You might call Kimberly Young a Web-junkie junkie. A licensed psychologist, she founded the Center for Internet Addiction in 1995—before Internet addiction was widely recognized as a problem—and has since become an international expert on the condition. She is the author of four books and dozens of journal articles, serves on several editorial and advisory boards, has been a keynote speaker at numerous international conferences, and founded the nation’s first in-patient clinic to treat the condition, in Bradford, Pa.
While it’s unclear how many Americans suffer from Internet addiction, there’s no doubt it’s a problem. “People have gotten divorced over it,” says Young. “They’ve been kicked out of school.”
Of course, most of the people Young sees in her clinic have less severe cases. “It’s a spectrum,” she says. We asked the expert for five key markers of an online obsession run amuck.
1. You’re a virtual chatterbox
For addicts, online games, social media and discussion forums become their social life. Take note if you find you’re often wishing you were on Facebook rather than talking to the person in front of you.
2. You’ve lost control
While many of us are online a lot these days for legitimate reasons, addicts often spend their time looking at pornography, gambling or indulging in other vices.
3. You fear disconnection
If being separated from your phone for even a few minutes fills you with anxiety—so much so that you text and drive, perhaps—that’s cause for concern.
4. It’s all ’net, all the time
While some of us might occasionally use the Internet at work for non-professional purposes, addicts can become so consumed, they end up losing their jobs.
5. You lie to loved ones
Have you ever been dishonest about your time online to avoid upsetting someone you care about? That’s a key sign of addiction.