New Delhi, Oct. 18: In the dead of night, India’s Internet junkies get down to work — surfing, chatting and gaming.
Life on the Net is no longer a growing pastime: it is becoming a habit that can’t be kicked, like alcohol addiction.
As the proportion of “heavy users” of the Internet rises in the country, psychiatrists have begun to encounter Net addiction, which some studies have shown to be as addictive as alcoholism.
A study by Stanford University scientists indicated that Internet addicts are clinically as ill as alcoholics. The survey — done in America but dealing in situations not too unfamiliar in India — found that some addicts hid their Net habit or went online to tackle bad moods in much the same way that alcoholics turn to the bottle.
“They’re using the Internet to self-medicate,” said lead researcher Elias Aboujaoude. “Obviously, something’s wrong when people go out of their way to hide their Internet activity.”
“Increasing Internet activity at night is a warning sign,” said Veena Kapoor, a consultant psychiatrist in Delhi who has encountered Net addicts, mainly among young adolescents and adult males. “It’s like any other addiction. But the Internet is attractive for it doesn’t require any hard work, energy or planning.”
She said parents have visited her about children who spend excessive time on the Internet, and wives have complained to her about husbands who spend hours on the Net viewing pornographic sites.
“It’s almost always parents or spouses who notice that something’s wrong. I’ve had only one man who’s come to me seeking help, and he didn’t want his wife to know about this addiction,” Kapoor said.
Preliminary research in the US has profiled a typical Internet addict — a single, college-educated male in his thirties who spends about 30 hours a week on non-essential computer use.
An Indian survey released yesterday has shown that the proportion of “heavy users” — who clock more than eight hours a week — has grown from 20 per cent in 2004 to 38 per cent this year.
The 26-city survey that covered 65,000 persons in 16,500 households has shown that 1.6 million school children use the Internet on average about 322 minutes a week. About 3.4 million college children use the Internet about 433 minutes a week, according to the survey by the Internet and Mobile Association of India.
The association has also found that one-third of Net users in India use the web as a source of information and research.
While there have been no surveys on Internet addiction in India, doctors say they have seen adolescents and adult males spending so much time on the Net that their academic, personal or professional lives suffer.
The addiction is treated with a combination of counselling and behavioural therapy. “It works when an addict is motivated to deal with the problem,” a psychiatrist said.
“Just like any other addiction, the deterioration takes place over time,” said Puneet Dwevedi, a consultant psychiatrist.
While pornography is a draw, psychiatrists said they have encountered addicts with other interests — games, chat, even aimless surfing.