07/05/2011 03:23 pm ET | Updated Sep 04, 2011

Can Cyberspace Pave the Road to Addiction?

This blog never came to mind until my friend told me her 5-year-old daughter received a progress report from kindergarten with a comment from her teacher saying she was disappointed in the child's lack of computer skills.

I was speechless. Was I really hearing correctly that a 5-year-old was getting critiqued on her computer skills, or lack thereof? I am the first to appreciate the importance of a computer, and being able to log on to find anything in the world that strikes my fancy, but isn't this a bit much to ask of a 5-year-old?

It brings me to an alarming concern about the amount of time the youth today spend on an activity with only their computer as company. We are bombarded with commercials that entice us to buy a faster phone, with all the bangs and whistles at our fingertips. Turn it one way and it makes a dinner reservation. Turn it the other way and you can get the weather report at the North Pole. No doubt you can acquire a mail-order bride or a python in a matter of minutes. No effort, no research, no sweat and no sense of accomplishment. In essence, zero personal gratification in pursuing a quest through your own heavy lifting and elbow grease.

If one has a constant stream of instant gratification and instant answers from a machine, how will the adolescent handle a real life scenario when they may have to wait for an answer? Waiting and patience might not be part of their thinking or emotional state in today's generation of computer-savvy.

Life experiences are part of our being and continue to shape who and what we are well into adulthood. They play a pivotal role in laying the groundwork for the future. Relying on past familiarity and how we handled a particular situation, with its outcome being successful or just short of the mark, is the foundation for dealing with similar and potential situations as one grows up and deals with life on life's terms.

Interacting with each other is a continual process, and it begins early on as we often have to resolve personal differences with face-to-face communication. It's impossible to see ones' expression or give them a reassuring touch on the arm or a hug for empathy if today's verbiage is regulated to what's going on by Twitter, Facebook, or instant messenger. And if you don't like the direction the communication is going, one can just hit delete or terminate their friendship in a blink. Where is the life lesson if it's so easy to dismiss an uncomfortable situation?

In addition, the written word can be taken so many ways. Often time one reader may interpret a printed communication one way, when the intentions might have been totally different.
When I was growing up the term "latchkey kid" meant children came home from school to an empty house and plopped in front of the TV to keep them busy and out of trouble. Today the latchkey kid has progressed to the "cyberspace kid," with movies playing in the car, a game box or texting -- anything to occupy them.

I was told of a 10-year-old who was too busy playing with her mini computer game while on a road trip to participate with the other passengers or look out the window at the scenery. Or the 13-year-old who sat at the dinner table texting the whole time and probably couldn't tell you what was even served.

I have been asked so frequently what the common roads to addiction are, and more often than not a loved one falls into one of these categories:

  • Substance abuse in the family
  • Substance abuse in the neighborhood
  • An addiction gene
  • Boredom
  • Wanting to belong -- peer pressure and experimentation that turns into addiction
  • Low self-esteem
  • Loneliness or depression
  • Prescription medication that becomes an addiction
  • Trauma

Now I want to add cyberspace. There may be a real possibility for one to turn to alcohol or drugs because one of the following needs is not satisfied:

  • Frustration from the lack of instant gratification where the computer previously satisfied their wants, needs and answers
  • Anxiety of not knowing how to handle the victories and defeats in real life situations. Poor coping skills if presented with disappointment, challenges or uncertainty and not being able to rely on their own intuition and experiences to slog through toward better days
  • Stunted growth in learning life lessons at an age beyond when it should have been germinating already
  • Difficulty with in-person communication when the computer has been so dominant in their life that they struggle with having a discussion and the exchanging of ideas
  • The computer is the great escape and becomes their solace and best friend

So what can we do? Maybe as conscientious parents we can start with curbing the computer, texting, and gaming time and saying to our kids more often than not to "get off the computer, go play outside and experience the world."

Please visit my website; I invite you to explore my new book "Reclaim Your Life - You and the Alcoholic/Addict" at

I am pleased to announce that I will soon be launching webinar sessions discussing topics ranging from boundaries, communication, baiting and punishing, recovery contracts, the dry drunk and more. If you are interested in being notified when these will occur, please e-mail me at