How many times a day do your check your email, blog, check a favorite web site, or even shop online? Perhaps you're obsessed with the Internet? Doctors are beginning to see patients who think they're addicted, and researchers are trying to figure out if it's a medical problem or just a really bad habit.
Many of us spend several hours a day online for work, and perhaps even more at home, or on the way home with handheld devices. Now scientists are trying to determine: How much is too much?
At Internet cafes, it's common to see people tapping away on laptops for hours.
"I always get up in the morning, check my email, check the weather," says Kara Heitz. "And it's easy to get stuck there and then, 30 to 45 minutes later you're like, my morning hasn't gotten started yet."
But when does being online, cross the line? Stanford University asked 2500 adults, and found one in eight internet users have symptoms similar to alcohol and other addictions - like compulsively checking email... or using the internet as a way to escape real-life problems.
"We've been seeing in our clinics patients who come in saying things like 'my wife is divorcing me over my internet use because I can't wait for her to go to sleep so I can sneak out of bed and go online on one last time,'" said Dr. Elias Aboujaoude, a Stanford University researcher.
And it's not just gambling and online porn. Researchers found many users obsessed with chat rooms, blogs and even shopping!
"I think when it starts to take the place of actual relationships with people," said Hugh Rosen, an Internet Cafe customer. "And, you know, experiencing things in the outside world, then yes, it can be a problem."
"I've had patients describe almost lapses of consciousness...," said Dr. Aboujaoude. "They tell me didn't realize I was doing it till I'd been online for four and a half hours and missed my dental appointment' or something."
But researchers stop short of calling it addiction, and say not everyone who's stuck is obsessed. "If you're spending your lunch hour at work making plans for your Mediterranean cruise next year, that's not what we're talking about," said Dr. Aboujaoude. "That's not problematic use, as long as you're able to meet those deadlines at work." But that could be a problem with your employer if you're using a company computer.
There's a web site that focuses on internet addiction and offers counseling (click here). You can even take an online test to determine if you have a problem.