We often talk about Internet addiction in a joking manner. Some of us may even make self-deprecating comments about how we just can’t seem to get off-line for even a few moments. Such comments may reveal hidden addictions that many of us simply do not want to recognise. In simple terms, internet addiction is a very real problem around the world. At the top of the list of addictive online behaviours are viewing pornography and gambling.
Neither pornography nor gambling is anything new. Since the dawn of humankind, we have been engaged in illicit sexual activity and multiple forms of gaming and wagering. What makes the 21st century so much different is the fact that these things, once considered vices, are now both mainstream and just a click away. All one needs are a computer or mobile device and a little bit of privacy to develop a lifelong addiction.
Just how bad is the online pornography problem in the UK? According to the Telegraph, approximately 90% of children between the ages of eight and 16 have viewed pornography online. They cite data from the International Institute for Trauma & Addiction Professionals in stating that the average first exposure to pornography comes at about age 11 and that the largest consumers of pornographic images and videos online are children aged 12 to 17.
Those are extremely troubling numbers by any measure. It shows just how destructive pornography can be to a generation that has been raised on the internet. Kids are so used to having access to all kinds of information online that they think nothing of viewing pornography. Making matters worse is the reality that so few parents actually monitor the online activities of their children. Most live in denial, assuming their kids are just not interested in that sort of thing.
Perhaps one of the reasons we do not take internet addiction based in pornography seriously is that we don’t understand its destructive potential. After all, pornography does not lead to driving while impaired; it doesn’t cause things such as coronary heart disease, liver disease, or clinically diagnosed psychosis. But that does not mean pornography addiction is harmless.
Internet addictions rooted largely in pornography are just as destructive to mental and emotional health as any drug. They are destructive to relationships, especially where marriages and civil unions are concerned. And, in fact, pornography addiction is a contributing factor for people struggling with sexual identity issues.
Gambling addiction doesn’t seem to be as serious a problem among young people, but it is serious nonetheless. According to the Christian Institute, one in every 30 adults knows someone in the UK who has lost a job because of a gambling habit. In most cases, the internet in some way played a role. Either gambling addicts practice their habits at home behind a computer screen or mobile device, or they gamble at betting shops where internet-connected terminals fuel their addictions.
The most unfortunate aspect of gambling addiction is that it tends to strike the poor more often than not. People without financial means look at gambling as a way to better their financial position quickly and easily. After all, someone has to win. Yet it doesn’t take much for the losses to start piling up, to the extent that the gambler is just trying to win that next wager to break even.
Like pornography, gambling is an addiction that destroys relationships. It slowly chips away mental and emotional health until the gambler is reduced to a shell of his/her former self. It can also lead to extreme poverty, which, subsequently, may eventually result in a life of crime.
Pornography and gambling top the list of internet addictions in the UK. However, they are by no means alone. Another common addiction related to internet use is an addiction to social media. According to some experts, social media has become the online ‘crack’ of a new generation of people who just cannot seem to disconnect from their friends and acquaintances. They must always be on Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, or any of the other sites they use so frequently.
At the heart of this particular kind of addiction is narcissism. We have trained our children to believe that the universe revolves around them, reinforcing that training by giving them multiple online platforms whereby they can announce to the world every intimate detail of their lives.
Internet addiction is a very real problem that we need to stop ignoring. It is one thing to spend 5-8 hours per day behind the computer screen doing legitimate work-related tasks. It is an entirely different matter to fritter away hour after hour in tasks that are non-work related. When those tasks involve viewing pornography, gambling, and social media, addiction is a very real concern.
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