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Multiple pathways to internet addiction

October 4, 2012
by Shannon Brys, Associate Editor
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The internet has an extreme power, and Chris Tuell, Ed.D., LPCC-S, LICDC, Director of Addiction Services at the Lindner Center of Hope, said at the National Conference on Addiction Disorders (NCAD) that it is due to the following reasons:


·        Accessibility

·        Affordability

·        Intensity

·        Anonymity

·        World of fantasy

·        Disinhibition (willing to do things you would never do in real life)

·        Isolation

There are multiple assessment instruments that can be used to test for this type of addiction, Tuell said, including Internet Addiction Test (IAT), Compulsive Buying Scale, and the South Oaks Gambling Screen. 

General treatment areas for someone with an internet addiction include:

·        Diagnostic assessment

·        Individual, couple, family therapy

·        Community support groups

·        Ongoing monitoring and relapse prevention

·        CBT, cognitive distortions/impairments

·        Situational, behavioral and emotional triggers

·        Medication

·        A lifestyle of wellness (mind, body, spirit)

 As Tuell compared internet addiction to substance abuse, he found that these things are present in both types of addicts: tolerance; withdrawal; substance is often taking in larger amounts (or the person is spending more and more time online); important activities are given up; and substance use (or internet use) continues despite problems.

Tuell also explained an acronym, CUBIS, that he uses to explain the five areas that may explain why someone develops mental health issues.

·        Chemical imbalance

·        Unresolved Issues

·        Belief which is distorted

·        Inability to cope

·        Stimulus-Response Relationship


Addiction to the internet, may commonly tie in with another process addiction, such as gambling, shopping and/or sex.


Sex addiction on the internet 

According to Tuell, sex addiction on the internet can involve pornography, masturbation, prostitution, and cyber-sex.  Cyber-sex is when a person accesses online porn real time with a fantasy partner through multimedia software.  He said that the number one search phrase on the internet is “free porn” and went on to explain some of the statistics behind this topic.  Each year, he said there are $4.9 billion in internet porn sales. 

He said that Utah is the state that has the most porn downloads per capita.  He also said that 42.7% of people who use the internet view porn.  While porn can be sometimes be seen as harmless, Tuell also brought to light some of the places where this is no longer true.  For example, Tuell said that there are 100,000 websites that offer illegal child porn.  About 2 million suffer from online pornography addiction, according to Tuell. 

He also brought to the conversation examples of computer-generated images and cartoon-like images such as Japanese-style Anime characters.  These Anime style characters have child-like features in their face but much more adult bodies.  The question that Tuell set out to answer for the audience was, “How could someone be attracted to or turned on by a cartoon?”

Tuell said he had a young man come into treatment for sexual addiction and while doing his assessment, Tuell asked “What is the number one thing that excites you? What do you search for?”  The young man in his assessment replied, “You know those Anime cartooning?  That’s it.” When Tuell asked why that was, why the young man wasn’t excited more over a real picture, he replied, “In a real picture, there’s always that possibility of the person rejecting me.  But in a cartoon I have total control.” 


Gambling addiction on the internet

While gambling addiction exists in casinos around the world, addicts can also achieve their high by being in the comfort of their own home.  This may be more damaging because there is not actual money leaving their pocket.  “When we’re online, we don’t take out the money and give it over to someone.  On the internet, it goes to my PayPal or out of my credit card. We are disconnected from actually having to take the money out,” he said.

Gamblers who stay at home want to isolate from everyone, they are what experts in the field have called “escape gamblers.” 

He said that for most gamblers, the money is not the thing that keeps them going.  It’s not about if they win or lose, it’s more about the thrill of the risk that they are taking.  Money assumes the role of the “delivery system to the gambler, much like a syringe is to a heroin addict. It’s just a delivery system,” Tuell said.

He then shared these statistics:

·        The state with the highest suicide rate per capita is Nevada.   

·        48% of Gamblers Anonymous (GA) members admit that they have considered suicide. 

·        Spouses of pathological gamblers are twice as likely to commit suicide than the general population. 


Internet gaming

Games on the internet have also become a large problem in this category of addictions.  When most people think of games that young men and women play on their Playstation, Xbox, or online, they do not normally think of danger.  However, the danger approaches when the individual cannot walk away from the game.