Jewish Living

Are You an Internet Addict?

While technology has given us many near-miraculous inventions that have certainly improved our lives, it has ushered in a number of problems. Knowledge might appear to always be good, but this is clearly not so. The Torah refers to the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Nuclear science has brought great medical advances and energy sources, but has also resulted in a weapon of mass destruction that threatens the very existence of humanity.

The kabbalah teaches that God intended to lift the prohibition against eating the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge once Shabbat set in, and that the sin of Adam and Eve was that they ate the fruit prematurely. Had Adam and Eve experienced the spirituality of Shabbat, says the kabbalah, there would not have been a downside to knowledge. Spirituality is the only antidote to the negative aspects of technology.

A distraught parent recently called me. “My eighteen-year-old son is addicted to texting,” she told me. “He was always an excellent student in yeshivah, but now he has fallen far behind his class. He texts at mealtime and late into the night. He has become irritable and moody. Talking to him about reducing the texting is similar to talking to a wall. What can I do?”

Some critics contend that the term “addiction” is used too liberally. However, when a person is compulsively driven to engage in self-destructive behavior and resists all logical arguments for change, such behavior is similar enough to alcohol and drug addiction to warrant this classification.

People often ask, “Why is there an increase of addiction among young people?” On the contrary, I don’t know how some young people are not addicted. Our culture promotes addiction.

Computer games can indeed be fun, but when youngsters lose sleep and fail in school because they cannot stop playing, it is a serious problem. Some children cannot stop playing online poker. Marriages have been ruined by compulsive viewing of Internet pornography. In the past, the fear of being seen in a smut store prevented people from yielding to sexual impulses. This is no longer a limiting factor when one can view smut in the privacy of one’s home or office or even on a cell phone.

Why do people become addicted to the Internet? While there are differences among the various kinds of addictions, all of them follow a similarly destructive pattern. A person gets gratification (usually rapidly) from something, whether it is drinking, drugs, gambling, eating, a sexual experience, texting, surfing or any other activity that has negative consequences. In spite of the upshot, the person cannot disengage from this activity. In other words, it becomes compulsive. Discontinuing the activity may result in a variety of unpleasant symptoms, which cause the person to resume the activity.

Researchers are not in agreement as to whether there is, in fact, an “addictive personality.” My impression is that some people are more prone to addictions than others.

People often ask, “Why is there an increase of addiction among young people?” On the contrary, I don’t know how some young people are not addicted. Our culture promotes addiction.

Consider the definition of addiction: habitually indulging in an activity for immediate pleasure and ignoring the long-term consequences. We destroy the rain forests, eliminate species of wildlife, pollute the air and water and ruin land, all for immediate gain. These activities are essentially similar to the drug addict’s use of heroin. With the culture modeling addiction, people who suffer from anxiety or depression, are discontented with life, have poor social or family relationships or are stressed are sitting ducks for addiction. Any time that technology comes along with something that will help them escape these unpleasant feelings, they are prone to use it addictively.

When one’s goal in life is to maximize comfort and pleasure, one is at risk of becoming addicted. If, however, a person’s goal in life is spiritual growth rather than pleasure and thrill-seeking, the propensity to addiction would be lessened. True spirituality enables a person to cope with adversity instead of seeking escapism.

The spirituality inherent in Shabbat would have eliminated the “evil” component of the Tree of Knowledge. Regrettably, it is unlikely that our culture will soon forgo its hedonistic life style to embrace true spirituality.

The founder and medical director of Gateway Rehabilitation Center in Aliquippa, Pennsylvania, Dr. Twerski is one of the country’s leading experts on alcohol and drug rehabilitation. He is the author of numerous books.

This article was featured in the Spring 2011 issue of Jewish Action.
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