A few months ago, it wasn't unusual for 47-year-old Carla Toebe to spend 15 hours per day online. She'd wake up early, turn on her laptop and chat on Internet dating sites and instant-messaging programs – leaving her bed for only brief intervals. Her household bills piled up, along with the dishes and dirty laundry, but it took near-constant complaints from her four daughters before she realized she had a problem.
"I was starting to feel like my whole world was falling apart – kind of slipping into a depression," said Carla. "I knew that if I didn't get off the dating sites, I'd just keep going," detaching (使脱离) herself further from the outside world.
Toebe's conclusion: She felt like she was "addicted" to the Internet. She's not alone.
Concern about excessive Internet use isn't new. As far back as 1995, articles in medical journals and the establishment of a Pennsylvania treatment center for overusers generated interest in the subject. There's still no consensus on how much time online constitutes too much or whether addiction is possible.
But as reliance on the Web grows, there are signs that the question is getting more serious attention: Last month, a study published in CNS Spectrums claimed to be the first large-scale look at excessive Internet use. The American Psychiatric Association may consider listing Internet addiction in the next edition of its diagnostic manual. And scores of online discussion boards have popped up on which people discuss negative experiences tied to too much time on the Web.
"There's no question that there're people who're seriously in trouble because they're overdoing their Internet involvement," said psychiatrist (精神科医生) Ivan Goldberg. Goldberg calls the problem a disorder rather than a true addiction.
Jonathan Bishop, a researcher in Wales specializing in online communities, is more skeptical. "The Internet is an environment," he said. "You can't be addicted to the environment." Bishop describes the problem as simply a matter of priorities, which can be solved by encouraging people to prioritize other life goals and plans in place of time spent online.
The new CNS Spectrums study was based on results of a nationwide telephone survey of more than 2,500 adults. Like the 2005 survey, this one was conducted by Stanford University researchers.About 6% of respondents reported that "their relationships suffered because of excessive Internet use." About 9% attempted to conceal "nonessential Internet use," and nearly 4% reported feeling "preoccupied by the Internet when offline."
About 8% said they used the Internet as a way to escape problems, and almost 14% reported they "found it hard to stay away from the Internet for several days at a time."
"The Internet problem is still in its infancy," said Elias Aboujaoude, a Stanford professor. No single online activity is to blame for excessive use, he said. "They're online in chat rooms, checking e-mail, or writing blogs. [The problem is] not limited to porn (色情) or gambling" websites.
Excessive Internet use should be defined not by the number of hours spent online but "in terms of losses," said Maressa Orzack, a Harvard University professor. "If it's a loss [where] you're not getting to work, and family relationships are breaking down as a result, then it's too much."
Since the early 1990s, several clinics have been established in the U. S. to treat heavy Internet users. They include the Center for Internet Addiction Recovery and the Center for Internet Behavior.
The website for Orzack's center lists the following among the psychological symptoms of computer addiction:
● Having a sense of well-being (幸福) or excitement while at the computer.
● Longing for more and more time at the computer.
● Neglect of family and friends.
● Feeling empty, depressed or irritable when not at the computer.
● Lying to employers and family about activities.
● Inability to stop the activity.
● Problems with school or job.
Physical symptoms listed include dry eyes, backaches, skipping meals, poor personal hygiene (卫生) and sleep disturbances.
People who struggle with excessive Internet use maybe depressed or have other mood disorders, Orzack said. When she discusses Internet habits with her patients, they often report that being online offers a "sense of belonging, and escape, excitement [and] fun," she said. "Some people say relief…because they find themselves so relaxed."
Some parts of the Internet seem to draw people in more than others. Internet gamers spend countless hours competing in games against people from all over the world. One such game, called World of Warcraft, is cited on many sites by posters complaining of a "gaming addiction."
Andrew Heidrich, an education network administrator from Sacramento, plays World of Warcraft for about two to four hours every other night, but that's nothing compared with the 40 to 60 hours a week he spent playing online games when he was in college. He cut back only after a full-scale family intervention (干预), in which relatives told him he'd gained weight.
"There's this whole culture of competition that sucks people in" with online gaming, said Heidrich, now a father of two. "People do it at the expense of everything that was a constant in their lives." Heidrich now visits websites that discuss gaming addiction regularly "to remind myself to keep my love for online games in check."
Toebe also regularly visits a site where posters discuss Internet overuse. In August, when she first realized she had a problem, she posted a message on a Yahoo Internet addiction group with the subject line: "I have an Internet Addiction."
"I'm self-employed and need the Internet for my work, but I'm failing to accomplish my work,to take care of my home, to give attention to my children," she wrote in a message sent to the group."I have no money or insurance to get professional help; I can't even pay my mortgage (抵押贷款) and face losing everything."
Since then, Toebe said, she has kept her promise to herself to cut back on her Internet use. "I have a boyfriend now, and I'm not interested in online dating," she said by phone last week. "It's a lot better now."
What eventually made Carla Toebe realize she was spending too much time on the Internet?
(A) Her daughter's repeated complaints.
(B) Fatigue resulting from lack of sleep.
(C) The poorly managed state of her house.
(D) The high financial costs adding up.