HEADLINES / TRENDS l STATS l RESEARCH l MEDIA l PEOPLE

October 2004

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Fighting Internet Addiction

As the Internet plays an ever-greater role in our daily lives, it also offers a new way for susceptible people to avoid unpleasant emotions, which can lead to addiction. Unlike treating dependence on drugs, alcohol or gambling, long-term complete withdrawal from the Internet is nearly impossible in the modern world, making Internet addiction challenging to treat.

The drug comparison isn’t off base. Excessive Internet usage “functions as if it were a drug at the neuronal level,” says Josie Oppenheim, MS, a psychoanalyst with the Center for Modern Psychoanalytic Studies in New York City. She cites research that shows reduced levels of dopamine, a pleasure-related brain chemical, resulting from overuse of the Internet (NeuroReport 6/11/2011).

“The computer recreates a feeling of being mirrored by the mother,” says Oppenheim, explaining her theory of why the Internet is so alluring. “The screen is there for us whenever we want it, and it reflects back a version of ourselves we like.”

When does one know that Internet use has crossed the line into addiction? In the American Journal of Psychiatry (3/08), Jerald Block, MD, lists symptoms that include neglect of basic drives while online; feelings of anger, tension or depression when the computer is inaccessible; increasing tolerance, the need for better equipment or more hours of use; and such negative repercussions as lying, poor achievement and social isolation. Erosion of family relationships may also occur.

In serious cases, addiction interferes with life, work or school, says Jamie Simkins, LPC, of the Millennium Counseling Center in Chicago. “It often takes a family member to say there’s a problem.”

Oppenheim believes talking with a well-trained professional is the first step in fighting Internet dependence. ”Just talking to someone about our concerns can feel better than the fantasy world the computer screen offers.”

Some drug and alcohol rehab programs have added Internet addiction teams. Detox involves a complete withdrawal from computers and smartphones. Patients engage in therapy to “figure out what’s at the core of the problem,” says Simkins, “what feelings the addict is trying to avoid.”

Simkins helps recovering addicts leave rehab and integrate new patterns into their lives. “We reintroduce use of Internet devices with a time management piece, looking at what healthy Internet use looks like and what makes sense for the person’s occupation,” she explains. “Then we continue with a weekly therapy session.” Twelve-step programs may be also be helpful.

Among the therapeutic methods Simkins has found effective is Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), which helps stimulate the information-processing part of the brain. Simkins also uses cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), which “helps get at the negative thoughts about the self and come up with new ways of thinking and new coping behaviors”—useful tools in recovering from Internet addiction. —Violet Snow

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N U M B E R S

 

Good News on Air Pollution

84%

Reduction in air levels of lead, known to harm the brain, over recent decades

66%

Reduction in benzene, which causes anemia and other blood problems

3 Million

Tons per year—the total reduction in various air pollutants

Source: US Environmental Protection Agency

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SKIN & BEAUTY UPDATE

Childhood Sunscreen

Cuts Melanoma Risk

Our July/August story “Here Comes the Sun” discussed natural sunscreen ingredients. Using such products not only protects against signs of accelerated skin aging, such as dark spots and dryness, but also defends against skin cancer. And while many skin tumors are not life-threatening, the American Cancer Society reports that approximately 76,100 Americans develop an aggressive form called melanoma each year—and more than 9,700 die from it.

Now a study from the Texas Biomedical Research Institute in San Antonio, published in the journal Pigment Cell and Melanoma, confirms the importance of consistent sunscreen use from an early age.

Researchers used the gray short-tailed opossum, a South American marsupial that provides a suitable model of human melanoma development. Applying sunscreen to infant opossums resulted in a tenfold reduction in precancerous lesions compared with control animals, even when ultraviolet exposure wasn’t enough to produce sunburn.

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MALADY MAKEOVER UPDATE

Tick Bites Pass

Multiple Infections

In our July/August story “Tiny Threats,” we met people who suffered from persistent infections with Lyme disease, passed via bites from the Ixodes scapularis tick. The story mentioned that these ticks can carry other infective organisms such as babesia, which causes a red blood cell infection marked by fever and chills.

Now a study from New York state confirms how prevalent these coexisting infections truly are.
Felicia Keesing, PhD, is a biology professor at Bard College in Dutchess County, which has one of the highest rates of Lyme disease in the US. In study results published in PLoS One, Keesing found that about 10% of the ticks she collected harbor two distinct diseases, both of which can be passed to a person in a single bite.

“If you have been exposed to Lyme disease, there’s a one-in-three chance that you’ve been exposed to something else at the same time,” she says. “Those are pretty high odds.”

Infections that occur together, such as Lyme disease and babesiosis, tend to produce more severe symptoms.

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