Internet addiction affecting military Families

By Staff Sgt. Osvaldo Equité/49th PADSeptember 3, 2012

FORT BRAGG, N.C. - In the mid-1990s, the Internet made a fashionable debut on to the world stage. The Internet quickly became a household staple with promises of globalizing educational research, international communications, global commerce and world-wide entertainment.

Despite such progress, in recent years the Internet has been at the root of more and more child abuse cases.

According to an expert in forensic pediatrics at Fort Bragg, some parents and guardians have been so obsessed with the Internet that their children were being neglected and abused.

Dr. Sharon W. Cooper, a retired Army colonel and developmental pediatrician, cited two cases in which she personally saw the effects of Internet addiction may have on a Family.

In one instance, a child was severely beaten by his father for interrupting him while online. The child's injuries were ignored by both parents until the next day because they were preoccupied online. The parents noticed the injuries and eventually sought medical care, Cooper said.

A similar case resulted in the death of a 26-month-old child after interrupting an adult who was playing video games online, she said.

Both of these cases involved military Families, said Cooper.

"That really shook me," said Cooper, who served as an expert witness in these cases.

It is important to identify and understand the dangers of Internet addiction and what military Families can do to overcome it, she said.

"How can you have parents that are just so hooked to what they are doing, that they can't stop what they are doing to help the child?" she said.

Cooper first began identifying adults with Internet addiction while serving as an expert witness in many cases within the area of child sexual exploitation.

More than three decades of research has proven that addiction is a complex brain disease portrayed by compulsive and uncontrollable behaviors that continue regardless of the consequences, according to Dr. Nora D. Volkow, director of the National Institute of Drug Abuse.

NIDA is a supporter of research on the health aspects of drug abuse and addiction.

Additionally, people become addicted to the feeling that dopamine secretions released in the brain, explained Cooper. This behavior is usually referred to as the reward pathway.

NIDA insists that people engage in rewarding behaviors such as eating, drinking and procreating because of a developed need to survive. Any addiction such as Internet addiction, falls into this psychological reaction.

Nevertheless, the reward pathway can lead to compulsive behaviors and the availability, accessibility and anonymity of the Internet are also some of the reasons why so many people have become addicted, said Cooper.

Internet addiction can be divided into five areas to which people typically become addicted:

Internet pornography

Online video gaming, especially multiplayer online role-playing games

Online shopping

Online gambling

Social networking sites

"Families and Soldiers, in particular, need to be warned (about Internet addiction), because this type of addiction is more common than alcohol addiction and there is no way of knowing it," said Cooper. "So many people may be affected without realizing it."

Some of the early signs that can be observed of Internet addiction are a decline in social interest, displays of anger, difficulty focusing on tasks, financial hardship and having problems completing responsibilities at work, said Cooper.

People with anger or rage reactions when interrupted or not allowed to continue on the Internet, may need to seek help, said Cooper.

In regards to children who may have an Internet addiction, some of the more apparent signs include a decline in school performance, weight loss or a failure to gain appropriate weight, she said. Also, physicians need to ask about media behavior at home if a child is being neglected or abused.

Failure to recognize addictive behavior in the household may lead to devastating consequences, Cooper said.

Once the problem has been identified, the Soldier or Family member needs to take steps toward helping those individuals affected by an Internet addiction, she added.

The first step should be to determine how much time is being spent online and then resolve to spend time away from the Internet, said Cooper.

Additionally, talking to a physician can help determine if there are other means of helping with the addiction, such as the use of medications to help with anxiety, agitation or anger caused by not using the Internet, she said.

Counseling, group therapy or cognitive behavioral therapy may also be essential in helping someone overcoming Internet addiction, said Cooper.

Initially the challenge will be admitting that someone has an addiction. The best way to deal with that challenge is by asking that person if they have an Internet addiction, she said. The next step would be to ask for help dealing with the situation.

"One of the better resources for Soldiers and their Families is calling Military OneSource," said Cooper.

Military OneSource is a program for military servicemembers and their Families that provides a variety of resources and support. It is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week with no cost to users.

Cooper stressed the need to raise awareness of Internet addiction as well as using programs such as Military OneSource to address such issues. In the case of the battered children, it wasn't until something drastic happened that people began to notice the dangers, she explained.

For more information about Military OneSource, visit