By Bill Gaultiere © 2000, 2010
Millions of people use the Internet compulsively. Internet Addiction Services estimates that 6 to 10% of Internet users are addicted.
Addicted to the Internet? Yes.
It’s a New World
Today we have so many ways to connect online: televisions, desktop computers, lap tops, tablets, and smart phones. It seems the Internet is everywhere we go. Within seconds we have access to libraries of information, images, and connections with people. Children with iPhones have the world at their fingertips long before they’re ready to face those temptations.
Many kinds of people from all walks of life are bound up by their link to the web, including some of the pastors and ministry leaders that we care for in our ministry of Soul Shepherding.
For many people their use of the Internet is destroying their lives and their families and yet they can’t stop. Research has shown that compulsive Internet users show the classic signs of addiction: tolerance (needing more and more to get the desired effect) and withdrawal (feel so bad when they go without it that they can’t stop — similar to what alcoholics, drug addicts, sex addicts, and others experience.
The Internet is a world with many dark, evils including child exploitation, sex trafficking, terrorism. More commonly, pornography and gambling flourish on the web and tempt people that weren’t looking for that activity. Even “safe” social networking sites like Facebook are easily used to facilitate cybersex.
Many people who never would’ve imagined themselves to struggle with an addiction are sucked into using Internet porn or to becoming consumed with spending hours and hours “connecting” with people.
Of course, social networking online is a good thing and for most people it’s not sexually inappropriate. In fact, most of what people do online is valuable, like what you’re doing right now: learning! There is such a wealth of helpful information on the Internet in all subjects, including encouragement for following Christ.
Why is it so Easy to Get Caught in the Web of Internet Addiction?
If you have an addiction or compulsive tendencies then the Internet is made for you. It offers the control, instant gratification, and detachment that addicts crave
With anonymity comes control. On Facebook you can reveal as little or as much about yourself as you choose. In a chat room, message board, or online gaming community you don’t even have to be yourself! You can recreate your online identity anytime. Or just go away by hitting the delete key or setting up a new e-mail address. Ironically, like all addicts, Internet addicts are out of control and can’t stop their compulsive behavior without help.
The graphics and interactivity of the Internet can be a powerful stimulant. And it’s always on- – right there in the privacy of your home or car. If you’re drawn to pornography, checking up on the latest news with all your social contacts, gambling, auctioning, gaming, stock trading, shopping, or web surfing then you can have as much as you want right now. Of course, the entertainment doesn’t last and whatever inner pain or emptiness you’re avoiding returns. And so you have to go back again and again for more and more for a quick fix.
People who are lonely or insecure in real life meet strangers online and quickly pour out personal feelings, dark secrets, and passionate desires. This is exciting and it feels intimate. But the excitement wears off and relying on faceless people for love and caring breaks down and leaves the Internet addict disappointed and hurting.
What Problems are People Having with Internet Addiction?
Over the years as a psychologist I have encountered many people who are having big problems with the Internet or are in relationship with someone who is.
For some people their access to the Internet opens the door to a new compulsion:
- A married woman, faithful to her husband for the eight years of their marriage, found herself engaging in sexual conversation with a man she’s never met via e-mail.
- A novice investor started using the Internet to buy and sell stocks until he lost most of his life savings.
- Two teenagers met online, flirted and chatted every day for two weeks, and then started living together.
- A wife got up to get up from bed to get a drink of water and found her husband exchanging pornographic pictures with another woman.
For others, who already have an addiction, the Internet is a more convenient and powerful way to continue using their drug of choice.
- A man who spent hours and hours at the casino every week to forget about his problems started gambling online every day.
- A woman who would come home from the local shopping mall with bags of clothes and household items most every day found that she could shop around the world from her home computer – adding to her debt and he clutter.
- A man who regularly replenished his stash of pornography from the local liquor store started spending hours every day on porn web sites.
- A pedophile who used child pornography for years started going online, not only to child porn sites, but also to children’s chat rooms where he could pretend to be a child himself, chat with other kids, and then engage them in sexual conversation.
Are You (or Someone You Love) Struggling with an Internet Addiction?
I developed a self-assessment for people having problems with their Internet use. If you’re spending too much time online or it’s causing conflict with your family then take our “Addiction Test” to see if you might need help with an Internet Addiction.
Recovery Steps for Internet Addicts
If you or someone you care about is spending too much time online or using the Internet in harmful ways what can you do to get free?
Admit you have a problem
If you’re not sure you have a problem then start keeping a log of how much time you’re spending online and what you’re doing with that time. Then ask someone you trust and respect what they think about your behavior.
You’ll want to read our article, “Step Out of the Cycle of Addiction.” This will help you to understand the dynamics of compulsive behavior and how you can get free with God’s help.
All things are possible with God. You need His help and healing. If you learn truly to live by the words, “The Lord is my shepherd I shall not want” then you will become free of addiction. There are no greener pastures than the spacious place of God’s grace! There are no waters more refreshing and nourishing that the Lord’s still waters. He alone restores souls. (“My Soul Shepherding Psalm” will help you to pray Psalm 23 from your heart in ways that further Christ’s healing and transformation in your life.)
Talk to someone you trust and respect. Get in a 12-Step recovery group or other support group so you can talk about your problem and receive support. There are even recovery groups that meet online.
Restrict your Internet access
Move the computer into a public area. Or install a web filter that restricts your activity. Or have someone else put a lock or password on your computer so that you can’t use it alone. Or just cancel your Internet access – you can live without it!
Talk with a Counselor
There are underlying reasons for addictions. You need help to become aware of your deeper feelings, needs, and conflicts and learn better ways of coping. You need to learn to receive and rely support from God and people rather than escaping from your pain and problems into the Internet.
Prepare to Overcome Temptation Before it Hits
An essential step in recovery from addiction is to learn to plan ahead how you will utilize your friends in recovery and other God-given resources for freedom. As part of this you need to learn a special way of prayer that I teach called, “Watch and Pray Before You Slip.”
Learn more about Internet addiction
For instance, online you can visit The Center for Internet Addiction.
Addicts who are in recovery and hurting people who have found healing maintain their changes and keep growing by helping others. Recovery from any addiction is not complete without practicing the 12th Step and “giving back” to others.
“Soul Shepherding is for you and your ministry”
Bill Gaultiere, PhD & Kristi Gaultiere, PsyD ~ Soul Shepherding ~ Irvine, CA