Google addiction ‘increasingly common’ as expert says 80% of her patients get it

Google addiction is becoming "increasingly common" as a psychotherapist reveals four in five of her patients suffer from it.

Anxiety disorder expert Philippa Walsh spoke out after the Daily Star told of how a mum attempted suicide after spending nine-hours a day on the browser.

She suggested potential links between the addiction with others including a woman who ate sponges and another with an extreme fear of vomiting.

Cherelle Farrugia, 28, said she was left like an alcoholic "shaking… having panic attacks" after entering a vicious circle searching for medical advice to ease anxieties over becoming a new mum.

Ms Walsh told us: "Unfortunately, Health Anxiety can start out as relatively harmless, but it can escalate and can become extremely distressing. Sadly for Cherelle, her health worries became all-consuming and led to her attempting suicide.

"Cherelle’s reassurance seeking using Google started out as a way of reducing her anxiety; the problem with this 'safety behaviour' is that it usually opens the door to further worrying or only provides very short-term relief.

"In the long-term, the sufferer becomes more reliant on reassurance seeking and it can become a vicious cycle.

"Typically, in 80 percent of anxiety cases I treat; whether Generalised Anxiety Disorder, Panic Disorder, OCD or Health Anxiety, Google is used as a means to seek reassurance in an attempt to reduce the sufferer’s anxiety."

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She added: "As a means to alleviate anxiety, the use of Google is becoming increasingly common.

"As an integral part of our life, we now use the internet more than ever whether that’s for consuming the news, getting directions, online shopping or searching for information about a favourite celebrity.

"It’s 24/7 accessibility makes it an appealing tool to use if you wonder why you have an aching shoulder at 2am or need reassurance on something else that may be worrying you."

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Mum-of-two Cherelle, of Fairwater, Cardiff, told WalesOnline how her Google searches ended up fuelling her anxieties which spiralled out of control after her "first fatal error" three years ago – seeing her try to take her life six days after her son River was born and daily visits to the hospital with seizures from extreme stress.

Ms Walsh, who has been practicing for nine years and runs her own practice, warned it could happen to anyone as "it is apparent that being so easily accessible is one major factor”.

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She told readers "who recognise that they are caught in a vicious cycle of worry and using Google excessively to alleviate their anxiety; know that there is lots of help available".

Ms Walsh diagnosed a young female patient who ate bath sponges with Pica and said others with the condition "may check Google if they were sufficiently concerned about the health risks associated to digesting non-food items".

On another patient with Emetophobia – extreme fear of vomiting – who washed her hands up to 60 times a day, she said "there may be some use of Google to explore concerns such as causes of food poisoning and how to avoid it".

For emotional support, you can call the Samaritans 24-hour helpline on 116 123, email [email protected], visit a Samaritans branch in person or go to the Samaritans website.

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