Getting off the superhighway

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NEW YORK

A funny thing happened when New York psychiatrist Ivan Goldberg invented a disorder called Internet addiction. As a spoof, he listed a range of symptoms, like "involuntary typing movements of the fingers," and posted them on an electronic message board for mental health professionals. "But people typed back, 'Hey, I have these characteristics,' so I ended up starting a support group for Internet addicts," says Goldberg.

So far, about 150 people have joined the support group, and because they live all over the world, meetings are held on-line. ("It's like that joke about Alcoholics Anonymous meetings being held in bars," says Goldberg.) One woman described how she lost two jobs and a home because she'd rather "be on the Net than earning rent." Another lamented how she'd worn off the letters on her keyboard after only a year.

Addiction, says Goldberg, is actually a misleading term for the disorder; it resembles workaholism more than alcoholism. People use the Internet to avoid problems in their lives or because they lack social skills, he says. "If your spouse is cheating on you, your kids are on drugs, and you're depressed, you can spend 18 hours a day on the Internet and not worry about any of it."

But obsessive Internet use only makes matters worse. "Let's face it," says Goldberg, "when you lose your business and your house, that's getting serious."

If you'd like to join Goldberg's on-line addicts' support group, the E-mail address is listserv@net-com.com; subject (leave blank); message: Subscribe i-a-s-g.

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Vital Signs by Jayne Garrison and Patricia Long

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