Online Addictions of Gaming, Gambling, Shopping and Sex Grow as the Digital World Digs Deeper Into Daily Life
While the familiar addictions of drugs and alcohol remain a life-threatening shadow for many, the Internet has lured some people along new avenues for addiction, including gaming, gambling, shopping and sex.
The virtual/digital world that is now part of daily life blurs the once-clear line between sexual fidelity and infidelity, a gray area examined by Robert Weiss in “Does Virtual Sex Count as Cheating?” in the Dec. 15, 2014 issue of Counselor, a magazine for addiction professionals. Weiss, founder of The Sexual Recovery Institute in Los Angeles, poses questions such as:
“Is webcam sex with a neighbor worse than webcam sex with a total stranger?”
“Is playing the video game Grand Theft Auto, which now offers “realistic sex with prostitutes” as part of the action, a form of cheating?”
After more than two decades of treating sex and intimacy issues, Weiss developed a digital-age definition: “Sexual infidelity is the breaking of trust that occurs when sexual and/or romantic secrets are deliberately kept from one’s primary intimate partner.”
Another potential online addiction – shopping – may seem more convenience than concern, unless it gets out of hand and causes financial problems, forcing the shopper, or the spouse or family, to look more deeply for the cause. In what may be only a partly- humorous look at “15 Signs That You Are Hopelessly Addiction to Online Shopping,” in the Huffington Post in December 2013, suggested red flags include:
“You always have a tab open in your web browser with a full shopping cart waiting for you to click purchase.”
“You secretly online shop at work.”
Then there’s online gambling addiction, with new laws increasing concerns. In New Jersey, for instance, where such a law went into effect in November 2013, Donald Weinbaum, executive director of the New Jersey Council on Compulsive Gambling, said the state’s toll-free help line has seen an increased number of calls on the issue.
"We have gotten a mix of calls from people who have relapsed and gotten in trouble by the easy access, and calls from people who are new to gambling and the speed of play," Weinbaum said in a March 2014 article in USA Today. "The round-the-clock access has gotten them into trouble in a rather short period of time."
Psychologist Kimberly Young defines Internet addiction by the consequences of Internet overuse, not by the number of hours spent online. The difference is between people who depend on technology and can balance their online life with their offline life, and those whose online obsession prevents them from functioning normally.
Young broke new ground when she founded the nation’s first hospital-based Internet addiction treatment center at Bradford Regional Medical Center in Bradford, Penn. in 2013.
"Like any other addiction, we look at whether it has jeopardized their career, whether they lie about their usage or whether it interferes with relationships," said Young. Since it is impractical to stay completely offline with computers an essential part of everyday life, Young said the goal is to develop a healthy and balanced use of the Internet.
Weiss, Robert, “Does Virtual Sex Count as Cheating?” Counselor, Dec. 15, 2014
Neporent, Liz, “Hospital First in U.S. to Treat Internet Addiction,” Good Morning America, Sept. 4, 2013
Dunn, Phil, “Online Gambling Spurs Addiction Fears,” USA Today, March 16, 2014
Jacques, Renee, “15 Signs You Are Hopelessly Addicted to Online Shopping,” Huffington Post, Dec. 2, 2013.