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KUALA LUMPUR

LUKE’s (not his real name) sleep and concentration patterns have gone haywire but the thought of not wanting to be left out keeps his fascination for computer games alive.

The 19-year-old student succumbed to peer pressure and became addicted to computer games and social media feeds. He would spend up to 10 hours or more a day playing games and interacting online.

He also spends a lot of money on ‘A-Cash’, an online credit system, to buy additional items to enhance his gameplay experience. Similarly, others have been known to waste thousands of ringgit on it.

Are Luke and other teenagers and young adults like him Internet addicts?

According to Psychiatric Consultant Dr Muhammad Muhsin Ahmad Zahari, they are are displaying the classic symptoms of cyber addiction.

“We can identify Internet addicts by analysing their usage pattern. Excessive usage (more than four hours of non-essential use), disruption of social functions and behavioural change are all symptoms of debilitating compulsive behaviour,” Dr Muhsin tellsThe Rakyat Post.

Psychiatric Consultant Dr Muhammad Muhsin Ahmad Zahari says digital addicts will display withdrawal symptoms such as anger, irritability and distress.
Psychiatric Consultant Dr Muhammad Muhsin Ahmad Zahari says digital addicts will display withdrawal symptoms such as anger, irritability and distress.

The non-essential (not related to work or studies) Internet use can be sub-typed into computer games, social media, cybersex and pornography and compulsive information seeking.

“Just like chemical addicts, digital addicts will display withdrawal symptoms such as anger, irritability and distress when their access to the digital world is limited or revoked.”

The Internet World Statistics reveal that Malaysia is among the top 10 Internet countries representing 1.6% of Internet users in Asia, with a 60.7% Internet penetration rate as of 2012.

“Malaysia has high chances of developing a segment of society that are Internet addicts in the near future,” says Dr Muhsin, who is deputy chief coordinator at University of Malaya Centre for Addiction Sciences.

Although no formal study has been done on Internet addiction here, it cannot fall far from China and Thailand’s scores, he adds.

Studies show more than 13% of Chinese and 20% of Thai adolescents who use the Internet are obsessed with it.

“Our children and teenagers are now more exposed to the Internet and social media. We can estimate that 15 to 20% of children and teenagers may already be hooked.”

Dr Muhsin says Malaysia should brace itself for this phenomenon.

He proposes the training of certified health professionals specialising in addiction therapy and the establishment of dedicated behavioural addiction treatment centres.

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