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Sunday, December 03, 2006

Internet Addiction and Wrongful Termination

In a story dated 11/20/06, InformationWeek published the article, “IBM Worker Says He Was Fired For Chat Room Addiction”. A former worker for IBM was suing the firm for wrongful termination because he claimed he was addicted to online chat rooms.

James Pacenza admits that he spent time in chat rooms during work hours, but claims his behavior is the result of an addiction and that IBM should have offered him counseling instead of firing him. Mr. Pacenza is seeking more that $5 million in punitive and compensatory damages.

IBM is expected to file a motion to dismiss the case, but this raises a significant concern for other firms who may be at legal risk and liability because of the Internet. As Internet addiction gains legitimacy as a clinical syndrome or addictive disorder, companies who provide access to the Internet may be at risk for similar wrongful termination claims.

Whether you agree that Internet addiction is protected mental disability or not, the case opens the door for potential liability. It is foreseeable that other similar cases could be launched creating new problems and costs for employers.

While the research in the employment field has focused on misuse or abuse of the Internet in the workplace, little has specifically looked at the potential for addiction and how this impacts employers. Questions such as, “How do firms protect themselves from similar wrongful termination claims?” “How do firms define employee Internet abuse?” and “What are the best practices to implement policies and procedures regarding employee Internet addiction?” arise.

It would be prudent for firms to examine the option of rehabilitation, if warranted, rather than termination for workers, not only because of the legal ramifications, but for the practical benefits. Workers who are terminated create poor employee morale and increase other costs for firms such as job turnover, recruitment of new workers, production delays, and training costs.

Beyond offering counseling for Internet-addicted employees, best practices for businesses should also be applied such as job redesign, sensitivity training for employees on responsible Internet use, and collaborative sessions with managers, predominantly from IT and HR to work together on appropriate policies, monitoring strategies, violation procedures, and training.
Linking these issues together, companies will be in a better place to protect themselves and address the practical employment issues that surface from such wrongful termination claims. Employers can also work with EAPs to help develop appropriate referral systems for employees suspected of being addicted to the Internet and examine how to monitor employees who may be at risk for developing such problems.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Is MMORPG Addiction Real?

I have received a tremendous amount of interest on the general question - are role-playing games addictive? From campus newspapers to national television news, stories about online gaming addiction are rapidly becoming a new hot issue. Within this context, you have to ask – does the behavior meet the standard definition for compulsive behavior? Using the DSM, the reference guide for psychiatric practice, many of our clients do fit the criteria. Certainly not everyone who plays games becomes addicted. However, over the last decade, more research has come out citing symptoms, risk factors, and treatment for video game addiction – and addiction to Massive Multi-user Online Role Playing Games.

Signs of online gaming addiction include a preoccupation with gaming, loss of interest in other activities, academic problems for students, social withdrawal from family and friends, using gaming as an escape, and continuing to game despite its consequences. We have seen a dramatic increase in the number of calls from parents concerned about a child’s online gaming habits in the last year. Gaming has become a particular problem in Korea and China where new clinics addressing the problem have opened and a new Detox Center for Video Game Addiction opened in Amsterdam this past summer for intensive inpatient treatment.

Given the growing number of treatment centers and documented cases of gaming addicts, I think we have moved beyond the question on whether gaming addiction exists but rather we need to focus on understanding the dynamics associated with the problem. Some researchers have identified specific personality types who are most vulnerable to develop an addiction to role-playing games. Other research has investigated cognitive or brain changes among gamers and yet other research have looked at the social dynamics of computer-mediated communication in multi-user gaming. This is all helpful to gain the type of academic and clinical understanding essential to dealing with problem use.

I think one way to deal with the issue is to educate parents on the potential harm that can come from online gaming. As with other addictions, education and awareness are perhaps the greatest ways to deal with prevention. From the cases we have seen, children with low self-esteem, who are highly intelligent, socially withdrawn, and who have a family history of addiction appear the most vulnerable to developing an addiction problem. If parents, as the ones most likely to first notice the signs of addiction, could be alerted to them, then they would be better able to act more swiftly to reduce the potential for problems to develop.

Finally, as part of the dialogue in the field, I have published a new article "Addiction to MMORPG: Symptoms and Treatment" that gives a basic summary of the problem, signs of addiction, and treatment issues involved. You can link to http://www.netaddiction.com/articles/addiction_to_mmorpgs.pdf to view the article.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Stanford Study on Internet Addiction

I was interested in this new study conducted by Stanford School of Medicine Researchers on Internet addiction. In the past, studies conducted on problem Internet use utilized adopted DSM criteria that suggested that people suffered from impulse control disorders. In a first-of-its-kind, telephone-based study, the researchers found that more than one out of eight Americans exhibited at least one possible sign of problematic Internet use. The findings follow results from previous, less rigorous studies that found a significant number of the population could be suffering from some form of Internet addiction.

"Our telephone survey suggests that potential markers of problematic Internet use are present in a sizeable portion of the population," the researchers noted in their paper, which appears in the October issue of CNS Spectrums: The International Journal of Neuropsychiatric Medicine. "We often focus on how wonderful the Internet is - how simple and efficient it can make things," elaborated lead author Elias Aboujaoude, MD. "But we need to consider the fact that it creates real problems for a subset of people."

Aboujaoude, clinical assistant professor in psychiatry and behavioral sciences and director of Stanford's Impulse Control Disorders Clinic, said that a small but growing number of Internet users are starting to visit their doctors for help with unhealthy attachments to cyberspace. He said these patients' strong drive to compulsively use the Internet to check e-mail, make blog entries or visit Web sites or chat rooms, is not unlike what sufferers of substance abuse or impulse-control disorders experience: a repetitive, intrusive and irresistible urge to perform an act that may be pleasurable in the moment but that can lead to significant problems on the personal and professional levels.

According to preliminary research, the typical affected individual is a single, college-educated, white male in his 30s, who spends approximately 30 hours a week on non-essential computer use. While some may hear this profile and assume that a person's Internet "addiction" might actually be an extreme fondness for pornography, Aboujaoude stressed that pornography sites are just one part of the problem.

"Not surprisingly, online pornography and, to some degree, online gambling, have received the most attention - but users are as likely to use other sites, including chat rooms, shopping venues and special-interest Web sites," he said. In the Stanford study-which Aboujaoude said is the first large-scale, random-sample epidemiological one ever done-the researchers conducted a nationwide household survey and interviewed 2,513 adults. This study confirms past findings on Internet addiction and further validates the existence of the disorder and its potential for widespread misuse. Further empirical evidence on the disorder helps researchers and clinicians understand the effects of the Internet when misused or abused and I think provides a greater understanding of its prevalence.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Online Gaming Addiction

Over the past year, we have received a growing number of phone calls from parents who are increasingly concerned about their child's online gaming habits. They are sure that there is a problem but counselors unfamiliar with online gaming addiction don’t understand how seductive they can be. One parent that I had worked with told me she had gone to talked to her son’s guidance counselors, the school psychologist, and two local addiction rehabilitation centers. "No one had ever heard of someone getting addicted to X-Box. They all told me it was a phase and that I should try to limit my son’s game playing. They didn’t understand that I couldn’t. He had lost touch with reality. My son lost interest in everything. He didn’t want to eat, sleep, or go to school, the game was the only thing that mattered to him. When I told him to get offline, he yelled, screamed, and once, he pushed me. This isn’t my son. He’s a quiet and loving boy. Now, I don’t know who is."

While many people play online games without developing any addictive or compulsive type of behavior, it seems that some users do go beyond normal limits. In trying to understand the behavior better, what are your thoughts on the potential of online gaming addiction? Do you believe it can become addictive? Do you believe that certain personality traits place some users at greater risk to develop an addiction to online games?

Monday, June 26, 2006

Are you an Internet addict?

Thank you for visiting our blog. I would like to welcome you and invite you to share your story about recovery. So many search for help and by sharing your story you can help others realize that they are not alone.