Is the Internet to be the next major addiction with a therapist and a Twelve Step Program necessary to address the issue?It's starting to look that way.In a society filled with addiction to drugs, alcohol, gambling, food, cigarettes, and sex, we have now reached the stage in which addiction to the Internet is being recognized as a serious problem.


On October 24, 1997, Pam Albridge, a mother of two living in Umatilla, Florida, lost custody of her children ages seven and eight when a judge concluded that she was addicted to the Internet and unable to care for her children.Primary custody was awarded to her husband with the judge concluding that Mrs. Albridge was "addicted to the Internet and ignores the needs of the children."


In the Albridge matter, there was testimony that after the couple separated, Mrs. Albridge moved the computer into her bedroom, locked the door, and began to spend all of her time on-line other than an occasional pause to eat, drink, or sleep.


Addiction to the Internet is not new to the psychological community.†† It was formally recognized approximately two years ago, with characteristics including sneaking on-line in the middle of the night, calling in sick so one can stay on-line, and totally ignoring one's family and environment.


The psychological community is in the early stages of addressing this problem.Addiction specialists are gearing up to deal with this relatively new addiction.Either through therapy, or alternatively through "Internet Anonymous" those who are addicted will have to address their addiction so that they don't spend the rest of their lives sitting hunched over in a room with the door locked talking in a chat room.


Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania is the home for the first Center for On-Line Addiction.The Center was created in 1995 by a professor of psychology at the University of Pittsburgh in an attempt to address this problem.I wouldn't be at all surprised to see centers such as these springing up throughout the country in the not to distant future.It appears as if the time has arrived for Internet use to be re-evaluated so that it can continue to be something positive for those who can use it in moderation; however, those who need help, are going to have to get help.


Alcoholics Anonymous was the first Twelve Step group formed to deal with addiction.It was followed by a plethora of others as the hope was that what worked for alcoholics would hopefully work for people addicted to other substances or entities.Now the computer age, the age of growth, the age of science and technology apparently has a price attached to it.The question is, can a person use a computer in a reasonable fashion without having it dominate his life?Can a person maintain a marriage, a family, employment, friendships, and other hobbies without the Internet taking over?


Mrs. Albridge could not and it appears as if the judge made the appropriate decision in her case.Mrs. Albridge was no longer emotionally available for her children.She was no longer in a position where she could appropriately raise her children and give them the care and attention they needed.From Sandra Bullock's character in "The Net" to people many of us know who spend the day continually E-Mailing each other, people have to be able to use computers and/or the Internet in moderation if they are to use them at all.If it is not possible for the individual to moderate his behavior, then similar to those who are addicted to drugs and alcohol, the only healthy alternative will be to give up the Internet completely.For some people there is no middle ground.


I wonder whether Mrs. Albridge will want to visit her children now that her ex-husband has primary custody?Has her level of addiction reached the degree where she will totally abdicate her role as a mother?If this is happening in Umatilla, Florida, logic would indicate that it is happening elsewhere as well.School teachers will now have another issue to deal with when they view a child who they believe to be suffering from neglect.Along with all of the other reasons parents can neglect their children, Internet addiction is now something teachers should consider.

Do you know people like Mrs. Albridge?How many Mrs. Albridges are there who live in Glendale or the neighboring Foothills?How many husbands and/or wives are not spending appropriate time with their mates, and how many children are being ignored as the spouse finds America On Line to be his or her constant companion?It is not reasonable to believe that the Albridge situation is an isolated incident.


Computers and the Internet are potentially wonderful things, the opinion of Ted Kazynsky notwithstanding.This is the age of information, the age of access, and all of the other positives that come from computer use and the Internet; however, like with anything else, too much of a good thing can cause problems and those problems must be addressed.



Charles Unger is a partner in the law firm of Flanagan, Booth & Unger in Glendale.The firm specializes in defense of criminal cases and the handling of personal injury matters and has been located in Glendale for 17 years.Mr. Unger received his Bachelor of Arts at Northwestern University, his J.D. at the University of Illinois, and he has recently completed all of the course work necessary for his doctorate in Psychotherapy at the American Behavioral Studies Institute.Mr. Unger will be writing a column the first and third Mondays of each month addressing relevant legal and psychological issues in the news.