Have you ever known someone who couldn't put down their cell-phone? Whether at school, on a date, or even during a job interview!?
People can become crippled by their toys and online connectivity. Consider the two girls who climbed into a storm drain to play around, but got stuck. Using their cellphones, they updated their Facebook status and waited for help instead of calling their parents or the police for help.
What about the people who have become addicted to online gaming? Not just gambling, but online multi-player games as well. People have lost their education, jobs, marriages, and their lives playing games from Starcraft to World of Warcraft.
Prevention and Detection
The first and most obvious method for dealing with this is to avoid it entirely. Some of us know we have addictive personalities and are best served by not playing at all. For example, I would probably enjoy playing World of Warcraft, but after studying the game and learning how addictive it can be, it's just something that I know better than to mess with.
But if you or someone you love doesn't already know or is confident they can handle it, then the key is to set reasonable limits on time and money that they can devote to their hobby (just like any other hobby).
One of the reasons that gaming or any other online activity can be such a strain on a relationship is the amount of money that people spend on it. Games like allow you to buy a permenant account benefit for a one-time fee, but games like Farmville let you pay over and over and over while getting little to no benefit.
Decide now how much is reasonable to pay for a hobby and stick to it. Make sure everyone involved (spouse, parents, kids, etc.) knows and agrees to the limits.
Time is no different. If someone's hobby was whittling wood, folding origami, or common activities like fishing, there comes a point where it's just too much.
The key factor is whether the online activities interfere with their ability to do other critical things like job, work, school, etc. Speaking of:
Probably the easiest way to know if there's an addiction or not is whether the person in question can handle their other responsibilities. This is all a matter of priorities.
Once I worked with a guy who was an Everquest player. Normally, he wouldn't stoop to cleaning and straightening the store and would instead help customers until the doors closed expecting that the rest of us would have finished closing procedures.
Then one night, he was straightening, stocking, and generally being a maverick closer a full hour before closing time. When I asked what was up, he told me a friend had called to tell him that "his dragon had popped" (meaning that a special event in the game was available and he didn't want to miss it).
While some people shake their heads at this story, I do not count that as a form of addiction. If he was hurrying home to watch a football game or go on a date with his girlfriend, no one would think anything of it. He met his responsibilities first.
On the other hand, you often hear the stories of people who call in sick or cancel plans to make more time to play. This is when you start to know you have a problem.
Signs of Dependence
How do you know when you've let it go too far? It's pretty simple really; if you can keep to reasonable limits that you and the people you care about agree on, then you're fine!
But no one's happy without a bullet-list so here's one for you just in case:
- Hiding your habit. If you feel you have to hide it so people don't nag you, it might not be the naggers that are the problem. Especially if EVERYONE is bugging you about it. A college aquaintence of mine knew he had a problem when he woke up in the early morning hours to play video games when his wife was sleeping so she wouldn't find him out (which she did of course).
- You use the Internet to handle stress, sadness, or other negative emotions and can't feel better until you do. Just like a drug, huh?
- Your grades drop, you get in trouble at work, you start to fight with your significant other. The key being that it's the amount of time you spend on the computer that gets in the way.
- You fondly think about your computer and wish you could be there from the top of a rollercoaster, while watching a movie or having dinner with friends, and even in the middle of sex with someone you love.
But really, the biggest clue that you have a problem is when someone suggests that you do. To immediately deny it (called denial for that reason), is foolish. Instead, talk it out!
As long as you don't spend more time, money, or attention on your online use than anyone else would on a more "traditional" activity (fishing, sports, shopping), then you're probably ok. Otherwise, it may be time to seek professional help.