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Get on the patch.com: Internet addiction is just a few clicks away

A specter is haunting Princeton — the specter of Internet Addiction Disorder. A countless number of students spend too many hours online, often with adverse consequences.

My addiction began before I got to Princeton. In high school, I had limited access to the Internet over a slow connection. But even then I would spend my precious time online researching my favorite bands, movies and authors.

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Unfortunately for me, as the Internet grew in size and the press glorified its benefits, I arrived at Princeton – a campus with unlimited, high-speed access to the World Wide Web. It was like going from black-and-white TV to a Technicolor, full-screen movie. I amassed hundreds of Internet bookmarks on every conceivable interest of mine, and even developed new interests along the way. And many of these bookmarks required repeated visits because the information was constantly updated.

My addiction advanced a bit this year when I realized the allure of scouting out and making Web-pages. If you have your own homepage, you know that the best place to look for design techniques and content ideas are other people's homepages, which means more time online.

While my addiction to the Internet is not a serious one, it does sap my productivity. I've found that the only way I can concentrate on homework is if I leave my room and go to the library. There's only one reason for this: the temptation of my computer. I feel like Oscar Wilde, who bemoaned through one of his characters, "I can resist everything except temptation."

All this is not to say that the Internet is a bad thing. It's just that, like alcohol, it can become damaging if not used in moderation. I do research, catch the news and watch videos online, and I don't want to give this up. But it can become excessive. Whenever I get back to my room from class or meals, I check the news and I go to some of my favorite Websites. Before I know it, an hour or two has gone by. For me, the Internet is a great tool for learning and procrastinating.

But enough about me. My story is not particularly impressive, and I suspect, not very unusual on college campuses across the country. The remarkable thing is that I didn't make up this psychological phenomenon — it is a disorder recognized by the American Psychological Association. Moreover, it can be quite a bit more disruptive to some people than my case study suggests.

According to psychologists Kandell and Kimberly Young — as reported by Bridget Murray in a June 1996 APA Monitor story — "For many students this is a very real problem. Some of them are saying it's destroying their lives. Substitute the word 'computer' for 'substance' or 'alcohol,' and you find that Internet obsession fits the classic Diagnostic Statistical Manual definition of addiction." These comments were made when Amazon.com was not yet a household word. Now, the problem has undoubtedly grown.

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Are you suffering from Internet Addiction Disorder? According to Ivan Goldberg, a doctor interested in this phenomenon, there is a list of official criteria for the diagnosis of IAD. The disorder is defined as "a maladaptive pattern of Internet use, leading to clinically significant impairment or distress as manifested by three (or more) of the following, occurring at any time in the same 12-month period," of which I shall only list a few: 1) Tolerance: A need for increased amounts of time on the Internet to achieve satisfaction. 2) Internet is accessed for longer periods of time than was intended. 3) There is an incessant desire, usually in vain, to cut down on Internet use.

If you want a better idea of whether you suffer from IAD, the Center for Online Addiction hosts an online diagnostic survey at www.netaddiction.com/resources/test.htm . But beware: going online to take this test may itself be a symptom of the disorder. Jeff Wolf is from Chevy Chase, Md. He can be reached at jeffwolf@princeton.edu.

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