悄然蔓延的科技心病

──網路成癮
:::

2012 / 9月

文‧林欣靜 圖‧金宏澔


藥癮、毒癮、菸癮、酒癮……,都是大家耳熟能詳的成癮症,但除了早已被貼上負面標籤的毒品、酒精、尼古丁,看似無害又深入眾人生活的網路活動,也可能讓人在不知不覺中成癮。

多項長期調查顯示,在經常上網人口已逼近1,100萬人的台灣,學生網路成癮的盛行率已高達10~20%,排名僅次於南韓,高居全球第二。

網路本是人類資訊交流最大利器,為何變成反噬人心的「電子海洛因」?孩子整天「迷網」,父母該怎麼辦?人們又應如何防範這項日益蔓延的科技心病?


「父母『迷網』,乾扁1歲嬰猝死」、「大學生作息顛倒、沈溺上網、醒來已在加護病房」⋯⋯。

「我的兒子一碰到電腦,就像被魔鬼附身,叫他做什麼事,完全聽不到!」「國三的孩子天天玩線上遊戲到三更半夜,叫他早點睡就大發雷霆,還對家人暴力相向;爸爸把網路關掉,他就離家出走跑去網咖,誰能救救我們?」

翻開報紙或是聯繫各級學校的輔導中心,盡是一則又一則怵目驚心的社會案件和家長哀哀求助的投訴信,這群「網路癮君子」的脫序行為,已為他們的身心健康、家庭生活、人際關係與社會適應,帶來嚴重的負面影響,也掀起了網路成癮的新興議題。

無法自控、越陷越深

在電腦、無線網路、智慧型手機普及的現代社會,網路活動早已和多數人的工作、娛樂、生活緊密扣連,每日上網時數超過8小時的重度使用者比比皆是,難道他們都是「網路成癮」的高風險族群?

其實在醫學觀點中,是否「成癮」具有嚴格定義,通常是指身心高度依賴於某種物質或行為;一旦斷絕接觸,就會出現易怒、焦慮、發抖、煩躁不安,甚至全身不適等「戒斷症狀」。

相較於酒癮、毒癮患者,網路成癮症本質上更偏向心理上無法自拔的精神疾病。這個症狀最早是在1995年由美國精神科醫師葛爾柏格提出,他參考美國精神醫學會發行的第4版《心理疾病診斷手冊》中的「病態性賭博症」定義,為當時仍方興未艾的網路沈迷議題,鋪陳了「網路成癮症」的架構。

雖然國際精神醫學界至今對於是否要將網路成癮症列入精神疾病頗有爭議,但學界、醫界仍普遍認同確實有一群人會不受自我意志控制,沈溺在網路遊戲、社交網站、色情暴力資訊或其他類型的網路活動。

日前結合中國醫藥大學與亞洲大學的跨校資源、開辦國內首家「中亞聯大網路成癮防治中心」的亞洲大學副校長柯慧貞指出,網路成癮者通常必須具備3種特質,包括「強迫性」──理智上知道應該控制網路的使用時間,但無法克制上網的衝動;「戒斷性」──不能上網時會出現各種身心不適的症狀;以及「耐受性」──上網慾望越來越難滿足,所花費的時間也越來越長。

「很多人誤以為每天上網時數很長就等同於網路成癮,但兩者不必然相關,上網行為是否失控,才是網路成癮的判斷標準,」柯慧貞解釋。

居高不下的網路成癮率

雖然網路成癮症的判定標準具有一定門檻,但攤開各項調查,數據仍高得讓人心驚。

根據統計,目前各國網路成癮的人數比例,平均約在6~17%之間,其中遊戲產業與寬頻網路高度發展的國家,網路癮君子的比例往往偏高。

例如在連線遊戲極為蓬勃的南韓,根據《紐約時報》引述南韓漢陽大學2007年的調查指出,南韓18歲以下的青少年中,約有3成是網路成癮的高風險族群,比例高居全球第一。

而經常性上網人口已逼近1,100萬人、行動上網開通率亦超過7成的台灣,青少年網路成癮的問題也相當嚴重。

在柯慧貞的歷年調查中,我國各級學生的網路成癮盛行率,平均約為10~15%;彰師大輔導與諮商學系今年2月發布的數據則更為驚人,該團隊總計找了近四千名青少年參與調查,結果發現小3至小6生中,約有18.8%具有網路成癮的傾向、國高中生則攀升至20.2%、大學生更突破22%,比例僅次於南韓,名列世界第二。

網路成癮是社會照妖鏡

針對台灣日益嚴重的網路成癮問題,長期投入研究的高雄市小港醫院精神科主任柯志鴻認為,除了便捷的網路近用性等外部因素,社會的集體推力更不容忽視。

「每次走進星巴克,常可看到父母、孩子,人手一台iPhone、iPad,各玩各的卻互不交談。」柯志鴻苦笑說,如果社會不改變、家長不覺醒,繼續把電腦和智慧型手機當作孩子哭鬧時的「保母」,放任各種上網裝置取代教育與親職互動的功能,又怎麼能期待孩子長大後不會有樣學樣地依賴網路呢?

此外,台灣社會向來重視功利主義,現代父母也常因過度保護而限制孩子的課外活動,當孩子在課本中找不到成就感,又無法藉由課外活動建立良好的同儕關係,網路想當然爾就成為最便利又安全的情緒避風港。

「網路成癮其實是社會問題的『照妖鏡』,」柯志鴻語重心長地說。

一旦孩子已深陷網路的無底黑洞而不可自拔時,可能出現的負面影響就既深且廣了。若是有意識地察覺自己已過度沈迷,卻仍無法跳出網路漩渦的成癮者,心理上常伴隨著強烈的罪惡感與情緒低落,嚴重者甚至可能引發憂鬱、焦慮等精神疾病。

例如在相關的心理輔導網站,常可看到這樣的求助留言:「我覺得自己很像是行屍走肉,整天想的都是開電腦、玩電玩、上臉書,……,我知道不能再這樣下去了,但就是控制不了自己,有沒有人可以救救我?」

另一種可能更棘手的類型,則是當事人根本放任失控的上網行為,一旦外力試圖介入,甚至會引起強烈反彈。不少學校輔導中心都曾接過這樣的投訴:家長看不下去孩子整天耽溺於網路世界,強行拔除網路線,孩子最後竟然選擇自殘或暴力相向!

脫癮戒網的漫漫長路

至於如何幫助網路癮君子戒除網路,則需要長期而縝密的計畫。柯慧貞指出,網路成癮者「脫癮戒網」時的身心掙扎,並不亞於戒毒、戒酒者經歷的痛苦經驗,當事人必須具備強大的意志力,配合專業輔導與親友的情感支持,才能提高成功機率。

而很多心急如焚的父母,常以強力介入的手段,試圖一步到位地解決問題。但相關研究卻發現,對正值叛逆期的青少年來說,父母的強勢態度,常會與網路上的同儕拉力形成交互作用,意即父母越嚴厲阻止,反而越讓孩子覺得只有網路上的朋友了解自己,更可能適得其反地往虛擬世界靠攏。

因此要輔導孩子脫離網路的控制,必須謹記循序漸進的原則,最好先透過深度訪談,建立彼此的信賴關係,找出耽溺網路的真正原因;其後再輔導他們進行上網時數、上網理由、得到何種效益等自我監控紀錄,逐步逐日地降低網路活動的使用頻率與心理依賴。

在此同時,也必須幫助他們發展新的行為模式和人際關係,取代習以為常的上網,像運動、社團活動、勞動服務,甚至打工,都是極佳的「替代行為」。

「總之就是要讓孩子天天都過得忙又充實,自然就不會只想往網路裡頭鑽,」柯志鴻建議。

不過,就像戒毒者常因意志不堅而重拾毒品,戒網者的脫癮過程中,也可能因一時軟弱而故態復萌,此時他們常會糾結於懊惱、悔恨的情緒而痛苦不堪。面對這種戒癮者常見的「反芻現象」,家長和輔導者更應耐心開解,引導孩子正向思考,切勿操之過急地一味責罵,才不會讓他們導出「反正我就是無藥可救」的結論而自我放棄。

適時關機的自我克制

正因網路成癮者的戒網之路,是難度極高的漫漫長路,如何防患於未然,就顯得更加重要。

柯慧貞特別提醒,父母應從小幫助孩子培養多元興趣,不要放任他們把所有的休閒重心都放在網路上,日後才不會對網路以外的活動都失去參與熱情。

柯志鴻則強調建立良好上網習慣的重要性──當孩子在國小時開始接觸網路,父母就得訂出明確的使用規範,除了電腦一定要放在客廳等公用空間,每次上網也必須配合「說一不二」的時間限制;即使在寒暑假時,都不宜有「網路假期」的雙重標準而放寬限制。

「明確的規範可讓孩子學會適時關機的自我克制,日後才不易被想要繼續玩的情緒帶著走,」柯志鴻說。

當人們享受便捷網路帶來的豐富生活,同時也必須深思過度依賴虛擬世界而衍生的種種惡果。聰明上網的關鍵就是「有所節制」,這項法則不只是青少年適用,正在上網或把玩智慧型手機的你我,同樣必須謹記在心。

相關文章

近期文章

EN

Creeping Cyber-Sickness—Internet Addiction

Lin Hsin-ching /photos courtesy of Chin Hung-hao /tr. by Geof Aberhart

There are many kinds of addiction that are familiar to most people, like drugs, alcohol, and cigarettes. But while these substances have long been known to be harmful, there is one other possible source of addiction far more insidious for its apparent harmlessness: the Internet.

Several long-term studies have shown that in Taiwan, with some 11 million people frequently online, as many as 10 to 20% of students are addicted to the Internet, placing Taiwan second only to South Korea.

How could the Internet, a powerful tool for information and communication in the modern age, also become “digital dope”? What can parents do when their children spend all day wandering the shoulder of the Information Superhighway? And how can we protect against this creeping cyber-sickness?


Open any newspaper or visit any school’s counseling center and you’ll find case after astonishing case of Internet addiction, from parents leaving their children to starve as they immerse themselves in cyberspace to “possessed” children losing themselves to online compulsions and turning on their parents, sometimes violently, when told to log out. Through social-work cases and pleading letters from parents, we see a raft of instances of people so addicted to the Internet that they let their health, family relationships, and friendships deteriorate. These horrifying tales have given rise to concerns about the growing specter of Internet addiction.

Losing yourself

With computers, smartphones, and wireless Internet so commonplace in modern society, more and more people are relying on the Net for entertainment, socializing, and work. With heavy users online for eight hours or more a day becoming increasingly common, are such people at a higher risk of becoming ­cyber-addicts?

The term “addiction” is one subject to a strict definition in the medical world, generally referring to a disorder involving a high level of physical and psychological dependence on a particular substance or behavior; when an addict is cut off from their addiction, they can become irritable and anxious, experience physical symptoms like trembling, and even go into what is known as “­withdrawal.”

While drugs like alcohol, nicotine, and heroin cause more physiological dependencies, addictions like Internet addiction tend more toward psychological symptoms. The earliest reference to this disorder was in 1995, when New York psychiatrist Ivan Goldberg wrote a spoof definition of the condition by consulting the fourth edition of the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV) and its definition of pathological gambling. Despite Goldberg’s piece being satirical, it struck a chord with many, and sparked serious interest in the then-nascent problem that became known as “Internet Addiction Disorder.”

Although “Internet Addiction Disorder,” or IAD, is a point of heated debate in the global psychiatric community, several in the academic and medical worlds have acknowledged that impulse control problems do exist that can lead to people losing themselves to online games, social networking, or even pornographic or violent online content.

Two schools in Taiwan, China Medical University and Asia University, have joined forces to create the island’s first facility dedicated to IAD, the CMU-AU Internet Addiction Prevention Center. Asia University’s vice president Jenny Ko explains that Internet addicts must generally meet three criteria: “compulsion,” meaning that they are aware that they should curtail their online activity, but find themselves unable to overcome the compulsion to log on; “withdrawal,” meaning that when unable to get online they suffer physical and mental discomfort; and “tolerance,” meaning that their desire for cyber-activity becomes more and more difficult to sate, requiring them to be online for longer and longer periods.

Top of the table

With such tightly defined criteria, one would think that relatively few would fit the classification of “Internet addict,” but statistics tell a different and surprising story.

Studies have indicated that Internet addiction rates are soaring worldwide, with between 6% and 17% of the population in various countries being classified as addicts. Rates are generally higher in countries where video games and broadband Internet access are more common, such as South Korea, well known for its online gaming culture. According to figures published in The New York Times, a 2007 study by South Korea’s Han­yang University showed that some 30% of the country’s under-18s were at risk of Internet addiction, making it the world leader in the ­category.

In Taiwan, where some 11 million people have ready access to the Internet and over 70% of the population has access via their cellphones, IAD is also becoming a serious problem.

According to studies by Ko, as much as 10–15% of Taiwan’s student population suffers from IAD. National Chang­hua University of Education’s Department of Guidance and Counseling released even more surprising data this February; based on a sample of almost 4000 students, they found that 18.8% of children in grades three through six, 20.2% of high-schoolers, and 22% of college students were addicted to the Internet, putting Taiwan second only to South Korea.

Reflecting society’s ills

With Taiwan facing a growing problem with IAD, Ko Chih-hung, chairman of psychiatry at Kaohsiung Municipal Hsiao-Kang Hospital, explains that while it may be convenient to pin the blame on external factors like the prevalence of Internet access, we cannot afford to overlook the power of familial and social factors.

“Walk into any Starbucks and you’ll see parents and children sitting together, each with their iPhones or ­iPads, playing their own games and never saying a word to one another,” says Ko with a wry smile. Parents teach their children by example, and so when they themselves are wrapped up in their own online worlds, or even use computers and smartphones as babysitters, how can we not expect the children to follow their parents’ leads?

This is only compounded by Taiwanese society’s emphasis on academic achievement. As parents coddle their children and restrict their extracurricular activities in an ­effort to push them higher and higher up the academic ladder, when the children cannot find satisfaction in schoolbooks and can’t build relationships with their peers through extracurricular activities, of course they will turn to the convenience of the Inter­net as a way to easily and safely vent their emotions.

Once these children gaze too long into the abyss of the Internet, the abyss begins to gaze back; they can begin to lose self-control, and the problems that may arise can be both deep and broad in their impact. Those who are aware that their Internet usage is a problem, but still find themselves unable to free themselves from its depths, may experience strong feelings of guilt and negative emotions, with serious cases at risk of psychiatric illnesses like depression or anxiety.

The long road to health

More problematic, though, are those who are completely lost to the Internet, so much so that should anyone try and pry them away, they may react violently. School counselors are well familiar with the story: parents unable to bear seeing their children lost to cyberspace all day try to pull the plug, only to have their children turn to violence against themselves or others.

Helping Internet addicts kick the habit is something that needs time and planning. Getting clean, says Jenny Ko, can be a physically and mentally demanding process, no less so than quitting drugs or drinking.

Many impatient parents try to interfere by force, trying to get their children to go cold turkey. But research indicates that teens, being in their rebellious phase, are likely to take such forceful interference badly, becoming more convinced that their friends online are the ones that really understand them, and thus the harder the parents try, the more the children may throw themselves into the depths of the virtual world.

As such, helping kids slip the shackles of Internet addiction should be a more gradual process, starting with in-depth discussions, efforts to build mutual trust, and working to find the underlying causes of their addiction. After that, parents can help put in place ways for the children to monitor and record their time online and reasons for being online, so that the children can in turn gradually cut back the frequency of Internet usage and reduce their psychological dependence on it.

At the same time, parents should help their children develop new models of behavior and interpersonal relations, replacing habitual use of the Internet with things like sports, social activities, or even jobs.

But just as with drug addicts trying to kick the habit, some Internet addicts may find they relapse due to a lack of willpower or a moment of weakness. When this happens, they can experience feelings of disappointment and annoyance with themselves. When faced with someone falling off the wagon, parents and counselors need to be patient and understanding, helping the sufferer get back into positive modes of thinking rather than berating them. Otherwise they may find themselves thinking they’re beyond help and just giving up.

Encouraging responsible use

The path to recovery for Internet addicts can be an extremely long and hard one, and so taking preventive measures is of tremendous importance.

Jenny Ko says that it is important that parents remember to encourage their children to cultivate a wide range of interests from an early age, rather than just plopping them down in front of a computer to while away their free time, so that in the future they will be less likely to let online activity supercede all other activity.

Ko Chih-hung, meanwhile, emphasizes the importance of building good Internet usage habits, with parents setting down clear rules for use as soon as their children start using computers, as well as keeping their home computers in communal spaces like the living room and setting firm rules on how long the children can be online. It is even more important not to relax those rules when the children are on vacation from school.

While we may all appreciate the richness that easy access to the Internet can bring to our lives, we must also be careful not to let ourselves get overly caught up in the digital dimension. Controlled Internet usage is smart Internet usage, not just for children, but for any of us that often find ourselves trawling the Internet at home or on our smartphones.

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