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  1. madmacs

    25,374 Posts.
    Pathological Internet Use (PIU)

    Specific PIU involves overuse and abuse of specific Internet functions. These might be online auction houses, online pornography, online stock trading services, etc. Specific PIU is assumed to be the result of pre-existing psychopathology, which becomes associated with online activity. Therefore, the individual that might otherwise be a compulsive gambler would effectively realize that gambling is available online and eventually demonstrate specific PIU. A similar scenario might occur with the individual who compulsively (and pathologically) uses pornography. This individual comes to realize the vast amounts of pornography material online, and eventually comes to overuse the Internet. This would be termed specific PIU. Several studies have implicated online sexual compulsivity as a major predictor of PIU (Cooper et al., 1999). This supports the cognitive-behavioral model of PIU, in that pornography is an immediate stimulus-response condition. Internet users are able to immediately locate pornography online, and get immediate reinforcement from it. This behavioral association becomes strong, and the need for more explicit materials becomes stronger. As a result, the individual demonstrates symptoms of specific PIU. However, it is important to note that not every compulsive gambler or pornography abuser shows symptoms of specific PIU. What separates the individuals who become specific pathological users of the Internet is proscribed in the cognitive-behavioral model as described in this article.

    Of considerable difference is the more generalized user of the Internet. One element that contributes to the causal pathway of generalized PIU is related to the social context of the individual. Specifically, a lack of social support from family or friends and/or social isolation will result in generalized PIU. Generalized PIU involves spending abnormal amounts of time on the Internet, either wasting time with no directive purpose, or spending vast amounts of time in chat rooms. These individuals may check their e-mail several times a day and/or spend much of the day replying to bulletin boards and listservs. Individuals with general PIU is considerably more problematic in that their pathology would likely not even exist in the absence of the Internet. Although they likely had some previous psychopathology, were prone to maladaptive cognitions, and were socially isolated, they had no way of expressing their angst. The Internet, in is social role, acts as a means of communication to the most extreme degree imaginable. It is the individual’s lifeline to the outer world.

    Symptoms of Pathological Internet Use

    Symptoms of PIU are similar to those set out in previous research (Young, 1996), although in the cognitive-behavioral model the emphasis is on the cognitive symptoms. As such, the symptoms are obsessive thoughts about the Internet, diminished impulse control, inability to cease Internet usage, and importantly, feeling that the Internet is an individual’s only friend. The person feels as thought the Internet is the only place where they feel good about themselves and the world around them. Other symptoms of PIU include thinking about the Internet while offline, anticipating future time online, and spending large of amounts of money on Internet time and other such expenses. An individual with PIU spends less time doing otherwise pleasurable activities than before the PIU began. What used to be fun for them is no longer enjoyable. A further complication arises when the person eventually isolates himself or herself from friends, in favor of friends online. This problematic behavior maintains the vicious cycle of PIU, in that the individual becomes socially isolated. Finally, individuals with PIU have a sense of guilt about their online use. They often lie to their friends about how much time they spend online, and consider their Internet use a secret to others. While they understand that what they are doing is not entirely socially acceptable, they cannot stop. This results in a diminished self worth and further symptoms of PIU.

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