10 Langley Road
FOR OVER 15 YEARS Dr. Orzack, a licensed clinical psychologist,
has treated addictive behaviors at
where she is founder and coordinator of the
Computer Addiction Service and a member of the Harvard Medical
School faculty. She is also a faculty member of the Cognitive Therapy Program, and in
private practice in Newton Centre, Massachusetts. In addition she has studied recreational
drug use and thinks that inappropriate computer use is similar. Her sense is that we are
just seeing the tip of the iceberg. Our society is becoming more and more computer
dependent not only for information, but for fun and entertainment. This trend is a
potential problem affecting all ages, starting with computer games for kids to chats for
the unwary or vulnerable adult.
Do any of these stories sound familiar to you?
A mother has difficulty getting her
child to do chores when computer games occupy all after school time.
A husband finds his wife increasingly
neglects family duties, is irritable at family gatherings, and the phone bill has risen
astronomically to an on-line service number.
Someone connects to the Internet at 9:00 PM
and suddenly discovers it is dawn and he has not left the computer.
A child’s grades fall and the teacher
notes that he/she is falling asleep in class.
A college freshman gets a mid-term warning
because he is not keeping up with course work. Instead, he is spending every evening on
the Internet communicating with all his family and former high school classmates, and
rarely joins in social activities on campus.
An employee starts to fall behind at
work and a rising number of sick days raises questions about usefulness to his/her
A corporate department head stays late each
night to meet deadlines. In-house monitoring of computer use reveals he frequently
accesses inappropriate sites, including gambling and pornography.
An office supervisor suddently resigns from
her job. A lot of work is unfinished and the company asks her family to encurage her to
return. They find her at home, hunched over a computer and out cold completely oblivious
to her surroundings.
THESE ARE ALL EXAMPLES of a condition called Computer
Addiction, Internet Addictive Disorder or Cyberaddiction. It is a problem very similar to
Pathological Gambling or Compulsive Shopping. Like other addictions, it affects other
people — family, friends, and co-workers. Spouses complain that their loved ones neglect
them. Couples separate when one of the partners finds someone else on the Internet and
leaves home. Like gamblers they compulsively keep investing time and money. They fantasize
that the next connection they make will solve all their problems.
THE SYMPTOMS OF COMPUTER ADDICTION are quite
Having a sense of well-being or euphoria
while at the computer
Inability to stop the activity
Craving more and more time at the computer
Neglect of family and friends
Feeling empty, depressed, irritable when
not at the computer
Lying to employers and family about
Problems with school or job
Carpal tunnel syndrome
Eating irregularities, such as skipping
Failure to attend to personal hygiene
Sleep disturbances, change in sleep pattern
COMPUTER ADDICTION HAS BEEN IDENTIFIED by many
professionals and the media. Family therapists hear about it frequently. Clinical
Psychiatric News reports increasing complaints related to computer use. At many colleges
and universities, counselors and Deans of Students report increases in inappropriate and
exessive computer use associated with rule infractions, student failures and academic
drop-outs. Lawyers find that compulsive computer use can be a major factor in divorce.
LIKE ANY ADDICTION this one can be treated. Dr. Orzack believes that one of the most
effective methods to deal with all these types of problems is Cognitive Behavior Therapy,
which teaches the patient to identify the problem, to solve the problem and to learn
coping skills to prevent relapse. Often the treatment is helped by medication. In addition
she recommends support groups for the other affected persons. She does not treat online,
stating, “I’m licensed in Massachusetts, not in cyberspace”.
BIBLIOGRAPHY of writings on
- Clinical Psychiatry News (Letter to Editor), February 1997
- Harvard Mental Health Letter, January 1999
- Psychiatric Times, August 1998
ARTICLES ABOUT DR. ORZACK (Partial List)
- Behavioral Health Treatment, August 1997
- Boston Globe, August 4, 1996
- Computer World, September 21, 1998
- Computing for Kids, 1997
- Harvard Gazette,
January 21, 1999
- Jyllands-Posten (Denmark), December 2, 1996
- Massachusetts Psychologist, January 1999
- MSNBC, February 2, 1999
York Times, December 1, 1996
York Times, March 12, 1998
- Newsweek (Cyberscope section), February 5, 1999
- PC World, January
- Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, July 27, 1997
- Science, February 21, 1997
- Seeing Digital, September
- Spin, August 1998
- The Times (London, UK), March 16, 1998
- US News and World Report, March 22, 1999
- USA Today, August 27, 1997
- Washington Post (Unconventional Wisdom section), February 21, 1999
Q&A with Dr. Orzack