HR: Internet Addiction Exists, Deal With It

Posted on August 03 2011 by Renaldo Bernard

HR: Internet Addiction Exists, Deal With It |

The growth of the Internet has been accompanied by an increasing concern that excessive use is associated with the development of what has been termed ‘Internet addiction’, ‘Internet addiction disorder’ and ‘pathological Internet use’. However, some scepticism exists around the conceptualisation of such mainly due to the inconsistency among practitioners’ views and operational definitions for the condition (Shaffer, 2004). Regardless of those professionals who ignore the idea, there is evidence within theory and empirical support for the destructive effects of Internet addiction in the workplace (Snapshot Spy, 2008).


Behavioural Addictions

Addictive behaviour has been described as a recurring habit (usually characterised by immediate feedback and sometimes accompanied with delayed harmful effects) that increases the risk of disease and/or personal and social problems. Any attempts to alter this behaviour are typically marked by high relapse rates (Marlatt, Baer, Donovan & Kivlahan, 1988).


Technological Addictions

Applying the above definition to Internet addiction, which is considered as a technological addiction, reveals that it is a “non-chemical (behavioural) addiction that involves human-machine interaction” (Griffiths, 2000). It can be passive (watching the television) or active (playing computer games) and typically have inducing and reinforcing characteristics that may be a means for the promotion of addictive behaviour (Griffiths, 1995). Technological addictions are considered as a subset of behavioural addiction and therefore, feature six core components as outlined by Griffiths (1995, 1996):

  • Salience – speaks to the object as being the single most important thing in that individual’s life where it dominates their thinking and behaviour even when it is not being experienced.
  • Mood modification – refers to the euphoric feeling one achieves as a result of the particular activity.
  • Tolerance – addicts also experience increased tolerance where they need more and more each time to have the same effects.
  • Withdrawal – individuals often experience unpleasant feeling states/ physical effects (withdrawal symptoms) that occur due to the discontinuation or reduction of the stimuli.
  • Conflict – refers to where the addict experience problems sometimes from within themselves and with others around them.
  • Relapse – as soon as the person goes back to the addictive activity, they quickly fall back into the cycle.


Another View

In addition to Griffiths’ components of addiction, other Internet addiction researchers such as Young (1999) offer a different view of Internet addiction with her five subtypes that encompass a wide range of behaviours and impulse control problems.

  1. Cyber-sexual addiction – speaks to the compulsive use of pornography websites for online sex and porn.
  2. Cyber-relationship addiction – refers to excessive participation in online relationships.
  3. Net compulsions – for example, obsessive online gambling, shopping etc.
  4. Information overload – looks at compulsive Internet surfing or simply running online queries, for example, using a search engine and lastly,
  5. Computer addiction – refers to the obsessive computer game playing.

Considering Young’s views, Griffiths (2000) has stated that “many of these excessive users are not ‘Internet addicts’ but just use the Internet excessively as a medium to fuel other addictions”. Moreover, he went on to state that “there is a need to distinguish between addictions to the Internet and addictions on the Internet”. For instance, a sex addict who chooses to engage in cybersex chooses the Internet as the place where (s)he will satisfy this addiction and cannot be considered as being addicted to the Internet.


All Things Considered

Based on a simple biopsychological premise it is believed that there are ways in which the Internet may be highly seductive and addictive for young adults and adolescents especially. For instance, research done by Small (2008) shows that Internet savvy participants in his study exhibited more brain processing activity online than when reading a book or performing other tasks. Moreover, their less skilled counterparts showed normal brain activity for both conditions. In the least, this provides evidence for the mood modification (i.e., feelings of euphoria) component mentioned earlier and presents a potential addictive feature of the Internet. It is acknowledged that Internet addiction exists and though at present it may only affect a relatively small group of people (Griffiths, 2000), it is believed that the number of sufferers is on the increase (Leun, 2004).

One of the first steps towards dealing with this issue involves HR professionals acknowledging that there is an issue and increasing awareness among their professional colleagues and personnel. This practice improves the detection rate of the problem and can lead to help being offered to those who are in need.