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October 2, 2011 | by  | in Opinion |
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Healthy Minds On Campus – Internet Addiction

We all have anecdotal stories of friends or family members who seem to spend huge amounts of time on the internet- gaming, social networking, YouTubing, trading or simply surfing. Victoria’s ITS department estimate that 80 per cent of broadband internet used by students is in non-direct academic-related use—mostly social networking, surfing and gaming. It’s also true that mastery of the computer and of the online world are integral elements of successful university life and having the complete student experience. So how is it that something that has always promised so much can also for many people create so many problems for so many people?

Clinicians and researchers around the world are identifying increasing numbers of people (including university students) with debilitating internet dependence as characterised by the following criteria (adapted from DSM IV Substance Dependence):

• Tolerance
• Withdrawal
• Using larger amounts over time than was intended
• Desire or unsuccessful attempts to cut down
• A great deal of time spent obtaining, using or withdrawing from it
• Social, occupational, academic and recreational activities are reduced
• Use continues despite negative effects

You can see from this list that there are some pretty predictable behaviours that human beings exhibit when we are becoming addicted to either a substance or a behaviour whether it be misusing alcohol or other drugs, or gambling, exercise or internet overuse. It’s all to do with our innate human desire for immediate gratification, to seek pleasure and to avoid pain. Nothing is wrong with that except that the reality of life is that we need to find ways to balance our lives and be both reasonably happy and productive. For students, this obviously involves being able to focus on studies, sleep more than occasionally and limit unhelpful behaviours and habits. Internet addiction and depression have a close relationship.

Here at the Counselling Service we get a steady and increasing number of students coming to talk to us about their internet use. This typically involves large and increasing amounts of time spent online and the resultant impact on sleep, ability to study, attend classes or complete assignments; ‘increased isolation'; feelings of irritability, shame, failure and unhappiness and an inability to change things. Porn addiction is increasing amongst the boys with the obvious social taboos about admitting to this preventing more students seeking help. It takes courage (and sometimes desperation) to confront this kind of issue, and the good news is that we can help.

So what to do if you think this might be you? Take the Internet Addiction Test and see if this indicates a problem: . Make a time to come and talk to one of the counsellors and we will help you to make a plan to deal with this. Helpful action steps can include telling others, removing your internet access at home and building up the rest of your life. If it is not you, great, but continue to be mindful on how you use the internet and for what purpose.

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