairs is that the addicted member of the relationship will isolate himself or herself and refuse to engage in activities such as going out for dinner or attending sports events which they previously enjoyed together as a couple (Young, 1999a).

Cyber sexual infidelity is reported to be a common reason for couples looking for advice or marriage counseling and it is the most upsetting aspect of Internet-based sexual infidelity as it violates both the marital and family space (Greenfield, 1999).

Individuals develop online relationships which over time overshadow the time spent with real people to the point where matrimonial lawyers have witnessed a significant increase in divorce cases solely from information of such cyberaffairs (Young, 1999a). Such cyberaffairs are defined as romantic or sexual relationships which originate through contact online and continue mainly by electronic discussions via e-mails, chat rooms or interactive games (Young, 2004).

Using these virtual groups strangers from all over the world can meet up instantly 24 hours a day and 7 days a week and it is a breeding ground for the development of online affairs causing problems in marriages that were once solid and cyberaffairs have caused the destruction of many marriages.

Serious relationship problems in 53% of Internet addicts surveyed resulted in marital discord, separation and in some cases even led to divorce proceedings, explains how online affairs differ dynamically from real-life affairs with the potential to be more seductive and due to the global nature of the Internet online affairs can be more glamorous than the partner they already have in their day to day life enabling users to interact with other individuals without the fear of rejection (Watson, 2015; Young, 2004).

Electronic communication can accelerate the intimacy and people are more open and honest online allowing intimacy which may take months or years to create offline to be created in a matter of weeks or days in an online relationship. Seemingly harmless online relationships can easily progress to secret phone calls, letters and meeting offline and can see what was once an online affair ultimately turn what was a happy marriage or relationship into a possible divorce (Young, 2004).

Unlike affairs which happen outside the home the online affair has the possibility to start in the marital home while the unsuspecting spouse has been sitting in the next room (Young, 2004). The question is there a limit to how much time spent at a computer is too much and how can a wife or husband know if their partner is having an online affair while at the computer.

The following indications are possible signals of an online affair.

  1.   Altered Sleeping Patterns

The change in an individual’s sleeping habits is one of the first warning signs of an online affair as chat rooms and other such meeting places which are used for cybersex do not heat up until late at night so the unfaithful person in the relationship may start staying up later to be part of the action (Young, 2004).

The unfaithful starts to go to bed in the early hours of the morning or the unfaithful person in the relationship suspected of having an online affair may start getting up 1 or 2 hours earlier each morning to use the computer and have an e-mail exchange with their new online romantic partner before they go to work.

Thomas (2014) describes how the Internet makes cybersex a particularly exciting type of sex addiction due to its accessibility, affordability and the anonymity that it offers and is often referred to as the Triple-A Engine as a result.

  1.   Demanding Privacy

When a person starts an affair be it online or offline they usually go to extreme lengths to hide this from their partner and the same is true for cyberaffair as they lead to the greater need for privacy and secrecy for their use of their computer.

The person having a cyberaffair will generally move the computer from the view of others in the household, especially their partner and may even change the password of the computer or laptop they are using or hide their online activities in a bid to keep their affair from their partner. The person having the affair will react with anger or be defensive in a bid to hide his or her online activity (Young, 2004).

  1.   Ignoring Their Daily Responsibilities

As the Internet user increases their time spent online this results in responsibilities within their day to day lives suffering. This is not automatically a sign of a cyberaffair.

The person spending more time at the office than usual or neglecting housework that is normally done or tasks such as mowing the lawn may indicate that somebody else is competing for the suspected person’s attention and time as the novelty and excitement that are created by an online affair and the husband or wife does not feel same sense of responsibility to household tasks as they felt before the computer came into his or her life.

  1.   Evidence of Lying

The partner having the affair on the Internet tends to lie about the length of time their Internet sessions last (Young, 2004; Fu et al. 2010). The person involved in the cyberaffair will lie about Internet charges and hide bills such as credit card bills to conceal their Internet usage (Young, 2004). Such behaviors create distrust between the couple in a relationship and over time this will damage the quality of what was once a happy relationship (Young, 2004).

Those involved in online affairs find themselves telling bigger lies in a bid to conceal the existence of their online relationship. Such behaviors create distrust in what was once a stable relationship which finds both partners arguing about computer usage and trust in the relationship is broken.

  1.   Change in Personality

The mood in the person engaging in the Internet affair changes and they become withdrawn and cold in what was once a warm and happy relationship.

If a person is questioned about their Internet usage they often respond in denial and sometimes consciously or not they shift the blame to the person not engaging in the cyberaffair (Young, 2004).

  1.   Lose Interest in Sex

In some cases, online affairs can lead to either phone sex or meetings in real-life. The process of sharing secrets of sexual fantasies online can change an individual’s pattern of sexual interest with their real-life partner. Those who engage in online affairs are less enthusiastic to their real-life partner.

  1.   Reduced Investment in the Relationship

Individuals who pursue online affairs have less energy to put into their real-life relationship with their partner. The excitement of goingn on vacation together is not what it once was and they avoid making any long-range plans with their real-life partner.

The discovery that you have an unfaithful partner is difficult especially as it is with someone that your unfaithful partner has not actually met in real-life. In many case the faithful partner will try to take charge of the situation by not disclosing it to close friends and family.

Through sheer frustration and jealousy many faithful partners try to control the situation by controlling the partner’s time spent online, taking measures such as changing passwords on online devices within the house and in severe cases canceling the Internet provider to the home or dismantling the computer itself to rebuild the relationship they once had with their partner (Young, 2004) with the ignored or unloved partners of Internet addicts often referred to as a ‘cyberwidow’ (Murali and George, 2007).

  1. Akin, A., & Iskender, M. (2011). Internet addiction and depression, anxiety and stress. International online Journal of Educational Sciences, 3 (1), 138 – 148.
  2. Thomas, J.C. (2016). A humanistic approach to problematic online sexual behavior. Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 56(1), 3 – 33. doi:10.1177/0022167814542286
  3. Yan, W., Li, Y., & Sui, N. (2014). The relationship between recent stressful life events, personality traits, perceived family functioning and Internet addiction among college students. Stress and Health, 30(1), 3 – 11. doi:10.1002/smi.2490 PMID:23616371
  4. Zafar, S.N. (2016). Internet Addiction or Problematic Internet Use: Current Issues and Challenges in Conceptualization, Measurement and Treatment. Journal of Islamic International Medical College, 11(2), 46 – 47.

How to Diagnose Internet Addiction?

Young identified eight questions for Internet addiction according to 10 criteria for pathological gambling in the DSM-IV:

  1. Do you feel preoccupied with the internet (think about previous online activity or anticipate the next online session)?
  2. Do you feel the need to use the internet with increasing amounts of time in order to achieve satisfaction?
  3. Have you repeatedly made unsuccessful efforts to control, cut back, or stop internet use?
  4. Do you feel restless, moody, depressed, or irritable when attempting to cut down or stop internet use?
  5. Do you stay online longer than originally intended?
  6. Have you jeopardized or risked the loss of significant relationship, job, educational or career opportunity because of the internet?
  7. Have you lied to family members, therapists, or others to conceal the extent of involvement with the internet ?
  8. Do you use the internet as a way of escaping from problems or for relieving a dysphoric mood (e.g., feelings of helplessness, guilt, anxiety, depression)?

Patients were considered “addicted” when answering “yes” to five (or more) of the questions, and when their behavior could not be better accounted for by a Manic Episode. A cut-off score of “five” was consistent with the number of criteria used for Pathological GamblingOpens in new window, and was seen as an adequate number of criteria to differentiate normal from pathological addictive Internet useOpens in new window.

It should also be noted that a patient’s denial of addictive use is likely to be reinforced from the encouraged practice of utilizing the internet for academic or employment-related tasks. Therefore, even if a patient meets all eight criteria, these symptoms can easily be masked as “I need this as part of my job,” “It’s just a machine,” or “Everyone is using it” due to the internet’s prominent role in society.

Ivan Gordenberg put forward seven criteria for how to identify Internet addiction, which coincide with Young’s scale. He stresses that the following six are central to internet addiction:

  1. Salience: Internet use occupies the user’s thinking and behavior.
  2. Tolerance: Internet users continue to increase time and effort in order to obtain satisfaction.
  3. Withdrawal symptoms: Negative physiological response and negative emotions caused by a cessation from the internet.
  4. Conflict: The use of the internet conflicts with daily activities or interpersonal communication.
  5. Relapse: The internet addiction recurs even after remission and treatment.
  6. Mood alteration: The internet is used to change a negative state of mind.

Shapira et al., argues that Internet addiction is an impulse control hurdle, where the core of the problem lies in the individual’s strong desire for the internet, thus weakening the individual’s life in many aspects. His diagnostic criteria are: “not properly focused on the use of the internet,” and have the following:

  1. An irresistible strong desire to use the internet
  2. Use of the internet for unexpected amounts of time
  3. Use of the internet causes significant clinical pain or social occupational or other important functional impairment
  4. Excessive use of the internet does not appear in a manic or hypomanic period, and cannot be explained by other diagnoses.

The China Youth Internet Association developed the following criteria for determining addiction in 2005. The criteria have one prerequisite and three conditions. The prerequisite is that the internet addiction must severely jeopardize a young person’s social functioning and interpersonal communication. An individual would be classified as an internet addict as long as he or she meets any one of the following three conditions:

  1. One would feel that it is easier to achieve self-actualization online than in real life
  2. One would experience dysphoria or depression whenever access to the internet is broken or ceases to function
  3. One would try to hide his or her true usage time from family members.

Specific symptom criteria include: long term, repeated use of the internet, the purpose of using the internet not to learn and work or not conducive to their own learning and work, in line with the following symptoms:

    1. Having a strong desire or impulse to the use of internet
    2. Whole body discomfort, irritability, inability to concentrate, disordered sleep, and other withdrawal reactions that appear when reducing or stopping internet use; the withdrawal reaction may also be eased via the use of other similar electronic media (such as television, handled game, etc.)
    3. At least meeting one of the following five: (1) increasing use of internet time and input level to achieve satisfaction; (2) difficulty controlling the beginning, end and duration of internet use even after repeated efforts to stop, (3) stubborn use of the internet regardless of its obvious harmful consequences; (4) reducing or abandoning other interests, entertainment or social activities because use of the internet; (5) use of eh internet to escape problems or alleviate negative emotions.
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