Slowly and subtly, it becomes a consuming habit. At first, you're online only occasionally, paying your bills, and maybe checking with your office once or twice. But then its lure grows more powerful. Soon you find that you're ignoring your family, spending all your spare moments in front of the screen. Laptops and cell phones make staying connected easier than ever, but it becomes hard to "Just Say No."
Fear not, computer junkie. Behavior therapists are standing by, and they're ready to help you shake off your cyberspace dependency.
Maressa Hecht Orzack, Ph.D., is founder and coordinator of Computer Addictive Services at McLean Hospital, in Belmont, Mass. "If the problem is an addiction to computer games, the cure could be as simple as deleting the offending programs from the hard drive," she says. "But if someone spends hours arranging his files, therapy might call for his using a stopwatch to set a limit on the amount of time he allows for the task."
The syndrome, Orzack cautions, is only going to spread. With more and more employees telecommuting, the line between work and play has blurred, opening the door to lengthening sessions on the Internet and longer stints of Solitaire during business hours. Schools are bringing younger kids online, making for ever-growing numbers of folks with hyperlinks on their mind. "People often gravitate toward the computer when they want to kill time or avoid an unpleasant task," says Orzack. "The problem is, nobody's teaching them when it's time to stop."