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Net addiction is no joke say mental health professionals BELMONT Mass -- It started when he broke the bank while bidding at online auctions Then it escalated as the hypnotic black hole of cyberspace sucked him in deeper Online games cybersex and suicidal thoughts haunted him Eventually he became so obsessed with the Internet that life had little meaning beyond it Despite therapy and warnings this anonymous Internet addict still hasnt been able to shake an addiction that has ruined his life And experts say that he is not alone The Internet has wrecked marriages lost jobs and trapped the vulnerable in cybercocoons says psychologist Maressa Hecht Orzack founder of the Computer Addiction Service at McLean Hospital here I had one family that had to literally drag their kid away from the computer she says Another client of Orzacks became so obsessed with the Net that he gave up on a graduate degree his wife and offline friends According to Orzack and a growing cadre of mental health professionals computers and the Net present a problem as real as alcoholism with all the attendant symptoms of addiction--withdrawal loss of control and compulsive behavior Orzack believes one in ten regular Internet users become dependent on the Net--roughly equal to the populations predilection for compulsive gambling and alcoholism Although Internet addiction is not considered a recognizable disorder Orzack says the problem could eventually be placed in a similar category to kleptomania compulsive shopping or gambling It is what we call an impulse control disorder says Orzack who has been counseling chronic Net overusers for three years The idea you could become hooked on PCs has been floating around since well PCs were invented But it wasnt until an influx of Internet users came onto the scene that a flood of self-help groups studies books departments in addiction clinics and specialized therapists began popping up In one case a professor at the University of Pittsburgh-Bradford Kimberly Young even
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