Focus, Productivity, Student Engagement, Time Management, Writing

Impulse Control Disorders: A Cheerful Post For the Holidays

It’s been a long time since I’ve had a class in Con Hall, but next semester I’m going to be in there a lot. I am really excited. I am looking forward to counting the number of first-years who spend the entire lecture surfing Facebook. Or on their phones. Or looking at stores online. Or whatever.

It seems that every other person I talk to tells me that they are “addicted” to some thing or another. Addicted to Facebook. Addicted to their phone. Addicted to this or that video game. I know people who spend hours upon hours per day on the internet, doing nothing in particular. I am one of those people. Is anyone really addicted to this stuff?

It is hard to say. I don’t have a DSM-V, but I did find this nifty article reviewing “impulse control disorders”, including proposed ICDs for the DSM. Among them is: “compulsive-impulsive Internet usage disorder,” which, the report says, “has been proposed as an explanation for uncontrollable and damaging use of the Internet.”

Furthermore, “people with problematic Internet use often report increasing amounts of time-spent web surfing, gambling, shopping or exploring pornographic sites. Others report spending time in chat rooms or corresponding by email. Frequently these people develop a preoccupation with the Internet, a need for escape to the Internet and increasing irritability when trying to cut back their Internet use. Ultimately, their attempt to cut back is unsuccessful.”

Next time you are in Con Hall, and bored, you should look around and count the number of people on Facebook. There will be many.

Addiction is a difficult topic with lots of stigma. Quite frankly, I don’t even know how to talk about it. I don’t know how to tell people that they might be addicted, or what addiction is, or even if excessive use of some gadget or another is a warning sign for addiction or not. But “addictiveness” seems to be a property of social media websites or video games that people use, which is at best totally ominous.

At the heart of it, impulse control disorders cover a lot of ground regarding compulsive, unhealthy behaviours. Pathological gambling, kleptomania, pyromania, problematic internet use, obsessive skin picking, and so on, and so forth. Bad habits that lead you on the path of ruin or keep you from achieving your goals are problems, and if you find yourself unable to stop, then they have become unhealthy. But the good news is, even if there isn’t a specific classified disorder in the DSM, there is still help available.

Counselling and Psychological Services is open during a good portion of the holidays and also free to U of T students. The Centre For Addiction and Mental Health offers services for “those affected by problem gambling or other behavioural addictions, such as excessive video gaming, problematic internet use or overspending.”

I’m actually going to see a therapist today regarding some of my own behaviour. I’ve finished the semester with no credits to show for it, and after some soul-searching and good old-fashioned analysis of how I spend my time, I’m curious to see if a professional thinks that I could benefit from therapy regarding aberrant internet use or if I just have poor time management (in which case, the Academic Success Center is a good resource for learning time management or combating procrastination). Self-improvement is a long and arduous process, sometimes painful to the ego, but there is help available out there.

Happy Holidays.

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