Internet Addiction

Internet Addiction

Dr. Hokemeyer discusses the concept of an addictive personality in relation to internet addiction

A real high for some high-tech users [Reading Eagle, Pa.]

By Dan Kelly, Reading Eagle, Pa. McClatchy-Tribune Information Services
July 12–If you drink alcohol or take drugs, it stands to reason that they will have an impact on the balance of chemicals in your brain.
But can spending too much time on Facebook, Twitter and other social media cause a surge of compounds that act like drugs or alcohol and keep you coming back?
Experts say yes — emphatically.
“It’s funny you should mention that,” said George M. Vogel, executive director of the Berks County Council on Chemical Abuse. “The working title of our annual meeting in November is ‘Cybertechnology: Are we too connected?’ ”
Vogel said social media — like alcohol and chemicals — can become addictive because in the process of surfing the Web, our brains generate endorphins that produce a sense of pleasure. Like other highs, we crave that first Internet high and keep going back trying to duplicate that original experience. The result is that a person who once surfed the Web for a half-hour is spending 40 to 80 hours a week logged on.
In January 2011, a group of researchers at the University of Bergen in Norway developed a test they called the Bergen Facebook Addiction Scale.
The test confirmed that people were responding to Facebook in the same way drug addicts and alcoholics responded to their substance of choice.
Addictive personality traits
Another danger is that someone who has an addictive personality can become addicted to the Internet after kicking a drug or alcohol addiction.
Examples commonly used by researchers include a man who kicks an alcohol addiction, then becomes addicted to searching for sex partners on the Internet, or a woman who beats an addiction to painkillers, then develops an addiction to Internet shopping.
“When it comes to addiction I look for two things: tolerance and withdrawal,” said Dr. Paul Hokemeyer, an addiction specialist with Caron Treatment Centers, the addiction treatment facility near Wernersville.
When it comes to the Internet, the symptoms are the same as with drugs and alcohol.
“Tolerance is when a person needs more and more time,” Hokemeyer said. “They go from 15 minutes to five to eight hours a day.
“With withdrawal, all they feel is fear, dread and anxiety over not being connected.”
A person kicking one addiction doesn’t mean the loss of his or her addictive personality traits.
“Addiction is a lifelong process,” Hokemeyer said.
Hokemeyer said counselors are starting to see more and better studies and data linking the Internet and addiction.
“We’re beginning to see some trends,” he said.
Scientist now believe that, with the Internet, people are developing what is called a process addiction, rather than a substance addiction.
“They get addicted not to sex but the process of finding sex on the Internet, or the process of shopping,” Hokemeyer said.
Counselors are finding more cases involving patients who are becoming addicted to behaviors and not just substances, said Tom Adil, director of adolescent services at Reading Hospital.
Whether addicted to a substance or a process, the result is seldom good.
“It is like an adolescent cutting themselves,” Adil said.
In that process, the cutting produces pain. The pain causes the brain to release adrenaline, like the natural fight-or-flight response in humans. The adrenaline causes the body to produce endorphins that create a pleasurable sensation.
When someone can’t cope with a problem, a substance or a process becomes a method of taking the pain away.
“Like any addiction, negative types of coping run aground (because) of negative consequences,” Adil said.
Contact Dan Kelly: 610-371-5040 or
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